NABI SALEH, WEST BANK: Imagine taking a chunk of rotting corpse from a stagnant sewer, placing it in a blender and spraying the filthy liquid in your face. Your gag reflex goes off the charts and you can’t escape, because the nauseating stench persists for days.
This is “skunk”, a fearsome but non-lethal tool in Israel’s arsenal of weapons for crowd control. It comes in armored tanker trucks fitted with a cannon that can spray a jet of stinking fluid over crowds who know how to cope with plain old tear gas.
While the army calls skunk an attempt to minimize casualties, rights groups dismiss it as a fig-leaf for the use of deadlier force against protesters in the occupied West Bank.
For although recent years have been among the quietest of the 45-year-old occupation, Israel has been unable to stop an epidemic of local grassroots demonstrations that often turn into clashes.
Skunk is certainly a repellent, but not a complete deterrent. The protesters are fouled but not foiled.
On a Friday in the West Bank’s rugged hills, battle lines are drawn for another day of protest.
Gangly Palestinian youths in jeans are ready to let fly stones from homemade slings at Israeli soldiers down the main road of Nabi Saleh village, whose residents demand access to a local spring seized by Israeli settlers.
The soldiers form a phalanx around their curious weapon of war.
“We run away fast when it comes at us, but we don’t quit,” said a local boy clutching a rock, his dark eyes framed by the oval opening of a black t-shirt wrapped around his face.
“They think they’re pretty smart for inventing it, but they still move on to the tear gas, bullets, and breaking into our homes, just the same as usual,” he said.
The skunk truck makes its charge, scattering the youths up into the town, where the armed Israelis follow.
Palestinians call it simply “shit”.