Palestinian with history of heart trouble stricken at home, yet anti-Israel activists scream “murder”
We have seen various levels of incitement in recent weeks, frequently involving false claims of Israeli murder of Palestinians.
Palestinian knife-attackers who are shot dead frequently are portrayed as the victim.
The most infamous example of such incitement was when Mahmoud Abbas claimed in a televised speech that a 13-year old Arab boy who stabbed a 13-year old Jewish boy was executed by Israel. In fact, the 13-year old Arab boy was alive and being treated (he was not shot, a car hit him during the attack) in an Israeli hospital; he since has been discharged. When Israel showed video of him in the hospital to dispel Abbas’ lie and to try to calm the situation, Israel was accused of violating the boy’s privacy (seriously).
Another incitement took place yesterday, over the death of Hashem Azzeh, a 54-year old Palestinian live in the section of Hebron (H2) which by a 1997 agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is under complete Israeli security control.
Hashem is described as a “peace activist” struggling to survive with his family in the Israeli-controlled section of Hebron.
That section, as I reported from my trip to Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs last June, is part of what was a several-hundred year old Jewish community which was driven out during 1929 Arab riots, in which 67 Jews in Hebron were massacred.
That small section of town has been reclaimed by a few hundred Israeli Jews, causing daily strife and requiring a heavy Israeli military presence. There are tall metal sniper shields to protect people and armed soldiers almost at every corner. There have been attacks on Arabs as well as on Jews, and Hebron is one of the most difficult situations of conflict.
The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which is active against Israel in many places, has a strong presence in Hebron and the H2 area. Other international observers are present also, such as this European group I encountered during my visit:ISM has worked closely with Azzeh’s family in dealing with what it termed harassment by Jewish settlers.
In an earlier report, just two days before Azzeh’s death, ISM reported that Azzeh was “[r]ecently weakened by heart attack and subsequent surgery.”
On October 21, it appears from further ISM reporting that Azzeh suffered chest pains at home, but died on the way to the hospital. ISM’s report that same day, did not mention any Israeli attack on Azzeh, though ISM speculated that the lack of Palestinian ambulances in H2 may have contributed (emphasis added):
Long term supporter and friend of ISM, Hashem Azzeh, has tragically passed away today aged 54, following health complications exacerbated by the conditions in Al-Khalil (Hebron). Hashem, who had a long-term cardiac condition, called for an ambulance on feeling discomfort in his chest earlier this afternoon. As Palestinian vehicles are banned within his H2 neighborhood of Tel Rumeida, Hashem had to be assisted to walk the 700 meters from his house to the Shuhada street checkpoint in increasing pain. He passed the soldiers who harass him and his family on a daily basis and was accompanied into an awaiting ambulance. He passed away not long afterwards.
The ISM report ended with this question mark over the death (in bold, italics in original):
An autopsy will occur overnight to determine the exact cause of Hashem’s death and the degree to which the Israeli-delayed medical assistance contributed to his untimely passing. There will be a funeral tomorrow, October 22 at 12pm in Al-Khalil.
ISM, which has people on the ground in Hebron and worked closely with Azzeh, made no mention of Azzeh being suffocated by tear gas. To the contrary, there was a waiting ambulance which took Azzeh away immediately after Azzeh suffered apparent heart trouble in his home. There was no claim that Azzeh was targeted by the IDF.
The facts in the ISM account are consistent with the account provided to me by the IDF Spokesman, Peter Lerner, in response to my inquiries as to the IDF’s position:
We’re aware of reports regarding a Palestinian allegedly dying due to gas inhalation.
after a thorough review of the matter, it was revealed as undeniably false.
The family claimed that the Palestinian was evacuated to the hospital with irregular breathing, due to gas inhalation.
It was determined to be impossible for the following reasons:
Gas was used to disperse a nearby riot, however the gas could not have reached the family’s house in terms of distance and altitude.
Secondly, the man did not leave his house during the day except for when he was evacuated.
thirdly, forces at the crossing reported passing him through immediately.
Fourthly, the hospital confirmed his death was caused by heart failure. We were unable to get the document from the hospital. It’s based on the civilian medical coordinator with the PA.
Nonetheless, the website Muftah.org wrote a post on October 21, 2015, claiming that the IDF “killed” Azzeh, IDF Kills Hebron Peace Activist, Hashem Azzeh:
Hashem Azzeh was the Israeli government’s worst nightmare….
Today, October 21, those soldiers killed Hashem Azzeh.
The link in the Muftah article supporting the claim that the IDF killed Azzeh is to a news item by the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, 54-year-old Palestinian dies from tear gas inhalation in Hebron:
A 54-year-old Palestinian died on Wednesday from excessive tear gas inhalation during clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli forces in Hebron, medical sources said.
A doctor in Hebron’s government hospital told Ma’an that the Palestinian, identified as Hashem al-Azzeh, had a previous history of cardiac disease.
Locals told Ma’an that he was a resident of the Tel Rumeida area of Hebron, and was at Bab al-Zawiya in central Hebron when he suffered excessive tear gas inhalation.
He was rushed to hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead.
A second Ma’an news item claimed that IDF soldiers refused to allow Azzeh to pass a checkpoint, which is contrary to the ISM report.
Ma’an appears to be the first to introduce the idea of “excessive tear gas inhalation,” which is contrary to ISM’s reporting that Azzeh had a recent heart attack, experienced chest pain before leaving his house, was met by a waiting ambulance and taken away, without any mention of tear gas causing the medical problem.
The Muftah article set off a Facebook firestorm (which is where I first saw the issue come up) and on Twitter as well.
The claims that the IDF “killed” Azzeh quickly escalated to claims that Azzeh was targeted specifically, and that he died during a protest. Middle East Eye claimed:
Alexandra Halaby, spokeswoman for the Palestinian news group International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC), told Middle East Eye that Azzeh began feeling chest pains in his home on Wednesday and needed medical help.
However, since Israeli forces do not allow ambulances into the closed off area near his house, Azzeh made his way to Bab al-Zawiya in order to find transportation to a hospital.
But intense clashes had broke out between local Palestinian youths and Israeli forces in the area, and Azzeh began “suffocating” from tear gas that soldiers had fired at protesters, Halaby told MEE.
He was finally picked up and brought to the hospital, but didn’t survive, she added.
The Palestinian International Middle East Media Center also reported that tear gas caused Azzeh’s medical emergency:
Medical sources at the Hebron Governmental Hospital, in the southern West bank city of Hebron, have reported on Wednesday evening that an elderly man died of severe effects of tear gas inhalation, after dozens of soldiers invaded the Zawiya area in the city.
The sources said the Palestinian has been identified as Hashem al-‘Azza, 54 years of age, from Tel Romeida neighborhood.
Medics rushed to the scene, and tried to stabilize his condition, before moving him to the hospital, where he died of the severe effects of tear gas inhalation.
Not to be outdone, Al-Jazeera also claimed tear gas during a protest caused the medical problem:
An outpouring of grief and sorrow has followed the killing of veteran Palestinian activist Hashem Azzeh by Israeli soldiers in Hebron.
The olive grower and medical doctor died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a protest in the Bab al-Zawiyah area of the city on Wednesday.
IsraellyCool has more on the media coverage.
Contrary to these claims, as ISM reported, there was an ambulance waiting for Azzeh and he was taken away immediately, after developing chest pain at home, not at a protest.
That did not stop wild claims from spreading that Azzeh was targeted. Here’s a sampling:
ISM-Palestine even tweeted out that Azzeh was denied access to an ambulance, which is contrary to ISM-Hebron’s reporting:
People on social media also started claiming Azzeh’s death was “murder.”
Controversial professor Steven Salaita, now teaching in Beirut while his lawsuit against U. Illinois proceeds, made the murder accusation on Twitter:
As did U. San Francisco Politics Professor Stephen Zunes:
And Yale History Ph.D student Andrew Bard Epstein, and others:
Facts and words matter.
To accuse Israel of “killing” Azzeh is a gross mischaracterization and speculation given Azzeh’s recent heart attack and surgery, and that he developed chest pains at home. [added] An Italian Communist website which is symptathetic to Palestinians at least was honest enough to acknowledge the lack of a clear connection between alleged tear gas and Azzeh’s death:
Azzeh arrived at the hospital in a desperate condition. The doctors could do little to save him. It’s difficult to establish how the tear gas contributed to Azzeh’s death, which was most likely caused by a heart attack. Certainly the roadblocks, which have surrounded his house for more than two decades, decreased his chances of survival. If an ambulance had ferried him immediately, Azzeh could have had a chance.
The claim of “murder” is worse, as it suggests a targeting and deliberateness. It’s the type of incitement, just like the false claim that a 13-year old Palestinian stabber was executed, which we’ve seen lead to further violence.
By all accounts that I’ve been able to find, Azzeh was not a violent person. His death also was not caused by violence, much less intent. He leaves behind several children. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help take care of them.
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