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Re: FW: A Report from WITHIN the Jenin Refugee Camp
by Louis Proyect
25 April 2002 20:47 UTC
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On Thu, 25 Apr 2002 13:14:06 -0700, FRISCH_DENNIS wrote:
>After inquiring as to his own state, the
>inevetable question arose, "So?" That was enough
>to set him in motion. It was obvious that he
>needed someone "on the outside" to spill to. He
>emphatically started with, "This was not a
>slaughter! It was not a massacre!" The soldiers
>were hearing the reports of what the press was
>publicizing. "The Nazis would go into an area or
>town and puposefully pull out the women and
>children and either murder them or send them off
>to death camps. The men got only the first
>option, murdered on the spot. That is massacre.
>This was not the case in Jenin. You can't
>believe what you see. I saw it with my own two

The Independent, Apr. 25, 2002

Once upon a time in Jenin

What really happened when Israeli forces went into Jenin? Just as the 
world is giving up hope of learning the truth, Justin Huggler and 
Phil Reeves have unearthed compelling evidence of an atrocity
The thought was as unshakable as the stench wafting from the ruins. 
Was this really about counterterrorism? Was it revenge? Or was it an 
episode  the nastiest so far  in a long war by Ariel Sharon, the 
staunch opponent of the Oslo accords, to establish Israel's presence 
in the West Bank as permanent, and force the Palestinians into final 

A neighbourhood had been reduced to a moonscape, pulverised under the 
tracks of bulldozers and tanks. A maze of cinder-block houses, home 
to about 800 Palestinian families, had disappeared. What was left  
the piles of broken concrete and scattered belongings  reeked.

The rubble in Jenin reeked, literally, of rotting human corpses, 
buried underneath. But it also gave off the whiff of wrongdoing, of 
an army and a government that had lost its bearings. "This is 
horrifying beyond belief," said the United Nations' Middle East 
envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, as he gazed at the scene. He called it a 
"blot that will forever live on the history of the state of Israel"  
a remark for which he was to be vilified by Israelis. Even the 
painstakingly careful United States envoy, William Burns, was 
unusually outspoken as he trudged across the ruins. "It's obvious 
that what happened in Jenin refugee camp has caused enormous 
suffering for thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians," he said.

The Israeli army insists that its devastating invasion of the refugee 
camp in Jenin earlier this month was intended to root out the 
infrastructure of the Palestinian militias, particularly the authors 
of an increasingly vicious series of suicide attacks on Israelis. It 
now says the dead were mostly fighters. And, as always  although its 
daily behaviour in the occupied territories contradicts this claim  
it insists that it did everything possible to protect civilians.

But The Independent has unearthed a different story. We have found 
that, while the Israeli operation clearly dealt a devastating blow to 
the militant organisations  in the short term, at least  nearly 
half of the Palestinian dead who have been identified so far were 
civilians, including women, children and the elderly. They died amid 
a ruthless and brutal Israeli operation, in which many individual 
atrocities occurred, and which Israel is seeking to hide by launching 
a massive propaganda drive.

The assault on Jenin refugee camp by Israel's armed forces began 
early on 3 April. One week earlier, 30 miles to the west in the 
Israeli coastal town of Netanya, a Hamas suicide bomber had walked 
into a hotel and blown up a roomful of people as they were sitting 
down to celebrate the Passover feast. This horrific slaughter on one 
of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar killed 28 people, young 
and old, making it the worst Palestinian attack of the intifada, a 
singularly evil moment even by the standards of the long conflict 
between the two peoples.

Ariel Sharon, Israel's premier, and his ministers responded by 
activating a plan that had long lain on his desk. Operation Defensive 
Shield was to become the largest military offensive by Israel since 
the 1967 war. Jenin refugee camp was high on the list of targets. 
Home to about 13,000 people, it was the heartland of violent 
resistance to Israel's 35-year occupation.

The graffiti-covered walls bellowed the slogans of Hamas, Fatah and 
Islamic Jihad; radical Islamists and secular nationalists worked side 
by side, burying differences in the name of the intifada. According 
to Israel, 23 suicide bombers had come out of the camp, which was a 
centre for bomb-making. Yet there were also many, many civilians. 
People such as Atiya Rumeleh, Afaf Desuqi and Ahmad Hamduni.

The army was expecting a swift victory. It had overwhelming 
superiority of arms  1,000 infantrymen, mostly reservists, 
accompanied by Merkava tanks, armoured vehicles, bulldozers and Cobra 
helicopters, armed with missiles and heavy machine guns. Ranged 
against this force were about 200 Palestinians, with members of the 
militias  Hamas, al-Aqsa brigades and Islamic Jihad  fighting 
alongside Yasser Arafat's security forces, mostly armed with 
Kalashnikovs and explosives.

The fight put up by the Palestinians shocked the soldiers. Eight days 
after entering, the Israeli army finally prevailed, but at a heavy 
price. Twenty-three soldiers were killed, 13 of them wiped out by an 
ambush, and an unknown number of Palestinians died. And a large 
residential area  400m by 500m  lay utterly devastated; scenes that 
the Israeli authorities knew at once would outrage the world as soon 
as they hit the TV screens. "We were not expecting them to fight so 
well," said one exhausted-looking Israeli reservist as he packed up 
to head home. Journalists and humanitarian workers were kept away for 
five more days while the Israeli army cleaned up the area, after the 
serious fighting ended on 10 April.

The Independent spent five days conducting long, detailed interviews 
of survivors among the ruins of the refugee camp, accompanied by 
Peter Bouckaert, a senior researcher for the Human Rights Watch 
organisation. Many of the interviews were conducted in buildings that 
were on the verge of collapse, in living rooms where one entire wall 
had been ripped off by the bulldozers and that were open to the 

An alarming picture has emerged of what took place. So far, 50 of the 
dead have been identified. The Independent has a list of names. 
Palestinians were happy, even proud, to tell us which of the dead 
were fighters for Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa brigades; which 
belonged to their security forces; and which were civilians. They 
identified nearly half as civilians.

Not all the civilians were cut down in crossfire. Some, according to 
eyewitness accounts, were deliberately targeted by Israeli forces. 
Sami Abu Sba'a told us how his 65-year-old father, Mohammed Abu 
Sba'a, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers after he warned the driver 
of an approaching bulldozer that his house was packed with families 
sheltering from the fighting. The bulldozer turned back, said Mr Abu 
Sba'a  but his father was almost immediately shot in the chest where 
he stood.

Israeli troops also shot dead a Palestinian nurse as she tried to 
help a wounded man. Hani Rumeleh, a 19-year-old civilian, had been 
shot as he tried to look out of his front door. Fadwa Jamma, a nurse 
staying with her sister in a house nearby, heard Hani's screaming and 
came to help. Her sister, Rufaida Damaj, who also ran to help, was 
wounded but survived. From her bed in Jenin hospital, she told us 
what happened.

"We were woken at 3.30 in the morning by a big explosion," she said. 
"I heard that one guy was wounded outside our house. So my sister and 
I went to do our duty and to help the guy and give him first aid. 
There were some guys from the resistance outside and we had to ask 
them before we moved anywhere. I told them that my sister was a 
nurse, I asked them to let us go to the wounded.

"Before I had finished talking to the guys the Israelis started 
shooting. I got a bullet in my leg and I fell down and broke my knee. 
My sister tried to come and help me. I told her, 'I'm wounded.' She 
said, 'I'm wounded too.' She had been shot in the side of her 
abdomen. Then they shot her again in the heart. I asked where she was 
wounded but she didn't answer, she made a terrible sound and tried to 
breathe three times."

Ms Jamma was wearing a white nurse's uniform clearly marked with a 
red crescent, the emblem of Palestinian medical workers, when the 
soldiers shot her. Ms Damaj said the soldiers could clearly see the 
women because they were standing under a bright light, and could hear 
their cries for help because they were "very near". As Ms Damaj 
shouted to the Palestinian fighters to get help, the Israeli soldiers 
fired again: a second bullet went up through her leg into her chest.

Eventually an ambulance was allowed through to rescue Ms Damaj. Her 
sister was already dead. It was to be one of the last times an 
ambulance was allowed near the wounded in Jenin camp until after the 
battle ended. Hani Rumeleh was taken to hospital, but he was dead. 
For his stepmother, however, the tragedy had only just begun; the 
next day, her 44-year-old husband Atiya, also a civilian, was killed.

As she told his story, her orphaned children clung to her side. 
"There was shooting all around the house. At about 5pm I went to 
check the building. I told my husband two bombs had come into the 
house. He went to check. After two minutes he called me to come, but 
he was having difficulty calling. I went with the children. He was 
still standing. In my life I've never seen the way he looked at me. 
He said, 'I'm wounded', and started bleeding from his mouth and nose. 
The children started crying, and he fell down. I asked him what 
happened but he couldn't talk.

"His eyes went to the children. He looked at them one by one. Then he 
looked at me. Then all his body was shaking. When I looked, there was 
a bullet in his head. I tried to call an ambulance, I was screaming 
for anybody to call an ambulance. One came but it was sent back by 
the Israelis."

It was Thursday 4 April, and the blockade against recovering the 
wounded had begun. With the fighting raging outside, Ms Rumeleh could 
not go out of the house to fetch help. Eventually she made a rope out 
of headscarves and lowered her seven-year-old son Mohammed out of the 
back window to go and seek help. The family, fearful of being shot if 
they ventured out, were trapped indoors with the body for a week.

A few doors away, we heard the story of Afaf Desuqi. Her sister, 
Aysha, told us how the 52-year-old woman was killed when the Israeli 
soldiers detonated a mine to blow the door of her house open. Ms 
Desuqi had heard the soldiers coming and gone to open the door. She 
showed us the remains of the mine, a large metal cylinder. The family 
screamed for an ambulance, but none was allowed through.

Ismehan Murad, another neighbour, told us the soldiers had been using 
her as a human shield when they blew the front door off the Desuqi 
house. They came to the young woman's house first, and ordered her to 
go ahead of them, so that they would not be fired on.

Jamal Feyed died after being buried alive in the rubble. His uncle, 
Saeb Feyed, told us that 37-year-old Jamal was mentally and 
physically disabled, and could not walk. The family had already moved 
him from house to house to avoid the fighting. When Mr Feyed saw an 
Israeli bulldozer approaching the house where his nephew was, he ran 
to warn the driver. But the bulldozer ploughed into the wall of the 
house, which collapsed on Jamal.

Although they evacuated significant numbers of civilians, the 
Israelis made use of others as human shields. Rajeh Tawafshi, a 
72-year-old man, told us that the soldiers tied his hands and made 
him walk in front of them as they searched house to house. Moments 
before, they had shot dead Ahmad Hamduni, a man in his eighties, 
before Mr Tawafshi's eyes. Mr Hamduni had sought shelter in Mr 
Tawafshi's house, but the Israeli soldiers had blown the door open. 
Part of the metal door landed next to the two men. Mr Hamduni was 
hunched with age, and Mr Tawafshi thinks the soldiers may have 
mistakenly thought he was wearing a suicide-bomb belt. They shot him 
on sight.

Even children were not immune from the Israeli onslaught. Faris 
Zeben, a 14-year-old boy, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in cold 
blood. There was not even any fighting at the time. The curfew on 
Jenin had been lifted for a few hours and the boy went to buy 
groceries. This was on Thursday 11 April. Faris's eight-year-old 
brother, Abdel Rahman, was with him when he died. Nervously picking 
at his cardigan, his eyes on the ground, the child told us what 

"It was me and Faris and one other boy, and some women I didn't know. 
Faris told me to go home but I refused. We were going in front of the 
tank. Then we saw the front of the tank move towards us and I was 
scared. Faris told me to go home but I refused. The tank started 
shooting and Faris and the other boy ran away. I fell down. I saw 
Faris fall down, I thought he just fell. Then I saw blood on the 
ground so I went to Faris. Then two of the women came and put Faris 
in a car."

Abdel Rahman showed us where it happened. We paced it out: the tank 
had been about 80m away. He said there was only one burst of 
machine-gun fire. He imitated the sound it made. The soldiers in the 
tank gave no warning, he said. And after they shot Faris they did 

Fifteen-year-old Mohammed Hawashin was shot dead as he tried to walk 
through the camp. Aliya Zubeidi told us how she was on her way to the 
hospital to see the body of her son Ziad, a militant from the Al-Aqsa 
brigades, who had been killed in the fighting. Mohammed accompanied 
her. "I heard shooting," said Ms Zubeidi. "The boy was sitting in the 
door. I thought he was hiding from the bullets. Then he said, 'Help.' 
We couldn't do anything for him. He had been shot in the face."

In a deserted road by the periphery of the refugee camp, we found the 
flattened remains of a wheelchair. It had been utterly crushed, 
ironed flat as if in a cartoon. In the middle of the debris lay a 
broken white flag. Durar Hassan told us how his friend, Kemal 
Zughayer, was shot dead as he tried to wheel himself up the road. The 
Israeli tanks must have driven over the body, because when Mr Hassan 
found it, one leg and both arms were missing, and the face, he said, 
had been ripped in two.

Mr Zughayer, who was 58, had been shot and wounded in the first 
Palestinian intifada. He could not walk, and had no work. Mr Hassan 
showed us the pitiful single room where his friend lived, the only 
furnishing a filthy mattress on the floor. Mr Zughayer used to wheel 
himself to the petrol station where Mr Hassan worked every day, 
because he was lonely. Mr Hassan did his washing; it was he who put 
the white flag on Mr Zughayer's wheelchair.

"After 4pm I pushed him up to the street as usual," said Mr Hassan. 
"Then I heard the tanks coming, there were four or five. I heard 
shooting, and I thought they were just firing warning shots to tell 
him to move out of the middle of the road." It was not until the next 
morning that Mr Hassan went to check what had happened. He found the 
flattened wheelchair in the road, and Mr Zughayer's mangled body some 
distance away, in the grass.

The Independent has more such accounts. There simply is not enough 
space to print them all. Mr Bouckaert, the Human Rights Watch 
researcher, who is preparing a report, said the sheer number of these 
accounts was convincing.

"We've carried out extensive interviews in the camp, and the 
testimonies of dozens of witnesses are entirely consistent with each 
other about the extent and the types of abuses that were carried out 
in the camp," said Mr Bouckaert, who has investigated human-rights 
abuses in a dozen war zones, including Rwanda, Kosovo and Chechnya. 
"Over and over again witnesses have been giving similar accounts of 
atrocities that were committed. Many of the people who were killed 
were young children or elderly people. Even in the cases of young 
men; in Palestinian society, relatives are quite forthcoming when 
young men are fighters. They take pride that their young men are 
so-called 'martyrs'. When Palestinian families claim their killed 
relatives were civilians we give a high degree of credibility to 

The events at Jenin  which have passed almost unquestioned inside 
Israel  have created a crisis in Israel's relations with the outside 
world. Questions are now being asked increasingly in Europe over 
whether Ariel Sharon is, ultimately, fighting a "war on terror", or 
whether he is trying to inflict a defeat that will end all chance of 
a Palestinian state. These suspicions grew still stronger this week 
as pictures emerged of the damage inflicted by the Israeli army 
elsewhere in the West Bank during the operation: the soldiers 
deliberately trashed institutions of Palestinian statehood, such as 
the ministries of health and education.

To counter the international backlash, the Israeli government has 
launched an enormous public-relations drive to justify the operation 
in Jenin. Their efforts have been greatly helped by the Palestinian 
leadership, who instantly, and without proof, declared that a 
massacre had occurred in which as many as 500 died. Palestinian 
human-rights groups made matters worse by churning out wild, and 
clearly untrue, stories.

No holds are barred in the Israeli PR counterattack. The army  
realising that many journalists will not bother, or are unable, to go 
to Jenin  has even made an Orwellian attempt to alter the hard, 
physical facts on the ground. It has announced that the published 
reports of the devastated area are exaggerated, declaring it to be a 
mere 100m square  about one-twentieth of its true area.

One spokesman, Major Rafi Lederman, a brigade chief of staff, told a 
press conference on Saturday that the Israeli armed forces did not 
fire missiles from its Cobra helicopters  a claim dismissed by a 
Western military expert who has toured the wrecked camp with one 
word: "Bollocks." There were, said the major, "almost no innocent 
civilians"  also untrue.

The chief aim of the PR campaign has been to redirect the blame 
elsewhere. Israeli officials accuse UNWRA, the UN agency for 
Palestinian refugees, for allowing a "terrorist infrastructure" to 
evolve in a camp under its administration without raising the alarm. 
UNWRA officials wearily point out that it does not administer the 
camp; it provides services, mainly schools and clinics.

The Israeli army has lashed out at the International Committee of the 
Red Cross (ICRC) and Palestinian Red Crescent, whose ambulances were 
barred from entering the camp for six days, from 9 to 15 April. It 
has accused them of refusing to allow the army to search their 
vehicles, and of smuggling out Palestinians posing as wounded. The 
ICRC has dismissed all these claims as nonsense, describing the ban  
which violates the Geneva Convention  as "unacceptable".

The Israeli army says it bulldozed buildings after the battle ended, 
partly because they were heavily booby trapped but also because there 
was a danger of them collapsing on to its soldiers or Palestinian 
civilians. But after the army bulldozers withdrew, The Independent 
found many families, including children, living in badly damaged 
homes that were in severe danger of collapse.

The thrust of Israel's PR drive is to argue that the Palestinians 
blew up the neighbourhood, compelling the army to knock it down. It 
is true that there were a significant number of Palestinian booby 
traps around the camp, but how many is far from clear. Booby traps 
are a device typically used by a retreating force against an 
advancing one. Here, the Palestinian fighters had nowhere to go.

What is beyond dispute is that the misery of Jenin is not over. There 
are Palestinians still searching for missing people, although it is 
not clear whether they are in Israeli detention, buried deep under 
the rubble, or in graves elsewhere.

Suspicions abound among the Palestinians that bodies have been 
removed by the Israeli army. They cite the Israeli army's differing 
statements about the death toll during the Jenin operation  first it 
said it thought that there were around 100 Palestinian dead; then it 
said hundreds of dead and wounded; and, finally, only dozens. More 
disturbingly, Israeli military sources originally said there was a 
plan to move bodies out of the camp and bury them in a "special 
cemetery". They now say that the plan was shelved after human-rights 
activists challenged it successfully at the Israeli supreme court.

Each day, as we interviewed the survivors, there were several 
explosions as people trod on unexploded bombs and rockets that 
littered the ruined camp. One hour after Fadl Musharqa, 42, had 
spoken with us about the death of his brother, he was rushed to the 
hospital, his foot shattered after he stepped on an explosive.

A man came up to us in the hospital holding out something in the palm 
of his hand. They were little, brown, fleshy stumps: the freshly 
severed toes of his 10-year-old son, who had stepped on some 
explosives. The boy lost both legs and an arm. The explosives that 
were left behind were both the Palestinians' crude pipe bombs and the 
Israelis' state-of-the-art explosives: the bombs and mines with which 
they blew open doors, the helicopter rockets they fired into civilian 

These are the facts that the Israeli government does not want the 
world to know. To them should be added the preliminary conclusion of 
Amnesty International, which has found evidence of severe abuses of 
human rights  including extra-judicial executions  and has called 
for a war crimes inquiry.

At the time of writing, Israel has withdrawn its co-operation from a 
fact-finding mission dispatched by the UN Security Council to find 
out what happened in Jenin. This is, given what we now know about the 
crimes committed there, hardly surprising. 

Louis Proyect, lnp3@panix.com on 04/25/2002

Marxism list: http://www.marxmail.org

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