How do I convey the smell of the ‘Skunk’? Imagine rolling around the floor of a dairy farm for a few hours and the subsequent smell of your skin. A smell so overbearing that people can’t bear to be in the same room with you. Now, imagine that you can’t get that smell two weeks. This is the smell of the ‘Skunk.’
In the past year, the ‘Skunk’ has become a mainstay of West Bank demonstrations against the Separation Wall and Occupation. A non-lethal alternative to high velocity tear gas canisters and rubber coated steel bullets which still extracts a heavy price on Palestinians who resist Occupation through creative nonviolence.
Last Friday, the tiny village of Nabi Saleh held a demonstration against the Occupation. Brave Palestinians embracing the tradition of nonviolence which typified the struggle for civil rights in the American south have been demonstrating for almost two years along with Israeli and international supporters. After midday prayers on Friday, demonstrators began to march to the village’s agricultural spring, which has been taken over by settlers with the blessing of the Israeli army. They were greeted by soldiers.
The soldiers attacked the demonstrators with tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets and stun grenades. Despite the violence, the villagers continued to march to the spring when the ‘Skunk’ was brought to the scene. On this day, former European Union Parliament Vice President Luisa Morgantani joined the demonstration.
At first, the ‘Skunk’ was sprayed from a large armoured car on the village’s main road. It did not stop the demonstrators. Three Israeli supporters were then thrown to the ground, handcuffed and then dragged through the chemical ‘Skunk’ muck covering the streets. After the arrest, the army blanketed the area in tear gas and most of the demonstrators fled to the village centre for fresh air. With no demonstrators left to deal with, the army decided to use the ‘Skunk’ on civilian homes. Clearly, the army rarely misses an opportunity to collectively punish Nabi Saleh for its nonviolent resistance.
The ‘Skunk’ is a petrochemical designed to cling to any surface that it touches. Once I was hit with the ‘Skunk’ during a demonstration in Bil’in. I had to throw out everything that the chemical touched as it was impossible to wash out the smell. My backpack, pants, shirt, even my shoes and the notebook I was carrying to take notes had to be thrown out. The smell stayed on my skin and in my hair for weeks after, which created an interesting conversation piece as everyone I would encounter gave me strange looks.
The families of the homes hit by the ‘Skunk’ on Friday will not be able to return for weeks. Their houses smell worse than dairy farms as the chemical has penetrated every surface. For them, it is another reminder of Israeli control over their lives. For the village, it is another price to pay for nonviolent resistance to domination.