Several weeks ago I had my first experience with tear gas here in Hebron. I realized something was up when I saw several of the other international volunteers wearing a gas mask. I said to myself, “looks like trouble.” But it also made me wonder, “why didn’t we get that memo?” Sure enough within 15 minutes of my initial observation I saw some young Palestinians boys throwing rocks, to be answered almost immediately with a “bang, bang!” Tear gas canisters hit several buildings close by, falling to the road and spewing out their noxious cloud. Unfortunately the center of the flash-point was between our team and the exit up Shuhada street. We were stuck. Of course, I wanted to get pictures so began to make my way to the center of the action. WOW. This stuff is really effective. My eyes started burning and breathing became labored. A kind shop owner grabbed me and started to apply liquid soap to my face. It helped my breathing and my eyes seemed to burn less.
Soon after the tear gas and group of soldiers spilled out onto the street from behind their barricaded compound in the middle of the city. This was not a video game. It was real. I wondered if they had live ammunition in their guns but didn’t want to ask either. As I was going forward closer to the center of action, then reversing my steps wondering how this was to play out, another photographer with a nice fancy vest with the word PRESS emblazoned across the back, and gas mask mind you, said to me–“Don’t worry!” Did I look that terrified? The tear gas eventually dissipated and our team was able to move down the street away from the burning tire and debris of tear gas canisters and sound grenades. Within about 50 yards of the mayhem, we transitioned into normalcy. Shops were open, people were stopping to buy produce, as if to say. “Don’t worry!” I concluded this was just another day at the office in Hebron as an Ecumenical Accompanier.