Frank Barat | Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK
The death of Bassem Abu Rahme
On April the 17th, like any Fridays afternoon for the last 4 years, the small village of Bil’in, north of Ramallah, was preparing for the usual demonstration against Israel’s annexation wall (some people call it apartheid wall or separation wall. The Israeli government refers to it as the security fence).
The village of Bil’in has, since the mid eighties, lost more than 60% of its land for the purpose of Israeli growing settlements and the construction of the wall. The inhabitants of the village used to live mainly from agriculture and olive tree plantations, but more and more the people of Bil’in have to rely on their women to survive. Embroidery has become one of the main resource of the place, located a few kilometres away from Tel Aviv. On a nice day, you can see the inaccessible – for the Palestinians – beach from the roof tops of Bil’in.
In January 2005 a village organizing committee, led by Mohamed Khatib, Iyad Burnat and Abdullah Abu Rahme, was created and one month later non-violent demonstrations started, first every day, then once a week, on Yum Al Juma’a (Friday, the Muslim day of prayer).
The village won a huge battle in August 2008 when the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the new route of the barrier in Bil’in was in violation of the Court ruling released on September 2007. That ruling stated that the Wall’s path was prejudicial to Bil’in and must be altered. The State was ordered to present a new route within 45 days, which upheld the principles of the ruling.
On Friday the 17th of April 2009, the wall still had not moved one inch and while the inhabitants of the village were praying at the village mosque, internationals and a strong contingent of Israeli supporters – including people from the Alternative Information Centre and Anarchists Against the Wall – were looking for some shade to hide from the baking sun and chatting about the day’s event. As soon as prayer was over with, the demonstration started to move forward in direction of the wall, a few kilometres away.
Bassem Abu Rahme (aka Phil) was right at the front of the march. He always was. I had met Bassem a few times while visiting Bil’in. He was a strong looking man, singing the loudest, joking all the time, jumping around and leading the way, accompanied by the rest of the village committee and the Israeli contingent.
As it usually happens, as soon as the march reached the corner where the Israeli soldiers can be seen, the tear gas started. A few brave ones, always continue anyway and reach the beginning of the wall. Bassem, as usual, was one of those. The Israelis present at the front of the demonstration started talking with the nearby soldiers in Hebrew and Bassem screamed, “We are in a non violent protest, there are kids and internationals…”
He was shot in the chest and never managed to finished his sentence. He fell to the ground, moved a little, fell again, and died.
Bassem was shot by a new kind of tear gas canister, called the “rocket.” The soldier who shot him was a mere 40 meters away. This is the same type of tear gas that critically injured US citizen Tristan Anderson a few weeks ago. Those tear gas canisters are as fast and lethal as live ammunition and very hard to get away from. Normally, tear gas canisters fly in the air for a long time, then fall and bounce a few times. These new canisters fly like an over-sized bullet and go straight, not up and down.
Once more, Israel is using the West Bank as its testing ground and Palestinians as guinea pigs for new kinds of ammunition.
The soldier who fired knew what he was doing and who he was targeting. The shame is that he probably knew Bassem. Bassem was always at the front, and had been for several years. The soldiers often serve more than once in Bil’in and start to know the people facing them at the demonstrations.
On April the 17th , Bil’in and Palestine lost one of their heroes.
What is going to happen next? Israel claims it will investigate the incident. Only 6% of offending soldiers from similar investigations have been prosecuted and those have usually been let off with a few weeks suspension. The Israeli government claims, as it has in the past, that the demonstration was violent and that soldiers were forced to respond. This worn-out propaganda is discredited by the video of the demonstration, which clearly shows otherwise.
We may even hear in a few days that it was actually the Palestinians who fired the tear gas and killed their beloved friend.
The Palestinian Authority, instead of issuing a strong statement against this act, stopping, once and for all, the negotiations with the Israeli government, and joining the demonstrators every Friday to be hand in hand with its people, said next to nothing and is looking forward to the coming up White House meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and President Obama.
The media has hardly reported any of Bil’in’s story. In their narrative of the conflict, the Palestinians do not count. This is even more shocking when a video of the event is available and shows so clearly the imbalance of violence directed at Palestinians.
The international community will not mention this “incident” and continue issuing calls for the Palestinians to renounce violence and resist peacefully. Since the start of the second intifada, 87% of the dead have been Palestinians. But the international community will say little about Israel’s violations of international law and oppression of the Palestinians.
It is therefore left to us, the citizens of this world, to act, to join solidarity groups, to write articles, to make films and talk – constantly – about the plight of the Palestinian people. Palestine has to become the number one issue.
It must. For Bassem, his family, Bil’in, and Palestine.
Frank Barat is in the organizing committee of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and a member of Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK.
The village of Bil’in is organizing its fourth conference on nonviolent resistance from April 22 – 24.