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Bil'in Part I: Israeli military fires tear gas and skunk water on peaceful demonstrators

Friday, July 10, 2009

This Friday, MPT’s summer team joined other internationals and Israeli peace activists alongside the villagers of Bil’in to protest the settlements and the Wall, both of which have taken the villagers’ land. The village of Bil’in is located 7 miles west of the West Bank city of Ramallah and has a population of 1,500 people. Bil’in has been peacefully demonstrating every Friday for the last four years due largely to the fact that the occupation has cut them off from 65 percent of their own land. In 2007 the people of Bil’in won a court case in the Israeli High Court, where it was ruled that part of their land be returned to them. However, no action has been made to carry out this decision and the land remains controlled by the Israeli army.

On the day MPTers were present the protestors were reminded by the demonstration leaders of this day five years ago when the International Court of Justice decided to declare the Israeli wall illegal. At around 1:30 pm demonstrators began the march down to the wall, where the Israeli military was already waiting. Palestinians chanted things like, “1, 2, 3, 4, occupation no more” and approached the military with hands raised to show soldiers that they came in peace and had no weapons.

The portion of the Wall which the demonstrators approached is composed of two gates, with a space of about 10 feet in between. On this particular Friday, Palestinians were able to open the first gate, which was wrapped in barbed wire allowing the protestors to approach the front of the barrier. Members of the Bil’in Popular Committee encouraged internationals to make their presence known to the soldiers by moving to the front. This was followed by a military vehicle projecting a liquid mixture composed of water and chemicals onto the demonstrators, which is called “the Skunk”. Immediately protesters retreated from the wall.

This is only the second time the Skunk has been used at Bil’in. It was used a little less than a year ago on demonstrators. According to an article in Haaretz, “Bil'in and Na'alin have turned into a place for experimentation for the Israeli security forces. The demonstrators have become guinea pigs for various weapons.”


The spraying continued for at least five minutes after which time demonstrators started to return to the gates. However, before they could make it back to the front, the army fired tear gas canisters into the crowd of participants. MPT is unsure of the exact number of canisters that were fired, however one Israeli army jeep is able to fire 32 canisters at a time. There were at least two jeeps firing. Immediately people tried to retreat, though this is difficult because the tear gas makes it hard to breath, disrupts your ability to see and causes disorientation. These effects were all intensified because of the Skunk water. Water in general heightens the effects of tear gas, causing the skin to burn. Normally after the first round of tear gas protestors will return to the front of the barrier to continue their resistance. However, because of the intense effects of the Skunk water along with tear gas most demonstrators retreated from the Wall after the first round of tear gas. Participants did promise to return the following week.

Although no one was critically injured, many individuals were treated for gas inhalation and severe vomiting. Also, two protestors were arrested during the demonstration, one Israeli and one Palestinian. Fox news was present at the demonstration and broadcasted this coverage of the event: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BsoDJBPq6Q.

While the footage gives viewers an idea of the intensity of the atmosphere in which the protest took place, team members would like to clarify some of the comments made by the newscasters. At the very beginning it is said that “there are violent protests underway”, not clarifying where the violence was coming from. Members of the Popular Committee announced over a megaphone that this demonstration would be carried out peacefully. The violence came from the Israeli military who sprayed skunk water and fired tear gas. The news report also stated that the Palestinians were trying to break through the gate to get to “the other territory”. In reality, the territory on the other side of the wall is Palestinian land.

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