Monday, January 03, 2011

More questions about Abu Rahma (UPDATED)

An update on this story about the Palestinian Arab woman  Jawaher Abu Rahma who was allegedly killed by tear gas in Bil'in.

The Independent's Donald Macintyre writes:

The Israeli military said yesterday it was investigating the death of a Palestinian woman after she inhaled tear gas fired by soldiers during a protest against the military's separation barrier in the West Bank.

The woman, Jawaher Abu Rahma, 36, collapsed vomiting after being caught in a cloud of tear gas...

There were conflicting reports yesterday over whether the dead woman had any medical condition that made her especially susceptible to tear gas. One of her brothers, Samir, yesterday denied suggestions that she had suffered from asthma.

He said she had had trouble with one ear and protest organisers said she had suffered recently from flu or another illness which may have included respiratory problems, but that she had recovered well before Friday's protest.

Michael Sfard, the Israeli lawyer representing the woman's family, said troops used "incredible quantities of gas" at the protest, a weekly event that often degenerates into clashes between stone throwing protesters and soldiers.

Witnesses however said that Ms Abu Rahma was some way from such a confrontation at the time. She died in hospital in Ramallah on Saturday

Ilham Abu Rahma, 19, a cousin and neighbour of the dead woman, said she was on a first floor verandah at her house when she saw Ms Abu Rahma standing on a wall across the street talking to a relative and looking down the hill towards olive trees where soldiers were confronting stone-throwing youths. The protesting youths were between her and the soldiers. She said she was conscious both of tear gas and the foul smelling "skunk" which the military add to the water fired from water cannon during some protests. She went inside her house and shut the windows.

She said Jawaher had started walking up the street away from the protest. "I heard Hilmi (her brother) telling me to come and help Jawaher. She was vomiting yellow stuff and lying on the ground. She waved me away to say she was still being sick. I couldn't carry her." With the help of another cousin, Ilham got her into the house, where she said they waited nearly half an hour for an ambulance. She added: "There was saliva in the corner of her mouth. She was pointing at her chest and saying, 'Am I going to die?'"

Ilham Abu Rahma said she did not know why her cousin, who worked as a local baby-sitter, had been so much more gravely affected by the tear gas than others in the same areas. "Maybe it was just because the wind blew up a cloud of gas to where she was," she added.

The Israeli military described Friday's protest as a "violent and illegal riot". It said it was investigating the incident but complained that it had not been shown the medical report by the Palestinian authorities.

Dr Mohammed Eideh, who treated Ms Abu Rahma in Ramallah, said she died of "respiratory failure and then cardiac arrest" caused by tear gas inhalation.
Macintyre does not say explicitly that she was attending the protest, but the Independent's caption under her photo says "Jawaher Abu Rahma was protesting against the barrier in the West Bank."

 It is interesting that the cousin says she shut the windows of her house but then heard her brother call for help. Possible, but interesting.

The bigger question is how Dr. Eideh knows the cause of death was from the tear gas when there is no evidence that any tear gas was shot near her at all?

And then we have this account from Palestine News Network on Saturday that mirrors the Facebook entry that her cousin wrote:
The primary cause of death was suffocation from tear gas chemicals mixed with phosphorus (shot by Israeli troops at protestors, in a peaceful Friday weekly demonstration) according to the doctor that attended her.

Jawaher was not present at the demonstration. She was in her home, approximately 500 meters away from where the gas canisters landed, when she suffered the effects of gas that was carried over the village by wind. The chemicals caused poisoning in her lungs, which caused suffocation and the stopping of the heart, leading to her death after fighting for her life overnight at Ramallah city Hospital.

I don't know if the doctor mentioned here is the same one mentioned by the Independent. Reuters Arabic quotes that same doctor, Mohamed Eida, who is the director of ambulance and emergency services in the Ministry of Health, as saying that he didn't know the kind of gas that caused her to stop breathing, while her attending physician claimed it was phosphorus and tear gas, and the Independent quotes Eida as saying definitively that it was tear gas.

Israeli TV showed video of a woman being treated at the scene, but it does not appear to be the Abu Rahma:
Abu Rahma (from the Independent)
Woman from protest shown on Israeli TV

Her brother claiming that the gas was "phosphorus" on Israeli TV
 (screenshots h/t Jed)

 It seems impossible that tear gas can be fatal from the distance she was, both according to the Independent and the PNN accounts. According to a tear gas fact sheet:

The deadly effects of tear gas would only occur following exposure to a dosage several hundred times greater than the amount of tear gas typically used by law enforcement officials for crowd control.

Coupled with the fact that the PA is not sharing their medical records with Israel (and yet so many Arabs claim to know the cause of death) and the story is just not adding up.

(h/t DJK for tear gas fact sheet)

From The Muqata:

Israel TV and IDF radio are both reporting that IDF has announced that Jawaher ABu Rahma was not even at the violent, weekly Bil'in protest.

So how did she die?
Apparently she had Leukemia, and died of her cancer - completely unconnected to the protest.
She was in fact in a Ramallah hospital for 10 days prior to her death.