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Arab Israel Conflict
Israeli use of skunk water fuels anger
From the Financial Times of Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:08:59 GMT
epaselect epa04498288 A Palestinian boy fuels a barricade of burning tires during clashes with Israeli forces while protesting against the Jewish settlement of Qadomem, at the Kofr Qadom village, near the West Bank city of Nablus, 21 November 2014. Local sources claim that at least 12 Palestinians have been injured during the clashes. EPA/ALAA BADARNEH©EPA

Inside the Mount of Olives mini market in East Jerusalem, a stench redolent of unflushed toilets and unwashed socks hangs in the air.

Shopkeepers in the area say an armoured police vehicle rolled through one evening last week, equipped with a water cannon spraying “skunk water” a vile-smelling substance Israeli security forces use to control rioting in Palestinian areas that permeates clothes, buildings and furniture and lingers afterwards for weeks.

“We were lucky: it rained this week, so 99 per cent of the stink went out,” says Khalil al-Hawa, who says business in his shop is down by two-thirds since July, when local youths began pelting rocks and petrol bombs at police in regular evening protests. Police responded by dousing the area in the pungent liquid. “Normally it stays for more than a month, he says.”

Skunk water is just one of several tools police are using to crack down to try to contain a wave of violence emanating from Jerusalem’s occupied east, but which Palestinians say is a form of collective punishment that fuels resentment.

This week the worsening conflict saw its bloodiest episode yet when two Palestinian men slashed and shot worshippers in a synagogue in the city’s Jewish west, killing five Israelis in a gruesome incident that some Israeli commentators described as a “pogrom”.

The incident fed Jewish Jerusalemites’ fears of the Palestinians who live in poor eastern neighbourhoods, but work alongside them in the city’s restaurants, hotels and shopping malls, and prompted police to deploy more men and vehicles across the city.

Israeli police say the riot control measures they use in eastern neighbourhoods – which include sound grenades and tear gas and use of roadblocks – are necessary to maintain security and keep the unrest from spreading.

They say that skunk water, which smells unbearably bad when fresh but is physically harmless, allows them to disperse crowds effectively and identify suspects later. “The skunk water cannons are used as a non-lethal weapon when Palestinians are involved in rioting, throwing petrol bombs and stones against police officers,” says Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman.

However, Palestinians in eastern neighbourhoods say police spray the greyish liquid indiscriminately into shops, restaurants and hotels, in a stream powerful enough to break windows, and describe it as one of many heavy-handed tactics Israeli authorities do not deploy in the city’s Jewish west, underscoring their inferior status.

Israeli security forces have used the smelly substance in the occupied West Bank since 2008, but began using it for the first time in East Jerusalem starting in July, after the revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, which launched a wave unrest now in its fifth month.

“They don’t want teenagers to throw stones, so they punish everybody,” says Jasr Al-Hawa, a Mount of Olives ice-cream seller, who has had to bin stock each of the six or seven times his shop had been doused.

Merchants in the area, who rely from the business of foreign tourists visiting local Christian sites, also point angrily to black scars on the floors of their businesses where police threw stun grenades during clashes.

Human rights campaigners say Israeli police’s use of skunk water, stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets against protesters, and recent blockading of several neighbourhoods in the east, underscore the unequal status of Arabs in the divided city, and will fuel further violence. “The police are using riot control measures to a degree East Jerusalem has never seen,” says Ronit Sela of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

On Wednesday Israeli security forces razed the house of a Palestinian man who drove over and killed two people last month, and was shot and killed by police. They gave notices that they would destroy four more – including those of the two deceased men involved in the synagogue massacre – marking a return to a controversial practice Israel’s own army advised against in 2005, arguing that it fed further anger and a cycle of revenge.

In Issawiya, another eastern neighbourhood that has seen some of Jerusalem’s worst unrest, residents say police have repeatedly blockaded the village’s main entrance, using concrete blocks and metal barricades. This, they say, has impeded the movement of school buses and residents commuting to jobs in the west.

A white Israeli surveillance blimp tethered in the sky looks down on the village, whose potholed roads run downhill on Mount Scopus right behind the neat dormitory blocks of the Hebrew University. Black and red graffiti daubed on Issawiya’s walls shows burning Molotov cocktails, and the mood among residents is sullen and defiant.

Residents speak of years of Israeli discrimination in education, law enforcement, building permits and infrastructure they describe as “apartheid”, which came to a head in recent weeks with the wave of violence, further inflamed by visits by extremist rightwing Israeli politicians to Haram al-Sharif, the Muslim holy site known to Jewish Israelis as Temple Mount.

“I think that the Israeli government is going to the extreme right and preparing for coming elections, so they want to win the votes of rightwing Israeli people,” says Hani Issawi, a local resident and activist. “The way to do that is to make provocation with the Palestinians.”

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