Knesset Committee Discusses Use of ‘Skunk’ Water at Demonstrations in Yerushalayim

YERUSHALAYIM -
Police officers clash with demonstrators during a protest following the death of Ahuvia Sandak last year, at the entrance to Yerushalayim, Nov. 13. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The use of the Skunk water cannon is particularly harsh. I have experienced it,” MK Mossi Raz (Meretz) said during a debate in the Public Security Committee on the use of the foul-smelling fluid during demonstrations in Meah She’arim.

“The question is whether or not there are alternative means,” said MK Raz, who initiated the debate. “The use of the water cannon vehicle is problematic. There was an incident in which a tourist lost an eye when water that was shot out of the vehicle struck her. These things can happen. We have to support those who do the work, but it would not be the end of the world if a road would be closed during a demonstration.”

Committee Chair MK Merav Ben Ari (Yesh Atid) said, “This is a burning issue that is painful for the Knesset Members. We all share the difficult emotions. The civilians have nowhere to run, businesses are harmed, and some homes can’t get rid of the stench. … The committee demands that Israel Police submit to it, once a year, a report on the dispersal of demonstrations and riots with the use of force. It is important for us to make certain that you are making every effort to reduce the use of Skunk, and use it only in cases where there is no other choice.”

MK Rabbi Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) said, “I am against violent demonstrations. A demonstration should not deteriorate to violence and rioting. Not all of the chareidi public demonstrates. Most chareidim only take part in orderly protests, but the public suffers a lot from the demonstrations. Israel Police has a custom of immediately closing streets. A main traffic artery can remain closed for 7-8 hours, long after the protesters have dispersed. People wait at bus stations for hours. This is collective, disproportionate punishment.”

Commander Erez Tavor, head of the Operations Division of Yerushalayim District Police, said “We never prevent the right to demonstrate. We allow it, in any way. But we are talking about a riot, not a demonstration. Whoever comes to express his opinion – we will protect his right to do so. In the incident on Bar Ilan Street, they came to disrupt work on the Light Rail. Countless situation assessments have been held, supervised by the district police commander, on how to act against rioters, who have caused damage worth millions of shekels in public funds.” Commander Tavor said the water cannon vehicle has been used to spray water or a colored fluid, not the foul-smelling fluid known as Skunk. MK Itamar Ben Gvir said in response: “This is not true. I have been to five demonstrations following the death of Ahuvia Sandak, and Skunk was used in all of them.” Commander Tavor: “I have the dates on which Skunk was used.”

Committee Chair MK Ben Ari said, “Blocking a road constitutes abuse of the residents. I want police to clear the roads, but in a dense place like Yerushalayim, in which there are businesses and uninvolved civilians, the use of Skunk is deadly and destructive for the uninvolved residents, for businesses and for homes. In such a dense city, why not disperse with water and color?”

MK Ofer Cassif (Joint List) said [police] are “trigger happy when it comes to the use of Skunk, particularly against Arabs, as it is lawful to shed their blood. But not only against Arabs. I have a photo of a demonstration of chareidim in Bnei Brak. They are sitting down. No rioting is taking place. They are sitting and blocking traffic. The Skunk tool should not exist … An order must be issued stating that Skunk can be used only as a last resort.”