The Stench of Occupation

Israeli forces sprayed skunk water on children, homes and streets in the Qitoun neighbourhood of Hebron on two school days in the first week of November. On one of those days, a renowned settler in Hebron arrived shortly before the ‘event’, prepared to film this foul smelling act of repression. See videos here and here, and photos here.

Skunk water is a putrid smelling substance with the viscosity of water. It is sprayed from an armoured truck, leaving a lingering stench for days and, with direct contact, induces a gagging reflex and even vomiting.

First used in 2008, Odortec, the Israeli company that created skunk water, advertises that “the overpowering odour of the Skunk drives rioters away” and “can be sprayed over a large area using a standard water cannon.” Bizarrely, Odortec, even claims that this vomit-inducing substance, which smells of a mixture of decomposing animal carcass and raw sewerage, is “100% eco-friendly”, “organic” and “perfectly safe to consume”.

Regardless of whether or not skunk water is indeed “perfectly safe to consume“, Palestinians school children, by implication, hence become ‘rioters’ to be ‘driven away’.

This policy of ‘driving’ Palestinians school children away is also made clear in the Israeli military’s relentless use of teargas at school time, shown in these videos here and here, shot in the same week as the above videos.

The Israeli state stands by the ‘morality’ of skunk water, legitimising its use as ‘non-lethal crowd control’, supposedly minimizing “the necessity for the use of live ammunition”.

This act of white-washing, however, is easy to question and unpick.

When did it become ‘normal’ for children attempting to head to school deemed a crowd to be ‘controlled’? In what other context does a state that is purportedly ‘democratic’ celebrate its diminishment of the supposed “necessity” of live ammunition as children walk to school?

Yes, a handful of Palestinian school children throw stones at the checkpoints of occupation that litter the city of Hebron, and all of Palestine. However, at what point was it deemed acceptable for children to be subjected to the daily oppression of checkpoints, facing the harassment and humiliation of searches, stops and checks, along with the threat of arrest, teargas, stun grenades, skunk water, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition?

‘Stone throwing’ appears to be the Israeli military’s go-to rationale for the daily repression administered against Palestinian children. Yet, school children throwing stones at occupied rooftops and checkpoints rarely place fully armoured Israeli forces under any physical threat. This is particularly clear when Israeli soldiers do not even see the need to wear helmets, and also make provocative hand gestures at the children, shown in this video here. The act of ‘stone-throwing’ in this context is predominantly a sign of frustration: this is patently clear in this video and the photo below in which school children throw stones at the armoured skunk truck.

Children throwing stones at the armoured vehicles of the occupying Israeli army, considered one of the most powerful in the world, speaks volumes with regard to the inequality of power which characterises this occupation. Indeed, says poet Rafeef Ziadah, ‘this is not two equal sides, this is occupier and occupied’.

Sometimes, CPTers are asked ‘what would happen if children didn’t throw stones?’ Yet we don’t think this question goes far back enough. Surely, the question should be ‘what would happen if children didn’t have to walk through checkpoints to reach school?’, or ‘what would happen if all children were afforded equal rights on the basis of their humanity, rather than segregated, oppressed and terrorised on the basis of their ethnicity?’

Along with the sting of teargas and the reverberations of stun grenades, the stench of skunk water was characteristic of children’s walk to school in Hebron last week.

CPT condemns the use of skunk water as a repressive tool of collective punishment, which, like teargas, punitive housing demolitions, closures, checkpoints and restrictions, highlights this illegal occupation as an aggregate of explicit policies of ethnic cleansing. Functioning as a relentless ‘war of attrition’, every component of this occupation is clearly designed to ‘drive’ Palestinians (read ‘rioters’) away.

Surely, the indiscriminate drenching of school children, homes, streets and neighbourhoods with a high-velocity, raw-sewerage smelling substance indicates this truth loudly and clearly.