The ‘non-lethal’ chemical weapon killing Palestinians

Israel/Palestine
on 13 Comments

On Thursday evening Israeli forces stormed Aida refugee camp in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem. Jeeps descended on the camp from all entrances shooting off tear gas rounds indiscriminately, Akkram Huessni, a young man from the camp told Mondoweiss.

Families rushed to close their windows, shoving cloth in any crevice that could allow the noxious gas to seep in, a well practiced drill in homes across the occupied West Bank.

While Aida is known for being politically charged, generally Israeli forces focus on protesters, but on Thursday the forces seemed to be ignoring the protesters and going for the general community instead, firing copious amounts of tear gas, Huessni said.

“The entire camp was full of gas,” he recalled. “We had to have people with gas masks all over in order to pull people who got stuck outside out of the white clouds”

During the middle of the assault, the Israeli army and border police — in a surprise move — issued a message to residents via loudspeaker. One young man caught the entire message on video.

“People of Aida refugee camp, we are the occupation army,” the border police officer’s voice boomed through a main part of the camp in Arabic. “If you throw stones, we will hit you with gas until you all die – the youth, the children, the old people, you will all die.”

“You will all die,” the officer said. “We won’t leave any of you alive. We have arrested one of you, he’s with us now, we took him from his home and we will slaughter and kill him while you watch if you keep throwing stones. Go home or we will gas you until you die, your families, your children, everyone. We will kill you,” the message continued.

The border police officer who issued the message was reportedly suspended from duties, Israeli media reported. While the message caught on video was shocking for a number of reasons, it pointed out at least one important truth, tear gas kills.

The next day the threat came to pass as an 8-month-old baby, Ramadan Thawabta, suffocated and died from tear gas inhalation during clashes in Beit Fajjar village, just south of Bethlehem, doctors told Palestinian news agency, Ma’an News.

A little more than a week previously, a 54-year-old peace activist with cardiac disease suffocated on the gas and died. Doctors confirmed that it was the tear gas, and not his previous condition that killed him, according Ma’an.

A “non-lethal” chemical weapon

Tear gas is a supposedly non-lethal chemical weapon, heavily used by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank and other areas of the Palestinian Territory. The gas belongs to a group of chemical agents referred to as “lachrymatory agents,” from the latin word “lacrima,” meaning tear.

The name however, is misleading for two reasons. First, tear gas is not a gas at all, but rather a solid chemical made into an aerosol that hangs in the air when released. The gas settles on surfaces, including clothes, and can be reactivated if a surface the tear gas has settled on comes into contact with skin days later.

Secondly, tear gas affects much more than just the eyes, as skin and breathing passages are equally sensitive to the chemical.

A child closes his eyes tightly, waiting for the effects of tear gas to pass. The young boy knows well not to touch his face, which would worsen the symptoms. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

A child closes his eyes tightly, waiting for the effects of tear gas to pass. The young boy knows well not to touch his face, which would worsen the symptoms. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

When exposed to tear gas the eyes are the first the become affected, as the gas begins to sting and makes it difficult to see. Touching the eyes or putting water on the affected area only makes it worse. The second effect is on the respiratory system, as the gas makes it feel as if the victim’s chest is constricting and it becomes difficult, if not impossible to breathe.

Tear gas also stings and inflames any parts of the skin that is sensitive or damp, like the face, neck and inner arms. Heavy exposure can sometimes lead to burns or blisters, and sweat or water can activate the gas on the skin hours after exposure.

If overexposed, particularly for children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems such as asthma, the “non-lethal” gas can be deadly.

Palestinian defenses

Tear gas is forbidden to be used during warfare under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which was was adopted by the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in 1992. According to the United Nations, 98 percent of the global population has signed the agreement, including Israel.

It is unknown if the chemicals in modern-day tear gas cause long-term effects, as there have been very few studies done on the matter.

Regardless of its supposed illegality and unknown side effects, one would be hard pressed to find a household in the occupied Palestinian Territory that does not know how to combat symptoms of the gas due to its frequent and heavy use by Israeli forces on Palestinians.

A Young man fires off one last rock from his sling shot before retreating away from the noxious gas. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

A Young man fires off one last rock from his sling shot before retreating away from the noxious gas. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

On any given day in villages, cities and refugee camps across the occupied Palestinian Territories, where clashes have become a daily occurrence, Palestinians are combating the chemical weapon.

In Aida refugee camp, three teenagers lie flat on the floor of a stranger’s home. While one young woman holds a fan over the young men, the mother of the household grabs an onion ready and waiting on living room table and begins holding broken pieces of the root to the faces of the suffering young men.

Locals use onions, perfume, vinegar and rubbing alcohol to combat the symptoms, though little is known as to why these methods seem to offer relief.

When one young man seems to be severely affected, a medic is summoned from the street outside. The medic, a volunteer who has spent nearly every evening since the start of October helping those injured during the daily clashes, quickly comes to the aid of the young man.

The medic begins lightly beating on the chest of the teen, asking him repeatedly to try and speak. Another medic enters the room, breaking open an alcohol swab and cleans the teen’s face of the chemical. Eventually the young man comes to and can breathe again. He lies red-faced and exhausted on the ground until the effects completely wear off.

A similar scene is repeated daily throughout the occupied Palestinian Territory.

Israeli army jeeps have the capability of shooting off up to 60 tear gas canisters at once without reloading. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

Israeli army jeeps have the capability of shooting off up to 60 tear gas canisters at once without reloading. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

According to Ma’an News Agency, the Red Crescent reported that 5,399 Palestinians were treated for excessive tear gas inhalation during the month of October — an average of 174 people a day.

In addition to injuries caused by the gas, the tear gas canisters themselves sometimes hit protesters, injuring them from the force of the metal tube cutting through the air, as well as from the heat of the metal. The canisters alone can break the skin, shatter windows and catch trees and fields on fire — all things that have long-been a daily reality for Palestinians.

One protester examines the leg of another after he was hit with a tear gas canister during clashes. A hit with a canister can break the skin, cause bruising and chemical burns. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

One protester examines the leg of another after he was hit with a tear gas canister during clashes. A hit with a canister can break the skin, cause bruising and chemical burns. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

About Sheren Khalel

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women's issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

13 Responses

  1. Boomer
    November 3, 2015, 2:37 pm

    Thanks for this disturbing report; much of it is news to me. It is a shame that my country does nothing to stop this, but actively enables and supports it.

    • truthurts
      November 5, 2015, 12:51 am

      “People of Aida refugee camp, we are the occupation army,” the border police officer’s voice boomed through a main part of the camp in Arabic. “If you throw stones, we will hit you with gas until you all die – the youth, the children, the old people, you will all die.” –
      gee, and all this time hasn’t abe foxman ben telling us all that there isn’t an occupation?
      from NAZI to zioNAZI- isn’t it amazing no matter how many years go by things just never seem to change.

  2. RockyMissouri
    November 3, 2015, 3:07 pm

    SIMPLY MONSTROUS…!!? And the fact that WE enable this ongoing horror, must mean that we are monsters too…!!

  3. lysias
    November 3, 2015, 5:06 pm

    Aida refugee camp is where there was that cry, “We will gas you until you die!” Israeli officer yells: ‘We will gas you until you die’.

    Actually, according to the report at that link, he said more than that:

    “People of Aida refugee camp, we are the occupation forces. You throw stones, and we will hit you with gas until you all die. The children, the youth, the old people – you will all die. We won’t leave any of you alive,” the unidentified officer says.

    “We have arrested one of you. He is with us now. We took him from his home, and we will slaughter and kill him while you watch if you keep throwing stones,” the officer continues, referring to a 25-year-old Palestinian who was arrested on Thursday and subsequently released.

    “Go home or we will gas you until you die. Your families, your children, everyone – we will kill you.”

    Baby Suffocates to Death from Tear Gas near Bethlehem.

  4. Kris
    November 3, 2015, 9:04 pm

    “Go home or we will gas you until you die. Your families, your children, everyone – we will kill you.”

    What is there left to say? Nothing. This time, we won’t be able to say that we didn’t know.

    • talknic
      November 3, 2015, 10:16 pm

      Did the Nazis say such things?

      • Kris
        November 3, 2015, 11:59 pm

        @talknic, “Did the Nazis say such things?”

        I don’t know. I am thinking of the ordinary Germans, and how much we ordinary U.S. citizens resemble them. Our willingness to tolerate the victimization of Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular, has been carefully shaped through appeals to our racism, xenophobia, religious biases, and our reasonable fear that our careers and opportunities will be destroyed if we speak out against Israel.

        The Germans didn’t know, or weren’t sure, or, finally, were too afraid to do anything. Milton Mayer’s book They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 documents how the Nazis achieved this, through a series of incremental changes, none of which on its own seemed that significant. From the book:

        “But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

        “And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

        “You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined. link to press.uchicago.edu

        The Germans didn’t have the internet, and we do. We know exactly what the Israeli Jews are saying and doing, almost in real time. We know exactly where the attitudes expressed by that Israeli soldier are likely to lead.

  5. talknic
    November 3, 2015, 10:01 pm

    Tear gas effects far more than meets the eye (sorry for the pun)

    Birds having flown up into the air to escape its effects A) can’t see where to land B) have their lungs effected. They eventually collide with buildings, wires and/or plummeting to their deaths in exhaustion if they’re not dead thru asphyxiation or a heart attack already. link to google.com.au I’ve witnessed this where the riot squad was been called out and the mainstreet tear gassed. Birds who could see were crashing into the windows of our hotel because they though they were flying into clear air. Others were simply plummeting to the ground.

    link to pentictonwesternnews.com

    link to news.google.com

    Birds, spiders, lizards and other pest controlling wild life eventually disappear and the area will be open to short life span insect infestation, destroying crops, spreading disease. Bee colonies and other pollinators can be devastated

    The uncontrolled amounts of reside it leaves in the soil also poses a threat to agriculture link to google.com.au killing the good with the bad

    It also leaves a residue on rooftops that collect rainwater, can permeate the water table. Impregnates washing hung out to dry. The list goes on and on and on

  6. Boo
    November 4, 2015, 11:28 am

    One only wonders how long before they combine CS gas with skunk spray.

  7. Rashers2
    November 4, 2015, 3:49 pm

    Kris’ citation of Milton Mayer has about it the resonance of sound analysis – tiny, incremental steps accumulating until, by the end, a 180° reorientation has been contrived.
    Mr. Mileikowsky is fond, in his diatribes against one of his several, necessary “existential threats”, of telling the world that, “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany.” Articles like Sheren Khalel’s underline just how specious Mr. M.’s analogy is: it’s probably closer to the end of 1940; and Israel is Germany.

  8. olive52
    November 5, 2015, 11:47 am

    Im going to doubt that this was what was actually said in the video and not spun by the author or some other Hamas news source. I would like to see proof if you care to share the link. The IDF gives warnings to the youth in the villages that if they continue to throw rocks (which has proven deadly) and incite physical violence than they will be sprayed with tear gas which has the potential to cause serious harm. The hope is that perhaps the rock throwing will stop which it doesnt. If the Palestinians wouldn’t incite, there would be no tear gas.
    I doubt any other army or authority would give fair warning.

    • diasp0ra
      November 5, 2015, 4:58 pm

      Doubt all you want, Olive. Even Israel has acknowledged it and suspended the soldier.

      link to timesofisrael.com

      Do you try and search for things before you doubt them out of hand? Or is it easier to absolve your guilt if its confirmation isn’t spoon fed to you? You have no idea the horrors that appear online all the time of Israeli behavior that is never picked up because it’s never translated into English.

      For example, you have sick games developed for Israeli children where the task is to “eliminate the terrorist” where the child must shoot depictions of Palestinian “terrorists” to gain points and lives.

      link to maannews.net

      Another example of things that never get translated is the story of how the Hebrew university is forcing Palestinian, and only Palestinian workers to wear special prominent badges as they go about their day.

      link to maannews.net

      These stories are only from this week. You can’t understand the depravity of Israeli society if you don’t experience it in Hebrew and Arabic. The vast majority of things do not get translated.

  9. MHughes976
    November 5, 2015, 12:11 pm

    An almost identical report, slightly more detailed as to the disciplinary reaction and now about a week old, ‘Border Cop Suspended’, is to be found on the Times of Israel website.

Leave a Reply