Up Against the Wall

Palestinian Cabinet Member Dies in Confrontation with Israeli Soldier

The exact circumstances are murky, but Ziad Abu Ein is now dead, and another nail is being hammered into the coffin of the peace process.

Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty

RAMALLAH, The West Bank For the first time, a Palestinian cabinet minister has been killed as a result of clashes with the Israeli military.

On Wednesday morning, Ziad Abu Ein, the head of the Anti-Wall and Settlement Commission, died while protesting the expansion of the Israeli Adei Ad settlement near Ramallah.

Sources who were at the protest say that Abu Ein suffered a strong head-butt from a helmet-wearing Israeli soldier, was hit in the chest, and inhaled a large amount of teargas. As an autopsy has yet to be completed, the official cause of death remains unknown.

One video shows Abu Ein getting his throat grabbed by a soldier during an argument, followed by a tear gas canister exploding next to them.

Another shows the 55 year-old father of four collapsing from what could be a heart attack or some other condition associated with chronic diabetes and high blood pressure, and angle on the death being played up by the right-wing Israeli website Arutz Sheva.

The details aren’t clear, but what matters at this point is that a popular Palestinian minister died in the presence of the IDF.

Abu Ein has a long and bitter history with the Israelis. He was the first Palestinian to be extradited from the United States to Israel in 1981, charged with planting explosives that killed two Israelis in Tiberias, a city in the northern Galilee region, in 1979.

He was found guilty and sentenced to life in 1982, but released in 1985 in a prisoner exchange. After that, Abu Ein served in various high level positions. He was the director of the advisory board for Fatah, the leading political party of the Palestinian Authority, a member of the Palestinian Federation of Industrialists, and the deputy minister of prisoners’ affairs. Abu Ein could bring the perspective of a man who had spent altogether 13 years of his life incarcerated in the United States and Israel, according to Al Jazeera.

In the West Bank, serving time in Israeli jails is a badge of honor. This, coupled with serving in a leadership position over prisoners’ affairs, afforded the fallen minister a lot of political clout.

He frequently took part in protests against settlements and the Israeli separation barrier (popularly referred to as the “apartheid wall”) as he was doing Wednesday when he died.

Soon after Abu Ein died, the Palestinian Authority announced three days of mourning. This includes the closure of most shops and postponement of things like Ramallah’s Days of Cinema Festival and other social gatherings.

Jibril Rajoub, a member of the Fatah Central and veteran of senior police posts, said that the PA would end security coordination with the Israelis as a result of the incident.

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If the PA ended security coordination with Israel, that would have a serious effect on the lives of every person living in the occupied West Bank. Currently, the Israelis can enter the PA controlled territory to conduct arrests and even raids on popular cafés, whenever they like.

If the coordination were to end, the West Bank could potentially become like Gaza: when the Israelis come in, they would most likely be met with bullets, not PA inaction.

Of course, this would mean that the West Bank could end up in the same dire humanitarian situation as Gaza, with Israel attacking and blockading at will.

At a press conference tonight, PA president Mahmoud Abbas stopped short of making any proclamations about security coordination, saying that “all options are on the table” for dealing with Abu Ein’s death.

The European Union and the United Nations urged an independent inquiry into the minister’s death, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the PA that Israel would investigate the matter.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the leftist militant group that has recently experienced a jump in popularity due to a vicious synagogue attack by two cousins with alleged ties to the PFLP, said Palestinians should “escalate resistance in all forms” in a statement published on its website.

The death of a minister is unprecedented for the Palestinians and it could not have come at a worst time: the tensions stemming from controversies surrounding the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the killing of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and punitive measures such as housing demolitions in Jerusalem, haven’t enraged Palestinians in the West Bank as much as their counterparts living under direct Israeli control.

But this could be a game changer. As President Abbas said, the table has all the options on it, yes, but almost none of them are good.