[News] Is Israel testing new types of tear gas in Bethlehem? - widespread, frequent and indiscriminate” use of tear gas against Palestinians

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 4 16:48:35 EST 2018


https://electronicintifada.net/content/israel-testing-new-types-tear-gas-bethlehem/22856 



  Is Israel testing new types of tear gas in Bethlehem?

Ryan Rodrick Beiler - 3 January 2018
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Every resident in Aida refugee camp 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/aida-refugee-camp> – beside the 
occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/bethlehem> – may have been exposed 
to tear gas fired by Israeli forces, according to a new study.

Conducted by University of California researchers, the study 
<https://www.law.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NoSafeSpace_full_report22Dec2017.pdf> 
notes Israel’s “widespread, frequent and indiscriminate” use of tear gas 
against Palestinians.

The report cites incidents of tear gas as often as two to three times a 
week for more than a year, and in some months, almost every day.

In a November speech 
<https://reliefweb.int/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/speech-unrwa-commissioner-general-pierre-kr-henb-hl-un-general>, 
Pierre Krähenbühl, the top official with UNRWA 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/unrwa>, the UN agency for Palestine 
refugees, said such research suggests that Aida’s residents “are exposed 
to more tear gas than any other population surveyed globally.”

“They’re shooting everywhere in the camp,” Salah Ajarma, a director at 
Lajee, the cultural center in Aida, told The Electronic Intifada. “They 
don’t care about where they shoot.”

The new report used a questionnaire tool developed by the US Centers for 
Disease Control to survey a sample of 236 Palestinians living in Aida, 
which hosts 6,400 residents.

Aida – covering just 0.071 square kilometers – has a greater population 
density than some of the world’s largest cities.


    Dangerous to go outside

Members of the team which conducted the study, published by the Human 
Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, witnessed 
several tear gas incidents while conducting their research. They 
concluded from their interviews that Israeli forces’ use of tear gas “is 
not limited to protests or to those at risk of causing violence.”

“Sometimes it’s dangerous to leave the center when there is tear gas 
outside,” said Ajarma. He recalled a day he confronted soldiers firing 
tear gas, asking why they were shooting when no children were throwing 
stones.

“They said, ‘Yesterday they [the children] threw stones and we want to 
start the tear gas today before the children start.’ So it’s a kind of 
practice for them,” he added.

The University of California report defines tear gas as a general term 
for chemical irritants designed for crowd control. The report also notes 
that newer forms of tear gas have been developed in the recent past that 
are more potent, last longer and cause more severe pain and injury, as 
well as being more water resistant.

One child interviewed for the report described the effects of tear gas: 
“My face burns, I feel dizzy.”

The child added: “It’s hard to breathe. I sneeze. My throat burns. I 
can’t open my eyes. Sometimes I faint.”

The precise type of gas used by Israeli forces in Aida is unknown. 
However, the consistent testimonies provided by the camp’s residents 
suggest that they are being exposed to more potent forms of the weapon.

A health care worker quoted in the report stated: “The old tear gas 
would be better with some water but [now] that only makes it worse. 
Obviously, it’s a different chemical.”

Mohammad al-Azza, a journalist and camp resident, told The Electronic 
Intifada that he agrees that the gas is now stronger than before.

Al-Azza, who also teaches photography at Lajee Center, has first-hand 
experience of Israeli forces’ use of “crowd control” weapons.

In April 2013, as he was photographing Israeli forces invading the camp, 
a soldier shot him in the face at close range 
<https://electronicintifada.net/content/just-child-shows-how-prison-leaves-mental-scars-palestinian-boy/13095> 
with a rubber-coated steel bullet that shattered his cheekbone, 
requiring multiple reconstructive surgeries.

In addition to tear gas, the new report finds that most of Aida’s 
residents have been exposed to stun grenades, skunk water – a 
foul-smelling mixture of unknown chemicals fired from high-pressure 
water cannons – and pepper spray. More than 50 percent of residents 
interviewed have witnessed the use of rubber-coated steel bullets, while 
about six percent were “directly witness” to live ammunition being shot.

More than 22 percent of people surveyed said they had been struck 
directly by a tear gas canister at some point in their lives.

These findings correspond with my own observations. I have witnessed 
numerous instances of Israeli forces firing tear gas projectiles 
directly at Palestinian demonstrators in Aida and elsewhere.


    Lethal

The new report notes that tear gas and other chemical irritants are 
banned from use as a weapon of war by the 1992 Chemical Weapons 
Convention, but not for civil law enforcement “as long as the types and 
quantities are consistent with such purposes.”

The report concludes, however, that Israeli forces’ use of tear gas “is 
in discordance with all publicly available international guidelines on 
how it should be used.”

Aida residents who took part in the survey reported a number of physical 
effects from tear gas exposure, including asthma, rashes and headaches. 
It also notes how a 25-year-old woman who took part in the survey had a 
miscarriage late in the third trimester of pregnancy. A tear gas 
canister had landed on that woman’s patio several days before she 
miscarried; she had severe respiratory systems while being exposed to 
tear gas.

Tear gas has proven to be a lethal weapon on a number of occasions. In 
April 2014, for example, I attended the funeral of Noha Katamish – a 
45-year-old resident of Aida – who died 
<https://972mag.com/photos-tear-gas-kills-woman-in-aida-refugee-camp/89713/> 
from the effects of tear gas that Israeli forces fired through her 
living room window.

Salah Ajarma from the Lajee Center described how homes in the camp offer 
no refuge from the gas. “Sometimes [people] go to their neighbors 
because they feel it’s safer, but it’s not,” he added.

Many of the psychological impacts of Israeli forces’ use of tear gas 
stem from its frequency, unpredictability and the inability to escape 
its effects.

One teenager testified in the report: “We don’t feel safe in our homes. 
We don’t feel safe anywhere.”

The report states that unpredictability is especially stress-inducing 
because raids involving tear gas are not always tied to specific 
incidents, creating “a state of hyper-arousal, fear and worry.”


    Made in US

Residents testified that peaceful events, such as a child’s birthday 
party or family picnics, had been disrupted by tear gas raids, often 
captured on video.

One interviewee said Israeli soldiers use tear gas “when they are bored, 
when they want to provoke a clash, or when they want to get into the camp.”

“Sometimes, it feels like they do it just for fun,” said one elderly 
resident.

As a result, Aida’s residents report high levels of anxiety, depression, 
fear, sleep disturbance and cognitive dysfunction. According to the 
report’s authors, these symptoms are consistent with acute stress 
disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to one teen surveyed, “We have adapted, but this is not 
normal. This shouldn’t be how children live.”

While the report underscores the Israeli military forces’ responsibility 
under international law for the safety of the Palestinian civilians 
under its control, it also urges UNRWA to respect its mandate to provide 
practical protection and assistance to refugees in Aida.

“The UN must do something more useful for the people here,” al-Azza from 
the Lajee Center said.

Teachers and guards employed by UNRWA have asked for specific protocols 
on how to respond to tear gas attacks, as well as improved facilities, 
equipment and protective gear.

“The [Israeli] wall is across the street from the school,” said one 
teacher quoted in the report. “We are the front line.”

Ajarma noted that many families have taken their boys out of the UNRWA 
school in Aida and sent them elsewhere – or moved out of the camp 
entirely – because of the constant incursions by Israeli forces.

The US also bears responsibility for the impact of tear gas on Aida. 
Al-Azza pointed out that like many of the weapons used by the Israeli 
military, tear gas used in Aida is made in the US.

Shell casings discarded by Israeli forces have frequently been found 
bearing full contact information 
<http://activestills.org/image.php?img=18483> for the manufacturer, 
Combined Systems 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/combined-systems-inc> of Jamestown, 
Pennsylvania.

In years past, activists have hung “Made in the USA” 
<http://activestills.org/image.php?img=18709> tear gas grenades and 
shell casings from trees in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, intentionally 
juxtaposing them with nearby banners promoting US sponsorship of local 
holiday light displays.

Activists have often used the Christmas holiday and the camp’s proximity 
to the Church of the Nativity, believed by many Christians to be the 
birthplace of Jesus, to focus attention on the present realities faced 
by Bethlehem-area residents.

Alongside the grenades and shell casings, the activists hung signs 
<http://activestills.org/image.php?img=18705> reading: “This is the US 
aid to the Palestinians,” and 
<http://activestills.org/image.php?img=18708> “US military industrial 
complex, stop making our Christmas hell by sending us your aid and 
sending Israel your guns.”

/Ryan Rodrick Beiler is a freelance photojournalist and member of the 
ActiveStills collective. Twitter: @RRodrickBeiler 
<https://twitter.com/RRodrickBeiler>/


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