Sometimes intense feelings cloud language, and sometimes they lend it vigor.
The back and forth over whether Jawaher Abu Rahmah had a preexisting condition when she succumbed last week after being in the vicinity of IDF-launched tear gas has appalled me, and I was hard put to express why — until I read it articulated by Dahlia Scheindlin today in +972.
Dahlia starts by resurrecting the Mohammed al-Durrah case, which had occasioned in me the distaste Dalia expresses — and which I had long suppressed:
I never got the point. The boy died in the conflict and he was 12; his own father could not save him. Thousands of other Palestinian civilians died too and he symbolized their plight, just as the Dolphinarium bombing came to symbolize the death of innocent Israelis. Was it an Israeli bullet or a Palestinian bullet? Who cares? The boy has become the symbol of the following reality: that Israel should not be occupying and controlling the Palestinians, should not be using overwhelming force in an asymmetrical, militarily unsolvable conflict and nobody should be killing children.
The struggle over al-Durrah’s story became a lawsuit between France 2 television against Philippe Karsteny, the French businessman and media analyst who accused the station of a hoax. The suit, verdicts and appeals dragged on, which in my opinion desecrates the memory of the dead. “Because I refused to be brainwashed,” said Karsteny with great self-righteousness, I was sued for defamation” – as if the death of a child, and the raging Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is all about him.
I’m not endorsing her "should nots" — at least not in the sense of ascribing to Israel sole responsibility for having to be an occupier — but I also felt disgust at the wipe-my-hands-of-it posturing on both sides when each had come to its smug conclusion about whose bullets had killed the boy.
A child died in crossfire. Children should not die in crossfire. When children die in crossfire, something needs to be fixed — not shrugged off as someone else’s fault. .ראש קטן
I can’t help but draw the same conclusion about Abu Rahmah. She is not, as has been reported, the first Palestinian to die from inhaling tear gas. Back toward the end of the first Intifada, around 1992 or 1993, my job at AP was to take notes from our reporters in the West Bank and Gaza and then to seek out army comment.
There were a number of deaths ascribed by Palestinian medical officials to tear gas poisoning, and in each case the army ascribed the death to other circumstances. I duly noted both versions.
And then there was a case of a woman in her 50s or 60s in northern Gaza (I can’t place where or when exactly, and if anyone with Nexis wants to check, please do) who was in the vicinity of the clash, who collapsed, and who had pretty clearly died because of the inhalation.
So I got on the phone to the IDF spokesman’s office. A spokeswoman took my call, and called back a while later — yes, the woman had, indeed, died of gas inhalation. But the spokeswoman wanted to make sure I also noted the following, and included it in copy: She had a pre-existing heart condition.
I remember thinking, this is what the spokesman’s office think is vindicative? But okay, into copy it goes.
So now, in the wake of Abu Rahmah’s death, a blogger at Israel Seen comes to the same conclusion:
The point is that even if Abu Rahma died from inhaling tear gas, it is a non-story. The firing of tear gas at a violent demonstration does not indicate lethal intent. The Israelis were not trying to kill Abu Rahma. They were using a common and globally accepted form of crowd control.
If that crowd control method resulted in Abu Rahma’s death, it must be chalked up to either a freak accident or a reaction resulting from an undisclosed medical condition.
If tear gas can kill people with medical conditions, undisclosed or otherwise, if it can cause freak accidents, we — the Israeli public, anyone in danger of walking into a tear gas situation — needs to know that. It needs to be part of the IDF’s or the police’s risk assessment in using it in crowd situations, and the IDF and the police need to explain how they arrive at their risk assessments.
You don’t stroll into a house of mourning and say "What can I say, it was a freak accident."