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Eyewitness account: The death of Ziad Abu Ein, 'choked' by an Israeli soldier

The Palestinian Minister known for his commitment to local movements died in hospital after being allegedly choked by an Israeli soldier
Minister Ziad Abu Ein dies after being hit by Israeli soldiers during a West Bank protest (MEE/Oren Ziv)

Today in the West Bank village of Turmus Aya, I attended a protest marking International Human Rights Day. Protesters marched in the direction of the illegal settlement, Adei Ad, which sits just beyond the outlying farm land of Turmus Ays.

In recent months, many attacks by suspected right-wing Jewish settlers were carried out in surrounding villages, including an arson attack on a mosque.  Another incident included the destruction of a house, belonging to a Palestinian family, which was set ablaze. While I was visiting the sites that suffered these attacks, local residents pointed towards the Adei Ad settlement as the place from where the alleged attackers came.

150 Palestinian activists and farmers gathered in the centre of Turmush Aya, and headed towards the village's farmland on Wednesday. Farmers are typically afraid to go to this agricultural area because of frequent settler intimidation.

Before the protesters arrived to the farming area, the Israeli army was already present and preparing to block the protesters. Soldiers shot tear gas and stun grenades, while protesters attempted to penetrate the soldiers’ barrier. Israeli troops pushed the protesters back, arresting three, including one journalist.

A few minutes later, Abdullah Abu Rahmeh, an activist from the village of Bilin, and Palestinian Authority Settlement Minister, Ziyad Abu Ein stood before the soldiers. Abu Rahmeh shouted at the soldiers "This is our land, let us pass." Soldiers started pushing them back.

When I asked Abu Rahmeh his purpose for being there, he answered, “We are here with olive trees to go to the land, but the soldiers are preventing us, they are here just to protect the settlers.”

Then suddenly I saw Ziyad Abu Ein fall to ground. I couldn’t tell whether he had been hit, or struck, but I saw his friends standing around him, and I could see that he was hardly breathing.

Witnesses who had a better view of the incident told me that he had been pushed and possibly even briefly choked by an Israeli soldier. As he lay on the ground he was alive, though barely conscious.

An Israeli army medic came and attended to Abu Ein, but the protesters intervened and evacuated him to a Palestinian ambulance. 

Meanwhile, the protesters continued with their demonstration, while holding young olive tree saplings, which they hoped to plant on their land.

During the demonstration, there were no clashes between young Palestinians and the army. It was generally calm, but there was a brief episode when the soldiers attacked the protesters.

As I returned to my car, I received the report that Ziyad Abu Ein had died in the hospital. 

I met Ziyad Abu Ein many times during protests in the West Bank, mostly in Bilin when they started their struggle in 2005. Despite the fact he was a high-ranking official, he often attended local grassroots events. 

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