3 January 2011. A World to Win News Service. Why has Israel inflicted so much suffering on the children of Subhiyeh Abu Rahmeh?
Her son Abdullah was a founder of the unarmed and largely non-violent protests that have been held in Bilin every Friday for almost six years. The villagers are demanding the dismantling of the Israeli wall that cuts them off from most of their olive orchards and other agricultural land that still legally belongs to them. An Israeli settlement built on land that was taken from them earlier, in the 1980s, sits on the other side of the double row of wire fence.
Abdullah was arrested for organizing these demonstrations in December 2009. He remains in prison. One of the charges against him is possession of weapons: the spent tear gas grenades and bullets fired at protesters that he collected to mount an exhibition exposing the Israeli security forces.
Another son, Ahmad, once told BBC that he believes in peace and a two-state solution to the Israeli occupation. He wore a T-shirt showing the Israeli and Palestinian flags flying side by side, which is supposedly what the Israeli government and the U.S. are seeking to bring about.
But this stand didn’t help his brother Ashraf, who was grabbed by Israeli soldiers at a protest in the nearby village of Naalin in 2008. While he was on the ground they tied his hands behind his back and put a hood over his head, stood him up and tied him to a jeep. Acting on orders from a lieutenant-colonel, one soldier held him while another shot him in the leg with a tear gas projectile at nearly point-blank range. Ashraf lived to press charges, but the case remains unresolved, even though the whole incident was captured on film.
In April 2009 their brother Bassem was at the front of the weekly march to the wall. As they turned the corner, the Israeli soldiers waiting for them, as always, began firing tear gas. A few undeterred protesters advanced towards the fence anyway. Standing further back and to the side, 30-40 metres away from the soldiers, Bassem called out in Hebrew, “We are in a non-violent protest, there are kids and internationals…” Before he could finish his sentence a soldier shot him in the chest with a high-velocity tear gas canister.
It was the same kind of new lethal projectile called “the rocket” that had been fired at the head of an American participant in a march in a nearby village a few weeks before, leaving him in a coma to this day.
The 29-year-old Bassem fell to the ground writhing in pain, and died soon after. This shooting, too, was filmed, but this time there were no charges. The Israeli military recently issued a formal decision that there will be no investigation.
People in Bilin believe that Bassem, a prominent non-violent activist well-known to the soldiers and clearly visible in a florescent green jersey, was specifically targeted for murder. Ballistics experts who examined the two sets of video footage concluded that the grenade was fired directly at him and not toward the ground, contrary to supposed Israeli rules of engagement for the weapon. The soldiers probably also knew who his brother Ashraf was when they used the same weapon to punish him for demonstrating.
The weekly march held on 31 December 2010 was bigger than usual, with hundreds of people taking part in the protest to mark the end of the year. One of them was Subhiyeh Abu Rahmeh’s daughter Jawaher, a kindergarten teacher who also worked as a tailor since her family had become largely dependent on her income.
Israeli soldiers fired an unusually large number of gas canisters at the demonstrators. Jawaher collapsed, unable to breath, and went into convulsions. She was taken to hospital in Ramallah, but the medical staff couldn’t save the 36-year-old woman. She was pronounced dead the next morning. Israeli authorities refused to identity the kind of gas that the doctors say killed her.
Three thousand people attended her funeral on the first day of the new year. In Tel Aviv hundreds of people protesting her killing rallied in front of the defence ministry, where police attacked them. About a dozen people were arrested on weapons possession charges when demonstrators attempted to “return” U.S.-supplied empty tear gas canisters to the American ambassador’s residence.
Bilin and Naalin are north of Ramallah. Israelis consider this prime real estate because it is so close to Tel Aviv that you can sometimes see the city’s beaches from the rooftops of the Jewish settlement uphill from Bilin. The village has been walled off from the sea and about 200 hectares of the villagers’ land for what the Zionists hope will be forever.
The protests in these two West Bank villages are often promoted as examples of the kind of non-violent movement that could wrench concessions from Israel through moral and political pressure. A son of Martin Luther King and a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi made symbolic visits to the area in 2010. Organizers have trained villagers in non-violent resistance tactics and sometimes pacifist philosophy. They are supported by the Fatah movement, the key organization in the Palestinian Authority that serves as the bullied local partner of the Israelis on the West Bank and has sought to negotiate a two-state solution for many years. Their insistence on non-violence is linked to their belief that American support is their only hope. Some people uphold this movement as an example of “legitimate” protest, as opposed to the “illegitimacy” of those who advocate the liberation of Palestine by any means necessary.
Further, these protests have international law on their side. The International Court of Justice at The Hague has ruled that the Israeli wall is illegal, and even the Israeli Supreme Court ruled more than three years ago that some of the Bilin villagers’ land should be made accessible to them again, although these rulings have never been enforced.
Yet these protests have been repeatedly met with beatings, arrests, stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds. As of early 2010, about 1,200 participants in the weekly marches had been injured and 85 arrested. Some are still in Israeli prisons. Since the demonstrations began in February 2005, when construction on the wall first started in Bilin, the Israeli army has murdered 21 protesters.
Israeli soldiers killed two of Subhiyeh Abu Rahmeh’s six children, badly wounded a third and locked up a fourth to stop these protest marches and punish their participants, whether non-violent or not. The fact that they were struggling to regain Palestinian land was enough to justify violent repression.
In fact, Israel sometimes kills Palestinians who aren’t engaged in any kind of resistance. Two days after soldiers killed Jawaher Abu Rahmeh in Bilin, they also gunned down a young Palestinian farm labourer going through a West Bank checkpoint to work for Israeli settlers. Ahmad Maslamani had gone through a metal detector and apparently made a wrong turn leaving the checkpoint area. Israeli military officials at first claimed that their soldiers felt threatened by Maslamani because they thought he was carrying a water bottle, which in their eyes constitutes a weapon. Then, when witnesses said that he had been empty-handed, they said that the killing was due to a “misunderstanding”. For Israel, any Palestinian is a potential enemy.
Because the Zionist state was built on stolen land, and because a state defined as Jewish cannot exist without denying Palestinian rights, Israel will always feel obliged to use violence against them. Its soldiers kill even those who advocate some sort of coexistence with Israel, Palestinians and even some Jews and others, because the only kind of peace Israel can ever accept is one in which the Palestinian cause is crushed. The cry for justice is an “existential threat” to the Zionist state because there can never be justice as long as it exists.
This militarized settler state is a central pillar of U.S. domination of the Middle East. And while the Obama government rails at what it considers rights violations in China and Russia, it has said nothing about any of these murders. Continuing arms supplies and financial backing for Israel is consider a given by political figures on both sides of the American political mainstream.
Israelis fired the the deadly projectiles that punished Subhiyeh Abu Rahmeh’s children, but the weapons were American. Bassem and Jawaher died, ultimately, because they stood in the way of U.S. interests.