On 17 April 2009, at the weekly demonstration against the separation Wall in the West Bank village of Bil'in, 29 year old protester Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed when a high velocity tear gas canister was fired directly into his chest by an Israeli soldier. This morning his sister died in hospital in Ramallah after she failed to respond to treatment for poisoning caused by inhalation of tear gas at yesterday's demonstration on the same spot.
Jawaher Abu Rahmah died at around 9am Palestinian time after hospital staff fought through the night to save her life after she fell victim to the gas that flooded the demonstration, which has happened every Friday since 2005. Reports from protesters say the gas used yesterday was an especially potent mix. It seems that Jawaher got caught in the cloud of the gas during the demonstration, as an unprecedented amount was fired in response to the amount of people joining the demo; over 1,000 people had answered the call to attend the final demonstration of the year. According to doctors she inhaled a huge amount of the gas after fainting and they found traces of phosphorous in her blood.
The call, issued by the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, met a fierce response from the Israeli Occupation Force (the terminology activists use), who sent hundreds of soldiers to the posts on the wall and declared the area a "closed military zone". This effectively renders it illegal for anyone other than military personnel to enter as they surrounded the village with roadblocks. Despite these efforts Palestinian, Israeli and international activists swarmed the village from the surrounding hills and farmland to join the protest which marched from the village centre under the banner of "The Last Day of the Wall".
A few weeks ago the delegation organised by members of Workers' Liberty joined the demonstration in Bil'in and spent the afternoon with one of the members of the Popular Committee, Mohammad Khatib who, this morning told the International Solidarity Movement: "We are shocked and furious for Israel's brutality, which once again cost the life of a peaceful demonstrator. Israel's lethal and inhumane response to our struggle will not pass. In the dawn of a new decade, it is time for the world to ask Israel for accountability and to bring about an end to the occupation."
Our time in Bil'in was unbelievably moving as it is a site of real grass roots struggle - the determination of the people in the village, and the many around the world who support them, to resist the occupation and to do so peacefully even in the face of such brutality, is truly inspirational. In 2007 the Popular Committee was involved in a High Court battle against the path of the Wall, which separates the village from the vast majority of their land. They won and the path was changed to return 170 acres to the village. The IOF has yet to act on the judgement and the wall remains in its original position and the protests continue.
The protest walks through the village to the edge of the houses where the landscape opens up and rolls down a small hill into open farmland with small bunches of olive trees on either side of the narrow road. The road is cut across by the wall, which here takes the form of a fence with two military guard posts. The route of the protest is along the road and to the wall, which yesterday activists managed to breech and they even cut down part of the fence and took it back to the village, where it is currently being displayed outside the Centre of the Popular Committee!
The use of tear gas and other "crowd control" weapons is a weekly occurrence in Bil'in and across the West Bank and Jerusalem where people gather to protest against the occupation. A group called Anarchists Against the Wall gave a briefing to first-timers on the demonstration we attended and we were advised on ways to cope with the gas and its nasty effects. The Israeli military has been accused of taking advantage of the occupation in order to test and develop new weapons and methods of "crowd control" and dispersal - so while activists struggle against the occupation that destroys life the Israeli military and its related weapons manufacturers are making profits and developing new marketable products.
Jamal Juma, Co-ordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign insisted "We are human beings, not animals they can use to test their new weapons. Israel continues to use us as a laboratory because the world allows it to do so. Not even the shocking evidence on the war crimes and the usage of white phosphorous during the attack on Gaza exactly two years ago have moved the international community to hold Israel accountable. It is critical that governments around the globe stop encouraging this practice and stop arms trade with Israel."
Hundreds of activists were in the village again today to carry Jawaher's body and take part in a funeral procession through the streets of Bil'in to her home where her family could say their final goodbyes before she was buried next to her brother.
The community in Bil'in continue their struggle with even more determination than ever. The voices of the Palestinian people will not be silenced with injustice and brutality! The vile and disgusting Wall must be torn town and the occupation ended before more lives are lost!