Friday, April 30, 2010
Israel's new secret weapon: Skunk stink!
Israel tries new tactics against
It's the usual Friday afternoon cat-and-mouse dance between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters in this West Bank village. Young village men, joined by Israeli leftists and international activists, begin blocking roads with boulders and tires; soldiers take up positions at key intersections. Israeli forces fire tear gas canisters; protesters fling rocks. Before long, the military calls in one of its most dreaded weapons.
A white armored truck rumbles toward the scene. Protesters dive for cover as a small cannon on the vehicle's roof takes aim and fires — not bullets or tear gas, but a heavy stream of the foulest-smelling liquid imaginable. Is it the sickly sweet odor of decomposing flesh? A trash dump on a hot day? Vomit? Those who've been doused wax on in vain, trying to find a worthy description for the stench that won't go away, no matter how hard you scrub, for several days. Israeli soldiers call the truck the Skunk, and they say it has become one of their favorite tools in confronting the rising challenge of West Bank demonstrations.
As Palestinians have reshaped their resistance in recent years from suicide bombings and armed attacks to civil disobedience and nonviolent demonstrations, Israel's military is grappling with how to alter its tactics as well. "This is a new trend, and we're trying to address it in a new way," said Lt. Col. Eliezer Toledano, operations officer for the Israeli army in the West Bank. "We have to adjust ourselves to the reality today."
With no suicide attacks or armed clashes last year, he said, one of the main West Bank security threats today is the surge in organized civilian protests. A year ago, there were two such weekly demonstrations in West Bank cities. Now there are at least 10, involving up to 2,000 protesters a week, and the numbers keep rising.
Though often billed as peaceful, the demonstrations can turn violent, and Israeli soldiers have been accused of using guns against unarmed protesters. Two young Palestinian demonstrators were killed in March near Nablus by what Palestinians say were Israeli rifle bullets. The Israelis are investigating whether live rounds were used. But they said this week that they had reprimanded officers involved, saying the incident would not have occurred with better training and supervision.
With the increase in standoffs between armed Israeli soldiers and rock-throwing Palestinians, Israeli officials say, they have been searching for better tools, such as the Skunk, to give troops options for controlling the demonstrations.
"The challenges today are sometimes more of a police challenge rather than a military challenge, so we are trying to react in a police way," said a top Israeli commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "If you take things from your military toolbox and use them for policing, you end up with a bad result."
Of the more than 300 arrests made during protests since 2005, nearly two-thirds have occurred in the last year, according to figures from protest organizers. In recent months, soldiers have begun conducting nighttime raids of protesters' homes, a tactic usually reserved for suspected terrorists, protesters complain.
The military is also testing some controversial legal strategies. In Bilin and Niilin, two West Bank villages with long-running weekly protests against Israel's separation barrier, the military recently decreed that the cities would be designated "closed military zones" from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays. MORE
How soon before the UN passes a resolution accusing Israel of cruel and brutal treatment of protesters? And no doubt the Skunk Lovers Association will get into the act complaining about Israel ruining their pet’s reputation.