JERUSALEM, (AFP) – Israel’s military on Monday sought to cast doubt on reports that tear gas fired by its troops caused the death of a Palestinian protester, prompting fierce rebuttals from activists.
Jawaher Abu Rahma died overnight Friday after inhaling massive amounts of tear gas at a demonstration against Israel’s separation barrier, according to Israeli and Palestinian activists and staff at a Ramallah hospital.
But a high-ranking Israeli military official told AFP that the “army doubts the authenticity of that version, because the initial inquiry has uncovered many contradictions and improbabilities, which raise questions.”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the hospital listed Abu Rahma’s cause of death as “tear gas inhalation, according to the family,” and questioned why the family’s opinion was given on the death certificate.
The official also contended that tear gas disperses rapidly in the air over open ground and does not kill protesters, questioning whether Abu Rahma was even at the December 31 demonstration in the West Bank village of Bilin.
“Rahma does not appear in any photos taken during the protest in question and it’s possible she didn’t participate in it,” he said.
Activists and Abu Rahma’s relatives attacked the Israeli military for seeking to cast doubt on the death through anonymously given quotes, asking why military officials were not willing to address the issue on the record.
“Their claims are based on absolutely no fact. They bring absolutely no evidence to any of these claims,” said Jonathan Pollak, an Israeli activist who told AFP he attended the demonstration with Abu Rahma and saw her there.
“We, on the other hand, have the testimony of the doctors at the hospital. There were numerous witnesses who have seen her at the demonstration,” he said.
“We will soon have a report from the Red Crescent saying that she was evacuated from the demonstration due to tear gas inhalation.”
He ridiculed Israeli military claims that Abu Rahma was suffering a terminal illness, saying her employer could testify she worked the day before the protest, “which is not something someone with a terminal illness would do.”
Hospital director Mohamed Eideh told AFP that Abu Rahma arrived at the hospital with her parents, suffering lung failure.
“Her parents, who accompanied her in the ambulance, said she had inhaled a large amount of tear gas and said she had no pre-existing serious medical condition,” he said.
“The lung failure and the liquid that was coming out of her mouth when she arrived at the hospital were signs or symptoms that she was exposed to tear gas.”
On Friday, the army said it had used unspecified “means of dispersing demonstrations” against some 250 violent protesters taking part in a weekly rally against the Israeli separation barrier near the West Bank village of Bilin.
Photos showed clouds of tear gas billowing around stone-throwing protesters.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad also attended the protest but was unhurt.