Nasser Ishtayeh / AP

What is Skunk spray Israel uses against Palestinians?

Israel security forces say putrid-smelling spray is a nonlethal crowd control tool; some activists call it punishment

Skunk — a foul-smelling liquid first sprayed on Palestinian protesters as a form of crowd control in 2008 — has become one of the characteristic scents of the Israeli occupation.

Created by the Israeli research and development firm Odortec, Skunk has the “viscosity of water” and “can be sprayed over a large area using a standard water cannon,” Odortec says on its website

After Skunk makes contact with a person or object, the putrid stench can last for days and can cause nausea and vomiting. The smell is overpowering, similar to a skunk’s spray but worse, smelling as if it has been mixed with raw sewage, sulfur and rotting animal corpses.

“The overpowering odor of the Skunk drives rioters away — and keeps them away — effectively shutting down any escalating situation,” Odortec’s website says.

Promoted as a nonlethal tool for crowd control, Skunk has been used by Israeli forces at Palestinian demonstrations for the past seven years. Videos show the liquid being used during protests, on private Palestinian homes and even at a funeral procession in the West Bank.

An Israel Defense Forces representative told Al Jazeera that Skunk minimizes “the necessity for the use of live ammunition” and “is a well-known and accepted measure that is in line with international standards and used by many countries throughout the world.”

But some activists and organizations, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israelhave criticized the Israeli military for allegedly using Skunk against individuals and structures unassociated with protests, making neighborhoods stink for days.

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said Israeli forces regularly hose down Palestinian homes with Skunk, raising suspicions that the practice is used as a punitive measure — especially against residents in villages that routinely hold protests against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

Because of its putrid smell and the confidentiality surrounding its composition — the BBC revealed yeast and baking powder are among the ingredients — rumors abound among Palestinians as to what is in Skunk.

“People say it’s made of chemicals like gas, dirty water and shit,” said Jaber Abu Rahmah, a Palestinian living in the West Bank village of Bil’in, where residents hold weekly protests against Israel’s wall on their land.

“When it hits the ground, the smell stays bad for a long time,” he said. “When it hits you, you need to take many showers to clean yourself from the dirty smell.” 

Odortec did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment in time for publication but maintains on its website that Skunk is organic, nontoxic and even drinkable. 

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