Hans Blix to Nes Ziona
Some of the victims were demonstrators. Some were children in their homes, trying to get away from the gas seeping under the door. Some were old men walking down the street. One of the victims was a thirteen year-old boy, playing in a schoolyard when a gas canister enveloped him in a cloud of poisonous smoke.(1) Like many of the others, he suffered recurring severe convulsions for days.
Ambulance drivers responding to one of the gas attacks found people on the street jumping around, thrashing their limbs in uncontrollable spasms. The victims seemed unaware of their actions and surroundings. One driver said, "If they had anything in their hand - a woman carrying her child might throw him down without realizing it. She'd just drop him and start clawing at herself from the gas." Many adults were required to restrain each violently convulsing victim.(2)
These attacks with an unknown poison gas were reported in a prestigious regional newspaper by respected journalists.(3-4) They appeared on European wire services, and on at least one US military Web site.(5-8) They were repeatedly documented by an award-winning human rights organization affiliated with the UN.(9-13) Graphic film documentation of the victims' suffering is available on VHS and DVD.(14) Three days after the attacks began, the leader of the targeted people publicly alleged the use of "poison gas" against civilians and demanded that it stop. Yet the attacks broadened in scope and continued for the next six weeks, until they ceased as mysteriously as they had begun.(15)
These facts are all in plain sight. But chances are you've never heard about this chemical warfare against innocent civilians. It was not the work of Saddam Hussein, or the Russians, or terrorists, at least as the term is generally understood. It didn't occur in the 1980s, and it didn't require the satellite data and battle planning that the US military provided Iraq for its chemical warfare against Iran.
These poison gas attacks were perpetrated just two years ago, by Israeli troops against civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Although they are documented by a small mountain of detailed and consistent open-source information, they remain a silent, ignored, seemingly untouchable story. At least eight separate attacks were reported from February 12 through March 30, 2001, first in the Gaza Strip and later in the West Bank. Several hundred civilians are reported to have suffered from exposure to the gas. Many required prolonged hospitalization. Six weeks after the initial attacks, a doctor caring for victims at Ali Nasser Hospital in Gaza said, "We still have 10 cases who we would like to send abroad for treatment."(16)
The poison gas canisters were unfamiliar, marked only with a few numerals and Hebrew letters. The smoking gas they released was non-irritating and initially odorless. After a few minutes a sweet, minty fragrance would emerge. One victim recalled that "the smell was good. You want to breathe more. You feel good when you inhale it." The smoke often spewed in a "rainbow" of changing colors, ending in a steady billow of black soot.
From five to thirty minutes after breathing the gas, victims began to feel sick and have difficulty breathing. A searing pain would begin 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, cycling between convulsions and periods of conscious, twitching, vomiting agony. Palestinians agreed: "This is like nothing we've ever seen before."(17)
Eyewitness reports identify thirty-three distinct symptoms induced by the gas. All but three are typical of nerve gas poisoning.(18) Tareg Bey, a chemical warfare expert at the University of California-Irvine, told the Chicago Reader that the symptoms "all fit really well to nerve gas", though he was puzzled by the reported fragrance and skin rashes.(19) The gas, which caused no recorded fatalities, may have been a novel "nerve agent" developed in Israel's CBW laboratories at Nes Ziona, where they've been making nerve gases, and many other things, for decades.(20)
Were these gas attacks an "experiment"? What has become of the victims? Who made the decision to conduct this criminal and inhuman campaign? These and many other questions about Israel's willingness to use chemical weapons demand answers. The silence about these attacks must end. Failure to investigate them and bring their perpetrators to justice is a violation of the Geneva Accords. America cannot make a case for war over potential chemical weapons in Iraq, yet turn a blind eye to the actual chemical warfare conducted by its "staunchest ally."
(1) Vale of tears: Tear or poison gas? By Jonathan Cook, Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, 5-11 April 2001, Issue No.528
(2) Selected Interviews recorded for the documentary film Gaza Strip by James Longley, transcripts
(3) Unprepared for the worst, by Graham Usher, Al-Ahram Weekly Online, Feb. 15-21, 2001, Issue No. 521
(4) Vale of tears: Tear or poison gas? By Jonathan Cook, Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, 5-11 April 2001, Issue No.528
(6) Deutsche Presse-Agentur, February 14, 2001, BC Cycle, 00:45 CET
(7) AFX News Limited, AFX European Focus, February 13, 2001
(8) Protests of U.S. and U.K. Air Strikes, Fort Bragg Web site, Feb 19, 2001
(9) Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) Weekly Report, Feb. 8-14, 2001
(10) PCHR Weekly Report, February 15-21, 2001
(11) PCHR Weekly Report, March 1-7, 2001
(12) PCHR Weekly Report, March 22-29, 2001
(13) PCHR Weekly Report, March 29-April 4, 2001
(14) Gaza Strip, a documentary by James Longley, February, 2002
(15) The Israeli Poison Gas Attacks: A Preliminary Investigation, James Brooks, Media Monitors Network, January 8, 2003
(16) Selected Interviews recorded for the documentary film Gaza Strip by James Longley, transcripts
(18) Symptoms - The Israeli Poison Gas Attacks: A Preliminary Investigation, James Brooks
(19) Gas Attack/What Was It?/News Bites, Michael Milner, Chicago Reader, August 23, 2002 Reader Archive – Article: 2002/020823/HOTTYPE
(20) Israel and Chemical/Biological Weapons: History, Deterrence, and Arms Control, Avner Cohen, The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Fall-Winter), pp. 27-53
For additional references, see:
The Israeli Poison Gas Attacks: A Preliminary Investigation, James Brooks
James Brooks of Worcester, Vermont, is an independent researcher and former business owner whose recent articles have been published by Vermont newspapers, Antiwar.com, Media Monitors Network, Dissident Voice and several other sites. Currently Mr. Brooks serves as webmaster for Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel and publishes News Links, a free once-daily e-mail digest of in-depth Middle East news and commentary. To subscribe, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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