Palestinians protest use of 'skunk' liquid


Palestinian activists claim the use by the Israeli security forces of a foul-smelling liquid, dubbed “the skunk”, against protesters and, in some instances, private homes, may be putting lives at risk.

Last Friday, January 4th, Israeli border police directed the skunk at the home of the Tamimi family in the Israeli-occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, following the weekly protest against Israeli land confiscation.

A photographer recorded an Israeli tanker spewing the putrid liquid over the home of a Palestinian family. A border police spokesman, Supt Shai Hakimi, told The Irish Times that the spray was aimed at Palestinian stone-throwers on the roof of the building.

However, no such individuals can be seen in the photograph.

Harmless substances

Supt Hakimi said the liquid was made up entirely of a mix of what he called harmless organic substances. “The skunk is carefully checked by Israeli laboratories, and above and beyond the foul smell there is no danger,” he maintained.

But Mahmoud Tamimi (48), a father of five, claims an examination by the Palestinian West Bank university of Bir Zeit has revealed dangerous chemicals in the skunk. He said the results would be released in the next few days.

“The Israeli forces have targeted my home in Nabi Saleh dozens of times. On one occasion the powerful jet spray broke a window and also the television which was next to my seven-year-old son. The chemicals in the skunk destroy the furniture and no amount of cleaning can get rid of the stench.”

The comments by the border police spokesman were challenged by Haim Schwarczenberg, the Israeli photographer who witnessed the incident.

“There were no stone-throwing youths on the roof of the house that I saw,” he told The Irish Times last night. “This is not the first time this skunk liquid has been sprayed on people’s homes and not the first time I have witnessed how the Israeli authorities collectively punish the people of this village.”

The residents of Nabi Saleh, a small village of less than 600 residents, north west of Ramallah, have hosted weekly protests for almost four years against land confiscation by the nearby Jewish settlement of Halamish.

Approved for use

According to both its developer and the army spokesperson, the skunk contains proteins and yeast and has been approved for use by the environment ministry.

The army spokesman defended the use of the skunk, as well as various other non-lethal means, which it claims are “all intended to disperse riots effectively with minimum casualties, avoiding physical contact between rioters and the security forces”.

Israeli forces first used the skunk in August 2008 in the Palestinian village of Ni’lin when border police squirted the liquid at demonstrators from packs carried on their backs. However, the stench also reached the troops and today the skunk is fired from designated water-spraying trucks.

In one case the liquid was even fired at a Palestinian funeral procession in the city of Hebron.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem noted that the skunk had never been used against Jewish demonstrators inside Israel. B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli says her organisation has documented homes and gardens in Nabi Saleh doused with skunk, and claims the liquid is also regularly sprayed at protesters who are not throwing stones or involved in clashes.

Collective punishment

“It is hard to escape the conclusion that the spraying of homes whose residents are uninvolved in the clashes is collective punishment of the entire village, for the actions of a few,” she said.

“It is important that the Israeli security forces have at their disposal non-lethal crowd control measures, but their use must comply with the law and respect human dignity.”