"On June 10th, 2004, the two clinics in Al-Zawiya
treated 130 patients for gas inhalation. The patients were children, women,
old people and young men. Dr. Abu Madi related that there was a high number
of cases of [tetany], spasm in legs and hands, connected to the nervous system.
Pupils were dilated. … Other symptoms included shock, semi-consciousness, hyperventilation,
irritation and sweating."
Thus reads a report
by medical units serving the West Bank village of Al-Zawiya, where nonviolent
resistance to Israel's impending wall has been extraordinarily resolute. According
to the medical report (procured by the International Middle East Media Center
[IMEMC]), "the gas used against the protestors is not tear gas but possibly
a nerve gas."
The following day, Israel's "Peace Bloc," Gush Shalom, began a press
release with the following quote from Al-Zawiya:
"What the army used here yesterday was not tear gas. We know what tear gas
is, what it feels like. That was something totally different. … When we were
still a long way off from where the bulldozers were working, they started shooting
things like this one (holding up a dark green metal tube with the inscription
"Hand and rifle grenade no.400" - in English). Black smoke came out. Anyone
who breathed it lost consciousness immediately, more than a hundred people.
They remained unconscious for nearly 24 hours. One is still unconscious, at
Rapidiya Hospital in Nablus. They had high fever and their muscles became rigid.
Some needed urgent blood transfusion. Now, is this a way of dispersing a demonstration,
or is it chemical warfare?"
The incident in Al-Zawiya appears to be the tenth attack by Israeli soldiers
using an "unknown gas" against Palestinian civilians since early 2001. We have
photographs of the canisters. We have film of victims suffering in the hospital.
We have interviews with Palestinian and European doctors who have treated the
victims. And we presumably have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of survivors. But
we know nothing of their fate. Despite the evidence, we have not inquired.
Though it is a state secret, Israel's development of chemical and biological
weapons has been known and analyzed for decades. From the typhoid poisoning
of Palestinian wells
and water supplies
in 1948 to the conversion
of F-16s into nerve gas "crop dusters" in 1998, Israel has always demonstrated
a strong interest in developing CBW agents and methods for their dispersal.
In 1992 an El Al 747 flying nerve gas ingredients from the U.S. to Israel
into an Amsterdam apartment building. According to Salman
Abu-Sitta, president of the Palestine Land Society, the respected Dutch
daily NRC Handelsblad followed up the crash with an in-depth investigation of
the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), Israel's CBW complex in
Nes Ziona. The paper reportedly found "strong links" with several U.S. CBW and
medical research centers, "close cooperation between IIBR and the British-American
biological warfare program," and "extensive collaboration on BW research with
Germany and Holland."
At IIBR, doctors publish world-class research in acetylcholine, the mother
lode of nerve gas design. The Nes Ziona complex is reputed to have invented
an "undetectable" poison-needle
gun for "clean" assassinations. In September 1997, two days after Jordan's King
Hussein told Israeli PM Netanyahu that Hamas was seeking negotiations, Mossad
agents in Jordan attempted to kill Hamas leader Khaled Misha'al with a lethal
dose of fentanyl.
For years, rumors persisted that Israel was using or testing unknown chemical
agents on Palestinian civilians. The rumors began to reveal their substance
February 12, 2001, when Israel began a six-week campaign of "novel gas" attacks
in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. By chance, American filmmaker James Longley
arrived in Khan Younis, Gaza in the middle of the first attack. That afternoon
he began filming the victims. His award-winning film, Gaza
Strip, documents the naked reality of Israel's chemical weaponry – the canisters,
the doctors, the eyewitnesses, and the hideous suffering of the victims, many
of whom remained hospitalized for days or weeks.
The February 12 gassing of neighborhoods in Khan Younis presaged the attacks
that followed. When the gas canisters landed, they began to billow clouds of
either white or black, sooty smoke. The gas was non-irritating
and initially odorless, changing to a sweet, minty fragrance after a few minutes.
One victim recalled,
"the smell was good. You want to breathe more. You feel good when you inhale
it." The smoke often shifted to a "rainbow" of changing colors.
From five to thirty minutes after breathing the gas, victims began to feel
sick and have difficulty breathing. A searing pain began to wrench their gut,
followed by vomiting, sometimes of blood, then complete hysteria and extremely
violent convulsions. Many victims suffered a relentless syndrome for days or
weeks afterward, alternating between convulsions and periods of conscious, twitching,
vomiting agony. Palestinians agreed: "This is like nothing we've ever seen before."
Forty people were admitted to Al-Nasser Hospital "in an odd state of hysteria
and nervous breakdown," suffering from "fainting and spasms." Sixteen gas patients
had to be transferred to the intensive care unit. Doctors "reported the Israeli
use of gas that appeared to cause convulsions."
At the Gharbi refugee camp, thirty-two people "were treated for serious injuries"
following exposure to the gas. Dr. Salakh Shami at Al-Amal Hospital reported
the hospital receiving "about 130 patients suffering from gas inhalation
from February 12."
Bewildered medical personnel
had "never seen anything … like the gas at Tufa." Victims were "jumping up and
down, left and right … thrashing limbs around," suffering "convulsions … a kind
of hysteria. They were all shaking." Others were already unconscious. An hour
or two later, they would come to. And the convulsions and the vomiting and disorientation
and pain would return.
The following day, February 13, Israeli forces again
deployed the strange new gas canisters in Khan Younis. Over forty new gas victims,
"including a number of children … from 1 to 5-years-old," arrived at Al-Nasser
Hospital and the hospital of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.
The news began to trickle out. "Palestinian security services have accused
the Israeli army of using nerve gas during a gunbattle yesterday," reported
AFX News Limited, noting "the army has strongly denied the charges." The Voice
of Palestine reported that "specialists believe that this is an internationally
banned nerve gas." Those who inhaled the gas "suffered a nervous breakdown and
The next day, Deutsche Presse-Agentur quoted Dr. Yasser Sheikh Ali from Al-Nasser
Hospital: "Israel has been using a powerful type of tear gas against the Palestinians
that causes convulsions and spasms." According to DPA, more than 80 Palestinians…reported
that Israeli soldiers had used the white smoky gas, but Israel denied doing
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that on February
15 three more canisters of the poison gas were fired at houses in the Khan
Younis camp, and "another 11 Palestinian civilians, mostly children, suffered
from suffocation and spasms due to gas inhalation." British journalist Graham
Usher wrote that Khan Younis civilians were "incapacitated" by "a 'new'
form of toxic gas."
PA President Yasser Arafat publicly
"accused Israel of using poison gas." The IDF issued a second denial. Israeli
Communications Minister Ben-Eliezer called reports of gas casualties in Khan
Younis "incorrect and false." Senior PA minister Nabil Shaath said that a sample
of the gas would be sent to "an international center for analysis." The results,
if any, were never divulged.
On February 18, Israeli soldiers near the Neve Dekalim settlement reportedly
fired four poison gas canisters at Palestinian houses in Khan Younis. Later
that afternoon, more canisters were fired, forcing Palestinians to flee their
reported that "41 Palestinian civilians, mostly children and women, suffered
from suffocation and spasms." By PCHR's count, 238 Palestinians were affected
by poison gas attacks between February 12 and February 20. Twenty-seven of the
victims were still hospitalized on the 22nd.
On March 2, an unknown gas was used against civilians in the West Bank town
Israeli soldiers reportedly fired "canisters of a highly effective black gas
similar to the one used in Khan Yunis three weeks ago."
Twenty-four days later, Israeli forces east of Gaza
City used a gas that "left symptoms different from those of the … gas used
first … in Khan Yunis starting from February 12," although several similarities
also appeared. In this attack the onset of abdominal pain seemed to be delayed.
30, medical professionals in Nablus reported Israeli soldiers using the
new poison gas against Palestinian demonstrators.
British journalist Jonathan
Cook reported a March gas attack on the schoolyard of Al-Khader village,
near Bethlehem. Thirteen year-old Sliman Salah was playing when a gas canister
landed next to him, "enveloping him in a cloud of gas described by witnesses
as an unfamiliar, yellow colour." Large doses of anti-convulsants were required
to control the boy's seizures and maintain consciousness. His symptoms "were
finally brought under control five days after his exposure to the gas. But Salah's
father says the boy is still suffering from stomach pains, vomiting, dizziness
and breathing problems."
In its March, 2003 special report, Israel's
Secret Weapon, BBC Television reviewed this series of gas attacks, noting,
"The Israeli army has used new unidentified weapons. In February 2001 a new
gas was used in Gaza. A hundred and eighty patients were admitted to hospitals
with severe convulsions. … Israel is outside chemical and biological weapons
treaties and still refuses to say what the new gas was."
In my amateur analysis
of the reported comments of victims, eyewitnesses and medical professionals
regarding this series of attacks, I identified thirty-three distinct symptoms
attributed to the unidentified gas. All but three of these symptoms appear to
be typical of nerve gas poisoning. Tareg Bey, a chemical warfare expert at the
University of California-Irvine, told the Chicago Reader that the symptoms described
to him "all fit really well to nerve gas," though he was puzzled by the reported
fragrance and skin rashes.
In an October 9, 2003,
article, Jennifer Loewenstein and Angela Gaff asked, "What gas is Israel
using?" They reported the story of Mukhles Burgal, a Palestinian prisoner caught
in a brutal attack inside Israel's Ashkelon prison. The "guards forced their
way into the crowded cell, spraying two canisters of some type of gas. Some
of the 14 prisoners passed out. … The effects of the gas were severe muscle
spasms and an overwhelming sensation of not being able to breathe."
Two days later, Palestine Monitor reported
that Israeli forces in Rafah were allegedly "firing gas grenades containing
a black gas believed to be adamatite [adamsite?] – the use of which is forbidden
according to international law. Medical authorities urged people to avoid the
gas at all costs, as it not only causes difficulty in breathing but seriously
affects the nervous system." For some reason, PCHR's press release from the
same day, an apparent source of these reports, is no longer available.
On the 14th, eyewitness Laura
Gordon wrote, "The army used some kind of nerve gas for the first time in
Rafah, leaving people in convulsions for days."
Following the recent gas attack in Al-Zawiya, town officials reportedly
told Al Ayyam newspaper, "the Israeli occupation troops were using an
illegal substance that caused nerve spasms and that several cases had been transferred
to Nablus hospitals."
The PA's International
Press Center reported that "official and public sources in … Al-Zawya …
asserted that those who have inhaled the tear gas IOF troops fired at them four
days ago are still suffering from the effects of the gas … a number of those
citizens have already had amnesias or partial memory loss, in addition to cramps
… in addition to strange cramps every three hours … those who inhaled the gas
are still suffering severe pains in the joints and nausea for four days now.
Eyewitnesses recalled that the Israeli soldiers were keen on picking the empty
tear gas canisters." Journalists told IPC "that the gas was in different colors
they have never seen coming out of a tear gas canister before, and that some
gases had an unrecalled smell."
According to IMEMC, "[T]ens of demonstrators who inhaled this gas had partial
memory loss. Dr. Bassam Abu Madi told IMEMC that the some of those who inhaled
the gas had severe choking and some contraction in their feet and arm muscles.
Eyewitnesses said the gas has a strange smell and a reddish-brownish color."
In a follow up story,
IMEMC concluded that "protesters were attacked with gas that is not like the
tear gas. Those who inhaled the gas suffered some memory loss while others had
other symptoms of a nerve gas. Yet this was not medically confirmed for lack
of laboratories to inspect the gas canisters collected from the scene."
reported the opinion of Awni Khatib, a professor of chemistry at Hebron University:
"The new symptoms – particularly the violent convulsions experienced by
some Palestinian protesters outside the village of Sawiya [Zawiya], southwest
of Nablus – suggest … that the Israeli army may be using a new class of chemicals
that lie somewhere between normal tear gas and chemical weapons."
Israel's repeated use of highly toxic unknown chemicals against Palestinian
civilians is now an open secret. We can expect these attacks to continue until
a concerted effort is made to determine the facts and hold Israel accountable.
So far, the international human rights community has steadfastly ignored the
When will professional investigators begin to retrieve and test the gas canisters?
Why has no one but James Longley bothered to document interviews with victims,
doctors, and other eyewitnesses? In a world in which one country's mere possession
of chemical weapons can be an excuse for international retribution, how can
another country's use of chemical weapons against civilians be dismissed as
a "regrettably excessive" tactic of crowd control?
Our silence is poisoning Palestine.