Killing Bassem: Just Like That

By Sayed Dhansay

He stands on a small sandy hilltop wearing a bright yellow t-shirt, cigarette in hand. He is calling out to the soldiers on the other side of the fence “Do not shoot, do not shoot. There are children and internationals here, do not shoot.” Thin white wisps of teargas linger in the gentle breeze, a moment of calm in the confrontation.

Suddenly a teargas canister whizzes past the camera making an audible “clunk” as it hits something to the right. He tries to let out a scream, but all he manages is a stifled yelp. One can almost hear his breath being cut short as the projectile punctures his chest. Another muted scream of pain. He falls to the ground then jumps up quickly, running a few steps before collapsing again.

His body rolls a few times as he hits the ground, his limbs flapping loosely underneath him. Two fellow demonstrators run to him, looking almost surprised and unsure of what has just happened. They turn him over, lifting his shirt and calling his name. But he is unresponsive. His eyes are open but his body lies motionless. His bright yellow shirt now quickly growing a wet red stain over his heart.

And so the occupied people of Palestine sacrifice yet another one of their young men. Another one. Again. Just like that. In an instant. Caught live on camera for the world to see. 29 year old Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahme was later pronounced dead at Ramallah hospital on Friday 17 April 2009 after being shot in the chest with a high-velocity teargas canister by an Israeli soldier. A faceless, nameless soldier of course, who will never have to explain or account for taking the life of another human being.

Bassem posed no threat to the security of Israel as he stood atop that hill. He was not armed, nor was he throwing stones. Ironically, he was calling out to the Israeli forces to hold their fire because children and internationals were present, when he was shot. He was involved in a non-violent demonstration when his own life was so violently taken.

For nearly four years now the residents of Bil’in have non-violently protested the annexation of their land by Israel’s so-called “security fence”. This barrier has effectively annexed roughly 60% of Bil’in’s farming land to the Israeli side.

As this village is almost exclusively sustained by agriculture, one could say that 60% of their economy has disappeared, with dire consequences for the community.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2005 that the barrier in its entirety is illegal under international law, and recommended that Israel halt its construction and demolish the parts that had already been completed.

In addition, the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled on three different occasions that the route of the barrier in Bil’in is illegal under Israeli law. The IDF was ordered to reroute the barrier in order that it did not usurp so much of Bil’in’s land. Until today, not a single meter has been removed in Bil’in or elsewhere in the West Bank.

The Israeli army’s claim that this is a security measure is simply preposterous. One doesn’t have to look far across the barrier in Bil’in to see what the land is being stolen for – the extension of yet another illegal settlement. In this case, the Matityahu East neighbourhood of the Modi’in Ilit settlement.

Bil’in has become somewhat of an inspiration and example in the West Bank for its now famous weekly protests. The small village has also gained international recognition for its steadfastness and commitment to non-violent protest, as documented in the award-winning film, ‘Bil’in My Love’.

The villagers, along with international and even Israeli demonstrators, have faithfully upheld their weekly protests every single Friday, without exception, for the last three years. While these demonstrations are strictly non-violent and consist mainly of chanting, waving the Palestinian flag and attempting to access the confiscated land, the response from Israeli forces is always harsh.

Every week demonstrators are showered with copious amounts of rubber coated steel bullets and teargas. In another West Bank village, Na’alin, four youths were shot dead in separate incidents by Israeli soldiers last year, also while protesting against the barrier in their village.

Lately, however, IOF troops have employed a new and deadly tactic in an effort to quell protest. This involves the use of a new, high-velocity teargas canister which is being shot directly at protestors. These canisters are relatively quiet when fired, emitting only a faint smoke trail, which makes them difficult to detect. In addition, their 400 meter range makes them lethal when fired directly at people.

This is the same type of teargas canister which nearly killed 37 year old American activist Tristan Anderson in Na’alin on 13 March 2009 when he was shot directly in the face from 60 meters away. He remains in a coma in a Tel Aviv hospital.

Though these canisters are meant to be fired upwards in an arc-like projection, Israeli soldiers have realized their deadly potential and are using them as bullets, probably in an attempt to disguise their intentions by not shooting ordinary ammunition.

While Tristan Anderson remains in a serious coma, he was lucky to escape with his life. Bassem however, was not as fortunate. And because he is Palestinian, the mainstream international media will not be interested in his case. He is simply not important enough.

His story will be relegated to the bottom corner of a back page of a newspaper somewhere, probably in biased language that blames him for his own death – if even that. As the haunting sound of his last painful screams play over in my head, I wonder just how much more the collective Palestinian spirit can take before another mass uprising.

For now, the resilience of Bil’in lives on. The next day, hundreds turned out for Bassem’s funeral. His body, draped in the Palestinian flag, hoisted above them. Held aloft by chants of “Ash Shaheed Habibullah” (The martyr is beloved by God). Moving briskly to its resting place where so many have been taken before.

And while Palestine waits patiently for the international community to stand by its side, the fearless people of Bil’in will be out again this Friday. Ready to sacrifice their blood and their souls for something very simple – just to have returned what has, and always will, rightfully be theirs.

(Bassem is the 18th Palestinian to be killed in non-violent anti-wall demonstrations in the West Bank since 2004.)

– Sayed Dhansay is based in South Africa. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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