Jenin Evidence Speaks for Itself
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"I have been to several regions of the world and have seen destruction of various kinds, but the scenes in the Jenin camp were different, terrible and tragic. We retrieved charred corpses and others that were rotting, and they all belonged to civilians, including women, children and elderly persons. Some bodies were buried under the rubble of houses destroyed by the army. It was a real massacre and the scenes were terrible."
- Chivvas Moore, an American Red Cross volunteer

Following the release of the United Nations (UN) report on Jenin, Israel's apologists were relieved that it was not considered a 'massacre' and quickly accused the Palestinians of propaganda. However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) did investigate on location and found the report "fundamentally flawed."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the man found responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre two decades ago, revealed his intentions four weeks prior to the assault on Jenin in the Yedioth Aharonot (March 5, 2002): "The Palestinians must be hit and it must be very painful. We must cause them losses, victims so that they feel the heavy price."

The crowded Jenin camp, home to 14,000 refugees, of which 99.3% were civilians, paid that price with a man-made tragedy that a UN envoy described as "horrific beyond belief." Between April 3 and 12, the population of the camp, under strict military curfew, was exposed to a merciless assault by soldiers, tanks, armored bulldozers, and helicopters.

HRW, in its report of May 2002, details many instances where the Israeli forces committed serious violations of international law, "some of them amounting prima facie to war crimes." The report includes testimonies of victims and witnesses that were carefully corroborated and cross-checked for verification.

Often without warning, civilians found Israeli bulldozers crushing their homes while they were inside. HRW reports that soldiers refused to allow relatives to remove a paralyzed man, and bulldozed on top of him. An elderly man pleaded with a soldier to stop demolishing his home while his family was inside; when he returned he was shot dead. Helicopters fired anti-tank missiles into houses, and families trying to escape were shot at. HRW found that "the destruction extended well beyond any conceivable purpose of gaining access to fighters and was vastly disproportionate to the military objectives pursued."

Moshe Nissim, an Israeli bulldozer driver, boasted in Yedioth Aharonot on May 31, 2002: "There were many people in the houses we started to destroy I'm sure that people died in these houses, but it was hard to see I enjoyed seeing each house fall If something hurts me, it's that we did not erase the entire camp." The army subsequently rewarded him with a medal of honor.

Medical relief workers were targeted and HRW states that Israeli forces shot a 27-year-old uniformed nurse in the heart, while she was aiding a wounded civilian. The hospital and ambulances were shot at repeatedly and suffered much damage. Use of civilians as "human shields" was common, especially in opening doors that were suspected of being booby-trapped. Kamal Tawalbi described how soldiers rested their guns on his and his fourteen-year-old son's shoulders as they fired for hours. The report also documents cases of summary executions, a clear war crime.

On April 9, 2002, Ha'artez reported that Shimon Peres referred to the attack as a massacre and was worried about world opinion. Accordingly, the Israeli army is believed to have "cleaned up" before allowing observers to enter the camps and there have been reports of trucks taking bodies away to mass graves. Brian Wood, a human rights activist from Colorado, reported that "the Israeli military has confirmed they have taken bodies to the Jordan Valley," and a large number of missing persons remain unaccounted for.

Terrible as those atrocities were, what followed was equally appalling. Desperately needed humanitarian aid was blocked for 13 days, including a Greek rescue team that was turned back from the airport. The bewildered survivors, without food or water, had to dig with their bare hands to rescue those under the rubble.

Palestinians have been calling for an international protection force, and the international community has a responsibility to provide such protection. However, the U.S. government is adamantly blocking this initiative, and its support for Israel's crimes only guarantees continued human tragedies on both sides.

Chivvas Moore leaves us with some serious moral questions about Israel's conduct in Jenin: "Why walk atop the corpse, laughing? Why walk on the shoulder of the man you have shot, when you could walk around? Why put your gun to the head of the two-year-old and ask him if he is ready to die? Why ride the tank, over and over, across the dead body? Why point the weapon at the retarded boy, accompanying his grandmother to hospital, and blow him to kingdom come?"

by Haithem El-Zabri
The Daily (University of Washington) - August 16, 2002

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