Friday, July 27, 2007
Tear Gas Tourists
The smell of the tear gas wants to make you vomit. Literally. It’s like every fiber of your being wants to heave the poison from your body.
You cough, cry, tear up - thus the appropriate name, tear gas. It’s commonly used weapon by the Israeli Defense Forces against protesters, rioters - general troublemakers, as they’re perceived.
They come from all over - as close as this Bi’lin, deep in the West Bank where this particular protest is taking place. But they also come from Israel (protesting against their own troops), and of course from the Palestinian territories; places like Nablus and Jenin.
They’re also coming from America.
They are here because of a fence. This “security fence” that divides Palestinian farm land. Israel calls it necessary for to keep suicide bombers off its streets.
But it’s these foreign tourists that make this event – planned every Friday so interesting. Because here – this protest, is no joke. A rubble bullet can end your life, and tear gas can make you pass out - not to mention to the stun grenadines that can blow out an eardrum.
The day for these, “modern hippies” begins like any military briefing would begin. Except this one, is given by an Israeli – Johnathen Pollack, who has obvious experience protesting the wall.
"Do not wash your face, he says. “Tear gas sticks to wet surfaces and it will stick more if you water your face. What can you use is baby wipes or alcohol pads to wipe away the tear gas. Don't drink directly after you are hit with tear gas because it will bring in more tear gas in your system."
Of course CNN brings its own experience to the table. The levelheaded, always on top over everything, Mr. Ben Wedeman. This correspondent can walk into any Arab village and speak the language to which the first question will be “are you from here”
It drives the rest of us crazy.
Someone of his experience is far cooler in the face of incoming Israeli rounds than the foreign tourists. Once saying while the Israeli’s were unleashing tear gas,” no disappointment here - this is what you wanted,”
It was, I wanted to film something other that US troops firing at insurgents.
So, the tear gas was exchanged with the rubber bullets. And all the while American kids on their summer break travelled to become a part of this madness. I wonder if they had ever seen the end result of a rubber bullet?
Some moments you can’t see your hand in front your face. The tear gas is so potent. It makes you cry and gag and unable to do your job. You can’t film - you can’t take still photos - you can’t do anything.
Two American students remark almost aimlessly about the serious event for one local – and how it played out for them, thinking first Israeli troops had shot a Palestinian kid, later finding out it was not true ...
“I was here when this guy got hit - his buddy hit him in the head with a rock and everyone was like ... it's a rubber bullet”
Some Americans are here strictly for political reasons.
"Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid- and I disagree with what has been done with our money. I feel that this is the least I could do to come and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people", says student Ryan Graves from Arizona.
Maybe it’s their summer of living dangerously. Maybe it’s misplaced aggression. But every week, the youth of the West are joining the weekly exchange between Palestinian youths – and Israeli soldiers.
-- From Cal Perry, CNN International Correspondent, in Bi’lin.
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