The village of Bilin in the occupied West Bank was quiet on 12 January 2010, but reminders of the violence that hits the village every Friday during the weekly demonstration against Israel’s illegal wall were visible. Posters of Jawaher Abu Rahmah were hung up and taped to signs and walls around the village. It had been nearly two weeks since Jawaher was killed on 1 January 2010 as a result of severe inhalation of tear gas fired by the Israeli military at a demonstration the previous day. In the immediate aftermath of her death, the Israeli military attempted to deflect blame for the killing by spreading misinformation, assisted by the right-wing blogosphere and the Israeli and US media about Jawaher. Israel’s propaganda, though, was quickly refuted by eyewitnesses to the death.
Jawaher was not the only member of the Abu Rahmah family whose life was taken by Israeli military violence. In April 2009, during a similar protest against the wall, an Israeli soldier fired a tear gas canister directly at Bassem Abu Rahmah, Jawaher’s brother, which hit him in the chest and killed him.
The Electronic Intifada contributor Alex Kane met with Soubhiya Abu Rahmah, the mother of Bassem and Jawaher, in Bilin. Hamde Abu Rahmah, Jawaher’s cousin and a photojournalist, translated for the interview.
Alex Kane: It’s been almost two weeks since Jawaher was killed. How are you feeling?
Soubhiya Abu Rahmah: I am not feeling good. I am very sad about my loss. I have been sick, and you know, when you lose somebody in your family, and it’s your daughter, it’s your daughter. Now two people I have lost. It’s really sad.
AK: Where were you when you found out that Jawaher was really ill?
SA: Before that day, I quit my work, because I wanted to take a holiday. In the morning, I made food, and after that I went to go visit my neighbors. It’s like I knew about her dying. After this, we went — me and my daughter [Jawaher] — close to the wall to watch the demonstration, and my daughter said, “I have to go back to the house,” and she left me. When she left me, that’s when it happened. She got tear gassed, and after that Jawaher went to the ambulance to go to Ramallah.
AK: Were you supportive of Jawaher going to the demonstrations?
SA: Yes, I was supportive. I was myself there many times, but because I am really sick, I cannot move. But my daughter, and her brothers, they were going.
AK: What’s your response to the Israeli military’s allegations about Jawaher — that it wasn’t their fault, that she was sick, that she had cancer, all of those allegations?
SA: They are just lying. I saw many papers from the doctors. She has nothing, her health was okay, she did not have any cancer. They always lie.
AK: Given that Jawaher and Bassem were both killed while demonstrating in Bilin, do you still think it is worth it for the protests to continue?
SA: Yes, for sure. When the army keeps doing this stuff, and the Israeli government steals more land, yes for sure I support the protests. Everyone will have to do something against them. We have never stopped, we will not be silent about this.
AK: Do you and your family plan on taking any legal action against the Israeli military over Jawaher’s death?
SA: We are looking, we will see. There’s a lawyer specifically for the wall, and he will see what can happen about Jawaher.
AK: Are there any messages you would like to say to those in the US?
SA: I have to say, for the American government, they have to make Israel stop doing this, to stop killing people, to stop stealing more land from the people here, stop throwing these weapons, these chemicals. Many people get sick from these things and many people die in Palestine, and they have to do many things against Israel to stop them, because they really do not care about anyone. They do what they want. The big reason why Jawaher died was because she took in so much tear gas, and she could not breathe. When she was at the demonstration, she was running from the tear gas, and she tried to go back to the village, and she took in so much of this and she couldn’t breathe and that’s why she died. That’s why they have to stop this.
Alex Kane is a blogger and journalist based in New York City. He is a frequent contributor to the blog Mondoweiss, and his work has appeared in Salon, The Electronic Intifada, Common Dreams, Palestine Chronicle, Gotham Gazette and Extra. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.