A regional newspaper political editor came under an Israeli tear gas attack aimed at Palestinians during a week-long visit for journalists to Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Graham Dines of the East Anglian Daily Times was among a group of 15 journalists from newspapers and broadcasting organisations across the European Union had been taken to the village of Bill’in 12 miles south of Palestine’s main city Ramallah.
They were watching a demonstration by local people against the controversial wall built by Israel to stop suicide bombers crossing the border from the occupied West Bank.
Suddenly the group found themselves under attack from canisters lobbed from the Israeli side to disperse the protestors.
“Bill’in is a community physically divided by a concrete monstrosity which for more than 700 kilometres snakes its way around and through town and villages in which the stateless Palestinians live,” said Archant Suffolk’s Graham.
“Our party arrived in Bill’in as villagers poured out of Friday prayers in the mosque to make their way to the wall two kilometres away. The Israelis had their answer waiting to counter this civil disobedience: tear gas.
“Even the merest sniff of tear gas is enough to make you choke, and even vomit. The villagers turned and ran but they could not escape the effects. And even though they legged it, more canisters were fired over the wall.
“One exploded just yards from where I was standing. The full force of its contents erupted among the crops and orchards lining the route back to the village. Immediately, I started choking, my eyes watered tears, and I couldn’t stop retching.”
Added Graham: “For someone like me who has had respiratory problems, this was a tough welcome to the on-going crisis in the Middle East. Fortunately, the effects wore off after ten minutes, but nevertheless it was an experience I don’t want to repeat.”
The 15 journalists – Graham was the only one from the UK – were taking part in a visit organised by the European Journalism Centre in Maastrict on behalf of the European Commission to study the EU’s neighbourhood policy in action.