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Crowded West Bank refugee camp is the most tear-gassed place in the world — Berkeley Law School study

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UC Berkeley School of Law on Thursday released a study that named Aida refugee camp in the occupied West Bank the most tear gassed community in the world. For anyone who has spent time in Aida, the findings are not so surprising.

While refugee camps across the occupied West Bank are inundated with Israeli raids and political violence, Aida is in a special position, as Israel’s separation wall hems the northern edge of the camp. Just behind the wall is an Israeli military base with two large gates in the wall that open wide enough for two military jeeps to exit at once. One gate opens into one of the main streets in Bethlehem, right by the main entrance to Aida, while another opens directly into the camp.

Tear gas is Israel’s go-to crowd control method, but there need be no crowd or protest in Aida for Israeli forces to shoot gas through its streets, saturating the resident’s air.

“Residents have alleged that tear gas utilization by [Israeli forces] is not directly correlated to political tensions, non-violent or violent protests, or stone throwing incidents,” states the Berkeley study, which is entitled, “No Safe Space: Health Consequences of Tear Gas Exposure Among Palestine Refugees.” 

Even if there are indeed protests being led along the streets of the camp, it is impossible to control where the gas goes once released into the air.

As the study found, “Aida camp has the appearance of a densely populated urban slum,” with an area of about 17 acres (roughly the size of the White House grounds) and about 6,400 resident living in small apartments.

The study analyzed that on average the numbers translate into a density figure of 90,000 people per square kilometer, “exceeding the figures of even the most densely populated cities in the world,” meaning just a bit of tear gas in a small area has a major impact on a disproportionate number of people living in the camp.

What is tear gas?

Tear gas is not actually a gas at all, but rather a solid chemical irritant released like an aerosol.

No Safe Space:
Health Consequences of Tear Gas Exposure Among Palestine Refugees

The study explained that the “gas” is usually made up of synthetic CN (chloracetophenone), CS (2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile) or naturally occurring OC (oleoresin capsicum, also known as pepper spray and made from potent capsaicins inside hot peppers).

The problem is little to no studies have been done on the long term effects of tear gas. Since the substance was created for crowd control, it is also unknown what effects it could have on people and communities that are exposed to it on a weekly or even daily basis, as in Aida.

In addition, newer forms of CS, such as CS1 and CS2 have been “siliconized to increase the half-life and potency of the chemical,” the Berkeley study explained. Even less is known about these new strains.

Berkeley was unable to determine what specific chemicals are being utilized inside the gas shot by Israeli forces in recent years.

What we do know is “chemical irritants” were banned for use in war and international conflict by the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention. While civil law enforcement forces are allowed to use them for certain measures “as long as the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes,” the forces shooting gas in West Bank refugee camps are nearly always soldiers, not border police forces.

Mass, frequent exposure

In polling for the study, researchers found that 100% of residents surveyed reported being exposed to tear gas in the past year.

Many residents say Aida is used as training grounds for new soldiers on how to use Israel’s crowd control techniques.

“Many interviewees remarked early in the interviews that ‘this is normal’ or ‘we are used to this,'” researchers documented. “But as the interviews went on, they noted that while they have gotten accustomed to frequent tear gas exposure, they were deeply concerned about the long term impacts of this exposure.”

One woman interviewed in the study told researchers that she was concerned that “if it can hurt this bad within seconds, what does it do over years?” Another man asked, “We don’t know if it causes cancer or chronic asthma. I am sure we will die young because of this.”

One mother noted she was most concerned for her young children.

“My baby was exposed by the time she was 2 months old,” the woman was quoted as saying. “By the time she is my age, what will happen? Her skin is so delicate and her lungs are so small and thin, I’m sure she will suffer bad effects for years.”

Of those polled, 55 percent of respondents describe between three and ten tear gas exposures — both indoors and outdoors — in the one month period before the poll was taken.

Over the same period, 84.3 percent of people said they were exposed to the gas while inside their home, 9.4 percent at work, 10.7 percent in school, and 8.5 percent elsewhere, like in a car for instance. Meanwhile 22.5 percent of people polled said that they had been hit directly with a tear gas canister in the past — which has the potential to be a deadly projectile on its own.

More than 75 percent of people polled told researchers they experienced “eye-related complaints” (pain, burning, tearing), skin irritation, pain and respiratory problems that lasted more than 24 hours after the exposure to the gas.

In addition, 20 percent of people reported ongoing symptoms such as “headache, difficulty concentrating, eye irritation, sweating, difficulty breathing, coughing, dizziness and loss of balance were attributed to chronic tear gas exposure.”

Researchers reported in the study that “the community’s sense of injustice about these attacks was profound, and it has deeply impacted their lives day to day,” from students being gassed while in class, studying or trying to sleep, to parents frantically attempting to ensure infants and young children have some sort of protection against the gas.

The study found that “virtually everyone we interviewed or surveyed in Aida reported that they had some medical or psychological symptoms attributed to tear gas.”

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.

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3 Responses

  1. Citizen on December 30, 2017, 8:35 pm

    Sort of a Zyclon-B for the modern PR-Paranoid era

  2. JLewisDickerson on December 31, 2017, 10:04 am

    RE: One woman interviewed in the study told researchers that she was concerned that “if it can hurt this bad within seconds, what does it do over years?”


    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ~

    [EXCERPTS] Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a type of obstructive lung disease characterized by long-term breathing problems and poor airflow.[1][8] The main symptoms include shortness of breath and cough with sputum production.[1] COPD is a progressive disease, meaning it typically worsens over time.[9] Eventually everyday activities, such as walking or getting dressed, become difficult.[3] Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are older terms used for different types of COPD.[3][10] The term “chronic bronchitis” is still used to define a productive cough that is present for at least three months each year for two years.[1]

    Tobacco smoking is the most common cause of COPD, with factors such as air pollution and genetics playing a smaller role.[2] In the developing world, one of the common sources of air pollution is poorly vented heating and cooking fires.[3] Long-term exposure to these irritants causes an inflammatory response in the lungs, resulting in narrowing of the small airways and breakdown of lung tissue.[5] The diagnosis is based on poor airflow as measured by lung function tests.[4] In contrast to asthma, the airflow reduction does not improve much with the use of a bronchodilator.[3]

    Most cases of COPD can be prevented by reducing exposure to risk factors.[11] This includes decreasing rates of smoking and improving indoor and outdoor air quality.[3]…

    The primary cause of COPD is tobacco smoke, with occupational exposure and pollution from indoor fires being significant causes in some countries.[9] Typically, these exposures must occur over several decades before symptoms develop.[9] A person’s genetic makeup also affects the risk.[9]

    · Smoking
    The primary risk factor for COPD globally is tobacco smoking.[9] Of those who smoke, about 20% will get COPD,[31] and of those who are lifelong smokers, about half will get COPD.[32] . . .

    · Air pollution
    Poorly ventilated cooking fires, often fueled by coal or biomass fuels such as wood and dung, lead to indoor air pollution and are one of the most common causes of COPD in developing countries.[39] These fires are a method of cooking and heating for nearly 3 billion people, with their health effects being greater among women due to more exposure.[9][39] They are used as the main source of energy in 80% of homes in India, China and sub-Saharan Africa.[11]

    People who live in large cities have a higher rate of COPD compared to people who live in rural areas.[40] While urban air pollution is a contributing factor in exacerbations, its overall role as a cause of COPD is unclear.[9] Areas with poor outdoor air quality, including that from exhaust gas, generally have higher rates of COPD.[11] The overall effect in relation to smoking, however, is believed to be small.[9]

    · Occupational exposures
    Intense and prolonged exposure to workplace dusts, chemicals, and fumes increases the risk of COPD in both smokers and nonsmokers.[41] Workplace exposures are believed to be the cause in 10–20% of cases.[42] In the United States, they are believed to be related to more than 30% of cases among those who have never smoked and probably represent a greater risk in countries without sufficient regulations.[9]

    A number of industries and sources have been implicated, including[11] high levels of dust in coal mining, gold mining, and the cotton textile industry, occupations involving cadmium and isocyanates, and fumes from welding.[41] Working in agriculture is also a risk.[11] In some professions, the risks have been estimated as equivalent to that of one-half to two packs of cigarettes a day.[43] Silica dust and fiberglass dust exposure can also lead to COPD, with the risk unrelated to that for silicosis.[44][45] The negative effects of dust exposure and cigarette smoke exposure appear to be additive or possibly more than additive.[43] . . .

    • JLewisDickerson on December 31, 2017, 11:55 am

      P.S. Aida camp should try to make it into the Guinness (book of) World Records. I know that wouldn’t be much consolation, but . . .
      Whenever the IDF shows up, they should start chanting:
      “We’re number one! We’re number one! We’re number one!”
      Imagine what a draw they will be for the Banksy hotel. Package tours?
      They need a big, fancy sign humbly proclaiming their #1 ranking.
      T-shirts would be nice.
      Perhaps they can get a fat contract to endorse their favorite brand of tear gas. And a designer gas mask.
      Heck, if they play their cards right, I think they might have a shot at being the subject of a Monty Python feature film.

      Guinness World Records: Home
      The Guinness World Records official site with ultimate record-breaking facts & achievements. Do you want to set a world record? Are you Officially Amazing? ➤

      I wonder how much teargas Israel uses in a year. What percentage of the global total? They must keep some manufacturers real busy.
      I think this is the stuff Israel uses. Egypt too. It was all over Tahrir Square back in 2011 when Mubarak was desperately trying to hold on to his day job.

      Combined Systems, Inc.
      Founded in 1981, Combined Systems, Inc. (CSI) is the recognized leader in the design, manufacture, and marketing of security products for the global defense and law enforcement markets. As the premier supplier of less-lethal munitions and launching systems, CSI manufactures products for riot control, police tactical teams, corrections officers, and military units.

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