Chemical weapon attack on pro-Palestinian students at Columbia University

In late January, at a pro-Palestine protest at Columbia University, several pro-Israeli individuals attacked pro-Palestine protesters with an

Lina B.

Date published: Thu, 15 February 24

In late January, at a pro-Palestine protest at Columbia University, several pro-Israeli individuals attacked pro-Palestine protesters with an illegal chemical weapon – skunk. Eight students were hospitalized from the attack. 

The students reported to Columbia’s Department of Public Safety and the New York Police Department on January 19 that they had been sprayed with the chemical known as skunk. Skunk is an Israeli weapon that is often used on Palestinians.

In 2021, Al Jazeera published an article about skunk used against protesters in Palestine, specifically during the Save Sheikh Jarrah protests. Al Jazeera reports that in Arabic, the weapon is called “kharara” which means “the shitter,” named after its intensely putrid smell. Israel developed the chemical weapon as a “crowd control weapon.” 

Al Jazeera reports, “Skunk water is a liquid compound with an overpowering odour that has been described by those who have experienced it as the smell of sewage mixed with rotting corpses. In reality, it is a concoction of chemicals that causes intense nausea, obstructing normal breathing, causing violent gagging and vomiting. The company’s safety sheet also indicates that it can cause skin irritation, eye and abdominal pain. Palestinians have also reported that it causes hair loss.”

High doses of skunk can have lethal effects. When it’s fired from water cannons, the high pressure can cause serious injury. A small spray of skunk leaves stench on the skin for days. Al Jazeera reports that it can last even longer on clothes and in buildings. 

Israeli occupation forces use skunk as a form of collective punishment. Skunk trucks pass through Palestinian neighborhoods, where they spray buildings. Businesses then close for days, and families are forced to leave their homes. Skunk is supplied in the United States by a company called Mistral Security. They “recommend its usage at border crossings, correctional facilities, demonstrations, and sit-ins.” Ferguson, Missouri’s police department bought skunk following the 2015 protests against police brutality and racism. 

Several human rights organizations including Amnesty International, have denounced the use of the chemical, saying that it is a form of collective punishment with “torturous and humiliating after-effects that severely impact victims.” The attack took place during an event that was organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), called “Hands off Yemen and Gaza! No more tuition for the war machine.” A Columbia University student present at the protest said that the attackers were Columbia students who allegedly served in the IDF. 

Columbia student, Layla, has documented the aftermath of being attacked with skunk at the protest. 

Columbia University’s Provost released a statement, but many students are saying this is not enough, and that pro-Palestinian students are not being protected at Columbia and the institution is sanctioning the attack.