Tuesday 25 March 2014

Blog 2 (repost): I love the smell of teargas in the morning!

Wednesday, the last day of our working week, began with a meeting in with Abed, after which Lawson, Robert and I retired to our office. Before starting work, the following exchange took place:

Lawson: We really haven’t had any trouble at all since we’ve been here. No action or anything!

Me: Why would you tempt fate like that? If something happens now, I’m blaming you personally.

It was just ten minutes later that Abed put his head round the door. He warned us that we should not go outside or drink water because there were Israeli soldiers at the university down the road and they were using teargas to disperse people.

                Me: Lawson, I am blaming you personally!

We later learnt what had happened. It seemed some locals had been trying to break through the Israeli Wall near the university. Soldiers had arrived and dispersed them with teargas, but then entered the university to try and arrest the culprits. We could hear explosions, presumably tear gas canisters, going off intermittently all morning, then around midday they seemed to stop. Hungry, we asked if it was safe to go outside for lunch and perhaps unwisely we proceeded to Falafel King.

We had just finished eating and were about to leave when suddenly several students and children arrived in the café, their tops pulled up over their faces, eyes streaming. Almost immediately the air took on a slight tang, like the smell of a dusty radiator heating up. We decided to dash back to the office. Before going, the café-owner squirted our wrists with a perfume spray, to help ward off the gas. Even so, by the time we got back, my throat was burning painfully.

Luckily, we were not very close to the disturbance, the tear gas was invisible and once inside its effects quickly abated. We got back to work, listening to yet more explosions that sometimes seemed to get closer but then further away again. At about three o’clock Abed told us that soldiers had just arrested a child outside the office, but we do not know who he was or what he did. The explosions continued, accompanied by some metallic thumps that we later discovered were wheely-bins being pushed over, apparently to block the road and prevent more troops arriving. At around half past four an explosion sounded very close by.

Gas started to leak into the office, invisible but stronger than before, it wasn’t long before our eyes and throats were stinging, even with shirts pulled over our faces. At this point we decided to pack our things and call it a day, electing to go the long way home to avoid any military encounters.

I may be making too much of a trifle. Incidents like this are relatively common here. Our Palestinian friends told us that they take place every month or couple of months. As before what struck me was people’s nonchalance. If this had happened in London, it would have been national news, and answers would have been demanded. There would have been palpable sense of outrage, at least amongst those close to where the tear gas was flying, but here it was treated like an inconveniently severe downpour of rain. Unpleasant, but an inevitable part of life. Robert even tells me he even saw one student standing outside in the gas, breathing deeply, claiming he loved the smell!

For my part, it is not something I want to experience again and I sincerely hope that it is as serious an event as takes place during my time here.

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