Large quantities of tear gas used on cars in traffic jam, in populated area, at Qalandia protest Sunday

The tear gas was fired in volleys, and hung in the air even after the white clouds disappeared.

It affected everyone.

Here is one of the photos posted on Facebook by Tamar Fleishman of Machsom [Checkpoint] Watch:

Clouds of tear gas fired at Qalandia protest on 5 June 2011
Tamar Fleishman photo of clouds of tear gas fired at Qalandia on 5 June 2011

Qalandia is a stressful, ugly, terrible cul-de-sac where one road, with one lane in each direction, heading towards or around the Qalandia military checkpoint (which itself is located at the end of an airstrip built during the British-administered Mandate of Palestine, then used as a civilian airport for Palestinian travel during the period of Jordanian rule, until June 1967.) There is no way to adequately describe the stress, tension, frustration, and anxiety that anyone feels passing though Qalandia. You simply never know what will happen. And, it could be bad. That’s on a normal day.

By my own eyewitness estimate, there were not more than 150 protesters — probably half were traditional Palestinian politicians from leftist groups or their own organizations, and a small sprinkling of Hamas, while the rest from the loose coalition of Manara Youth and some Israeli and international activists, who marched down from a gathering point to the Qalandia Checkpoint. I am told that one busload of people from Hebron and another few groups from other areas assembled just to the south of the Qalandia checkpoint and met up with those who left from the Yaffa supermarket. That makes at most, at the very generous most, some 300 demonstrators who were there because they intended to join the protest. [There were at least as many onlookers, and there were a few ad hoc participants who joined in doing what they know best — throwing stones, despite the extensive efforts of the organizers to stop this…]

This is what happened when the original group arrived down at the checkpoint just before noon – video by Omar Robert Hamilton:

And, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported, 120 people were treated for injuries from tear gas, pepper spray, “sewage water” or “skunk spray” and rubber bullets…

Many dozens of others recovered without medical attention.

I’ve written once about the time that my friend Nuha, a Jerusalem resident who lives in a Jerusalem area that is blocked off on the West Bank side of Qalandia Checkpoint, was driving through on an ordinary errand when suddenly there was minor stone-throwing from the Qalandia youth (the exact same ones who normally spend most of their time hawking small items or offering, very insistently, to wash the windows of the cars trapped in line while waiting to be processed through the Israeli controls at the checkpoint.) So, the guys threw stones, then the Israeli soldiers moved out — into the midst of the huge traffic jam that quickly developed — and shot off some tear gas and stun grenades. There is absolutely no regard, none at all, for those trapped in what can instantly become a huge and completely blocked parking lot. It takes lots of volunteers directing enraged and panicked drivers a lot of time to untangle these terrifying messes. That day, one soldier fired his stun-grenade gun right next to Nuha’s car — and her airbags went off… That was a normal day.

Yesterday, there was a demonstration, announced well in advance. But, it was a normal work day, and a normal school day. Cars, yellow taxis and mini-van services, huge construction machines, and huge trucks loaded with enormous boulders of rough-cut stone continued to pour, non-stop, into the narrow passage around [or through] the Qalandia checkpoint. And, tens of ambulances raced back and forth, up and down, weaving through the bumper-to-bumper traffic with their sirens blaring.

Tear gas was fired as soon as the 150-or-so original demonstrators arrived at the checkpoint before noon. The tear gas landed right in the midst of the bumper-to-bumper traffic, trapping the drivers in cabins full of gas.

The tear gas was then fired far up, more than 100 meters or so, to the end of Qalandia Camp, where the demonstrators had started their brief protest march toward the Checkpoint, saying their goal was to reach Jerusalem.

The tear gas was then fired at a range of intermediate points in between. It affected absolutely everyone, including all school children in the primary school classrooms at UNRWA’s Qalandia Camp Primary School.

It’s not as if the Israeli soldiers and their commanders didn’t know. It’s not as if they hadn’t done it before…

This tear gas was painful… it was a miserable experience.

Any wonder that the ranks of the original small crowd of demonstrators soon swelled with the ranks of a number of antagonized young male onlookers?

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