Sicht vom Hochblauen

Evelyn Hecht-Galinski

Will Israel’s “whiff from hell” weapon be used to crush US protests?

Rania Khalek

US police departments are interested in procuring the foul-smelling skunk water that Israeli forces routinely use on Palestinians, according to The Economist.

The Economist, which refers to skunk water as “a whiff from hell,” reports that the weapon “has attracted the interest of law-enforcement agencies in America which, after riots in Ferguson and Baltimore, crave better ways to scatter rioters without killing or injuring them.”

Developed by Odortec, an Israeli company that specializes in scent-based weapons for law enforcement, in collaboration with the Israeli police, skunk water emits a stench that has been described as a cross between a rotting animal corpse, raw sewage and human excrement. The smell is so strong that Israeli police refuse to store the substance inside their stations.

Released at high pressure from a water cannon attached to the top of a military truck, the skunk odor sticks to walls, clothing, hair and skin for days and is impossible to wash away. Ramallah-based activist and writer Mariam Barghouti once told The Electronic Intifada’s Patrick Strickland that “the water lingers on your skin to a point when you want to rip your skin off.”

First used by Israeli border police officers in 2008, skunk water has become a fixture in villages that engage in weekly demonstrations against the Israeli wall in the occupied West Bank. It’s also frequently deployed againstPalestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem, where there is a concerted effort by the Israeli government to remove and replace Palestinian residents with Jewish settlers.

While Odortec insists skunk spray is non-toxic and even drinkable, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) warns that it “can cause pain and redness if it comes into contact with eyes, irritation if it comes into contact with skin and if swallowed can cause abdominal pain requiring medical treatment.”

Environmental terrorism

Israeli police have argued that skunk water is strictly used for crowd dispersal, but this claim is easily refuted.

Israeli forces regularly douse entire Palestinians neighborhoods in skunk water, deliberately spraying it into private homes, businesses and schools in what the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem calls “a collective punitive measure” against Palestinian villages that engage in protest against Israel’s colonial violence.

Just last month, Israeli forces were photographed chasing five-year-old Muhammad Riyad with a skunk truck at a demonstration in the West Bank town of Kafr Qaddum. The photos show Muhammad running and tripping over a pile of rocks, which sends his tiny body plunging face first into the ground, as he’s drenched in skunk water.

No Palestinian is safe from the skunk truck, not children, not their homes, not even the dead.

In 2012, Israeli forces showered a funeral procession in Hebron with skunk water, soaking mourners and the body of the deceased.

The substance is being marketed as a safe alternative to more lethal means of crowd dispersal. But since its introduction into the Israeli arsenal, Israeli forces have continued to indiscriminately injure and kill Palestinian protesters and non-protesters alike with the traditional assortment of tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets,sponge-tipped bullets and live fire.

If anything, skunk water has added a new humiliating dimension to the terror Israel inflicts on Palestinians. After all, what better way to strip the subjugated and colonized of their dignity than to poison them and their surroundings with a feces-like stench so intolerable it makes someone want to rip off his or her own skin?

Exporting repression

It’s no accident that Odortec was founded by a management team at the Israeli company Flybuster, a firm that develops scent-based chemicals to repel and kill insects. Odortec simply applied Flybuster’s pesticide logic to Palestinians, who Israeli leaders have long viewed as subhuman contaminants comparable to insects.

And like most Israeli weapons, skunk water is advertised as having been “field-tested,” which almost always means that Palestinians were used as human test subjects during the development process.

According to Odortec’s website, “skunk has been field-tested and proven to disperse even the most determined of violent protests” effectively “breaking adversarial resistance.”

While Gaza serves as a playground for larger weapons, the West Bank is Israel’s preferred laboratory for testingand refining crowd control technology.

David Ben Harosh, head of the Israeli police’s department for technological development  — which partnered with Odortec to develop skunk water — stated in 2008 that skunk water was tested in “monitored exercises” in the Palestinian villages of Bilin and Nilin, which he referred to as an “experiment.”

“After each spraying an observation of the area was conducted, to check if there were casualties, to see how the demonstrators reacted,” Ben Harosh stated.

So far there has been no reported use of skunk spray outside of Palestine. But Israeli police and Odortec have been marketing the product to law enforcement agencies around the globe since its inception.

As the BBC reported in 2008, “The Israeli police force has high hopes of turning skunk into a commercial venture and selling it to law-enforcement agencies overseas.”

The Economist states, “A report this week that skunk is now being sold to American local police departments was initially confirmed by a Maryland-based company claiming to be the vendor, but then swiftly retracted. The company’s website, which offered the stuff in various-sized canisters, has since gone offline.”

Though The Economist does not identify the company, it is likely Mistral Security, a subsidiary of Mistral Group, a US company based in Bethesda, Maryland, that deals in the production and sale of military and law enforcement equipment.

The only crowd control weapon Mistral Security currently markets to US law enforcement is skunk spray, which is featured on its website in a variety of delivery systems, including canisters, grenades and bulk containers for water cannons. Mistral’s product brochure advertises skunk as ideal for controlling crowds and individuals at “border crossings, correctional facilities, demonstrations and sit-ins.”

Mistral did not to respond to inquiries about which police agencies have expressed interest in purchasing skunk water. Neither did Odortec.

However, US police departments taking repression cues from Israel is not a new phenomenon.

Under the cover of counterterrorism training, senior commanders from nearly every major American police department, including Baltimore and St. Louis, have traveled to Israel for lessons in occupation enforcement. Such trips provide Israeli companies like Odortec with the opportunity to market their technology directly to US law enforcement executives.

With the Black Lives Matter uprising challenging and exposing America’s corrupt and racist system of policing, it makes sense that US police would look to their Israeli counterparts for “field-tested” methods in breaking resistance. In this instance, the weapon in question is as rotten as it smells.


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