It’s called “skunk water” because of the horrible stench; and the Israeli occupation forces use it in Palestinian villages like Bil’in to disperse the crowds of peaceful demonstrators.
I first heard about the use of skunk water last October from Bettijo, a peace activist I met back home in Florida. We met again in Jerusalem in a café across the street from the Old City, where I was staying after my recent arrival. She had just completed a three-month service with IWPS (International Women’s Peace Service) in Iraq Burin, a village of about a thousand people south of Nablus. I asked her about the smelly substance I had heard about. Her eyes welled, and her chin began to quiver. For a long time she did not speak, only stared blankly at something far off. Then, her lips moved and in a voice barely audible said,
“They came in trucks with tanks mounted on them and sprayed everything – houses and trees and gardens and people – streams of watery sewage from long thick hoses: and they kept it up driving back and forth up and down the streets, soldiers with gas masks spraying everywhere.” Her voice had risen, and then stopped. She shook her head, as though erasing the vision, then began again softly,
“The smell was horrid,” she said, looking down into her glass of dark pomegranate juice, stirring it absently with the straw. Suddenly she looked up at me.
“Weeks later we could still smell it; but now I think about the diseases – cholera, dysentery, the polluted water and soil, there after I have left, and long after the smell has gone.”
I thought about Bettijo and her time in the little village when news and films of a thick green gas came this morning about its use in Bil’in, where I frequently visit. The chemical with a horrible stench, sprayed on men, women and children from tanks rolled alongside the separation fence where demonstrators gather every Friday to protest land confiscation and the apartheid wall built along the Green Line, which separates Israel from Palestinian land.
Demonstrations began in Bil’in in 2005; Organized by the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Bil’in, every Friday nonviolent protestors march the short distance from the village to the barrier wall. And just as regularly, the occupation soldiers drive them back with tear gas, sound grenades and rubber bullets. In spite of frequent injuries, tear gas suffocation, two recent deaths and numerous arrests, the protest marchers persist, their ranks swelled by a growing number of Israelis and internationals.
Week after week I read the same reports from Bil’in telling of dozens of people suffering tear gas asphyxiation. To those who have not experienced it as I have, it is debilitating. The US made gas canisters are thrown at nonviolent demonstrators by Israeli soldiers dressed in full battle gear and wearing gas masks. They hurl the tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound bombs from behind the annexation wall at men, women and children who come armed only with Palestinian flags and pictures of martyrs. Basem Abo Rahma was struck and killed by a canister, his sister Jawaher died as a result of asphyxiation. The effects of tear gas are incapacitating; coughing, temporary blindness and marked dehydration, water pours relentlessly from every pore creating incredible thirst.
Undeterred, the protest marches continue. Organized by the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Bil’in, every Friday citizens from nearby villages join residents, Israelis and international activists; and each week, soldiers react with violence to drive them back, now with their newest weapon – skunk water. Still demonstrations continue and their ranks swell with more supporters.