Home inContext Tension Mounts Amid Death of Palestinian Minister

Tension Mounts Amid Death of Palestinian Minister

Michael Johnson

Investigators released an autopsy report on Thursday describing the death of cabinet minister and Fatah member Ziad Abu Ein. The Israeli government promised to launch an investigation into Ein’s death following a confrontation with Israeli border police during a demonstration in the West Bank on Wednesday. Thousands of mourners attended the minister’s funeral before an honor guard laid him to rest in the Palestinian administrative capital of Ramallah.

During the post-mortem examination, forensic experts from Israel and the Palestinian Territories both agreed that stress likely caused hemorrhaging in the inner lining of the heart, thereby blocking the coronary artery. But, a Palestinian pathologist conducting the autopsy told Wafa, the official news agency, that the minister’s death was attributed to violence, not natural causes. Other government officials insist Ein died after “being struck, inhaling tear gas and a delay in providing medical attention.” Meanwhile, the Israeli examiner did not blame the border police for the minister’s death, rather saying that Ein’s history of heart disease and previous heart attacks could have “made him more sensitive to stress.”

A memorial service held for Ziad Abu Ein on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters)

Video filmed by media attending Wednesday’s protests may also assist investigators with their inquiry. The footage shows a border policeman momentarily grabbing Ein by the neck during the confrontation. The minister then gets forcibly restrained by another Palestinian, pulling Ein back against his will. After a short interruption in the video, Ein can be seen sitting on a rock physically distressed. Moments later the minister collapses, an Israeli medic can be seen by his side before other Palestinians carry him away. However, the video does not show any tear gas or other physical altercation as Palestinians allege.

Appointed to lead the PLO’s Commission Against the Separation Wall and Settlements in September, Ein was responsible for organizing “popular resistance” demonstrations. Additionally, he was once a prominent figure in Fatah’s youth movement. However, Ein also served time in an Israeli prison after being convicted of a 1979 terrorist bombing in Tiberias that killed two 16-year-old Israelis. In 1981, Ein became the first Palestinian extradited from the U.S. to Israel, where he was released from prison as part of the 1986 Jibril prisoner exchange.

The Israeli government hopes that Wednesday’s altercation will not exacerbate tensions, but PA leaders in the West Bank have already begun a war of words, calling Ein’s death “murder” or an “assassination.” As a result, the IDF has deployed two additional army battalions to the West Bank. Palestinians only ceased demonstrations late last month after weeks of protests over access to the Temple Mount.