By Jody McIntyre
On New Year’s Eve, as people across the world celebrated together, Jawaher Abu Rahmah lay alone, struggling for breath in a Ramallah hospital. The day before, the people of her village, Bil’in, in the West Bank, had marched to Israel’s wall, which cuts through half of the village, to non-violently demonstrate against the theft of their land, just as they have done every Friday since construction on the wall began in 2005.
Jawaher had suffered from asphyxiation as a result of the tear gas the Israeli army had fired at demonstrators. Jawaher, however, was not participating in the demonstration herself; she was sitting at her family’s home 500 metres away when she begun to suffocate. On Saturday morning, Jawaher, aged 35, died in hospital.
In 2009, I spent six months living in Bil’in; for four months straight, the Israeli army would raid the village at night, taking young teenage boys from their homes, some as young as thirteen years old, and imprisoning them for months on end. No reasons were given for their arrests, but those attending the demonstrations were often targeted.
The first person I met upon my arrival in Bil’in was a man called Haitham. He was working as a film maker, and came out every night to document the army raids, and every Friday to film the demonstrations at the wall. Haitham had a two year-old son called Karme, who had been diagnosed with leukemia just a few months after his birth. Before the demonstrations began, Haitham took his son to hospital in Jerusalem every day to get treatment, but since he began filming, the Israeli army refused to renew his permit to travel to Jerusalem.
I spent much of my time in Bil’in living with Hamde Abu Rahmah, a young photo-journalist, and we developed a close relationship. During one of the Friday demonstrations at the wall, Hamde’s oldest brother, Khamis, had been shot by an Israeli soldier in the head with a high-velocity tear-gas canister. He spent two weeks in a coma, and still suffers from his injuries today. One of the people to care for Khamis during the first few months was his cousin, and Jawaher’s brother, Bassem Abu Rahme. In April 2009, Bassem died after being shot in the chest with the same weapon.
Another person I became close to during my time in Bil’in was Rani Burnat, a man who had been paralysed after being shot in the spine on the first day of the second intifada. I remember once asking him if the Israeli soldiers treated him differently because he was in a wheelchair. He said, “Jody, I want to tell you two things… firstly, I think you know very well by now, as I do, that the Israeli army do not care if you are walking, in a wheelchair, man, woman or child!” ”And the second thing I want to tell you,” Rani said, “is that it doesn’t matter if you’re in a wheelchair or not. What’s important are the ideas, and the resistance, that’s in your mind.”
Jawaher Abu Rahmah died for refusing to accept the theft of her family’s land. How many more will suffer a similar fate?