"Skunk", the Israeli Army calls it. Good name.
It had been a month or so since I was last in Bilin, a village in the West Bank, north of Ramallah. Regular protests occur here every Friday over the controversial Israeli barrier fence. Palestinian, Israeli and international protesters and activists gather near the fence to protest and sometimes throw stones at the Israeli security forces standing guard on the other side who fire teargas at the protesters. Sometimes the amount of teargas the security forces fires can be overwhelming because they are firing into open fields rather than narrow streets or houses. The gas is usually enough to turn all but the hardcore protesters back along the path from which they came.
I knew beforehand the Israeli security forces had recently introduced a new sort of smelly chemical spray, called Skunk, fired from a police water cannon. I was told by Fadi Arouri, our Ramallah photographer, how horrible it was after he experienced the lasting stink it left with him the week before. He politely offered to stay back last Friday, a few hundred meters away, to get a long shot of the tear gas being fired.
I thought, no problem, I'll get in there and get the shots before any spraying starts. I should have known better with my track record. I was once sprayed by a police water canon in Kuala Lumpur during a protest and had to walk the walk of shame through a brand new shopping mall, covered in yellow die and pepper spray, to find a dry shirt and a pair of pants. Nobody in the mall wanted to serve me.
A few years later, outside the American embassy in Jakarta, I was directly hosed by a police water canon, for more than the required amount of time I might add. Moments later I discovered, to the amusement of the few hundred hard-core anti American protesters who were also there, that I was the only person who was wet.
This time in Bilin, I promised myself, it would be different.
Some of the protesters were wearing heavy yellow rain gear, the type fishermen wear or crossing guards don in storms. I wonder where they bought them, out here in the desert where it rains only a few days a year. The police water canon quickly emerged from hiding behind a house on the hill. I was already wearing my gas mask as I casually started walking backwards, trying not to appear like I was retreating.