Israeli war crimes

The Massacre in Jenin

Revolutionary Worker #1148, April 28, 2002, posted at

Jenin's refugee camp is a community born out of the bitterness of ethnic cleansing. It was created a few years after 1949, when thousands of Palestinians were forced out of their homes and villages at gunpoint during the creation of the state of Israel.

In 1967, the Israeli tanks came as Israel expanded once again. That invasion was the start of 35 years of occupation--which the people, especially the youth, of Jenin have fiercely fought.

Now, this spring of 2002, the Israeli army came in force, aiming to destroy the resistance of Jenin by punishing its people.

For over two weeks they built a ring of tanks and roadblocks around the town and refused to let anyone know what was going on inside. Reporters and foreign observers were kept out, many of Jenin's people were penned in. Even ambulances and medical help were forbidden entry. Water and food and electricity were cut off. And behind that wall of troops and armor, great crimes went down.

The killers have now pulled back from the center of Jenin. The people are finally able to speak. And the world is able to see what is left of the camp.

The massacre of Jenin stands exposed before the world. It will not be forgiven or forgotten.

The Spirit of Jenin

Over the decades after 1949, multi-story cinderblock buildings replaced tents in the packed refugee camp of Jenin. They rose, in grays and pastels, along streets so narrow that outstretched hands could almost brush both sides. But as they built this community, people felt they were still waiting to go home.

Jenin's refugees had mainly been farming people--and their former fields and orchards are right nearby. In the refugee camps, they raise chickens in tiny courtyards. A 1997 UN refugee report wrote: "Most of the camp's residents came from villages which can be seen from the camp and which lie today inside...Israel." Many here have close ties to Palestinian communities that remain within the borders of Israel.

The people here are bitterly poor--barely a third have phones, very few have cars to travel to work. Many of them have worked as farming day laborers for those who stole their lands. They would cross the border, during those periods when Israel's authorities allowed it. During the last period of intensified fighting, over half the people have had no way to work at all. Feeding the camp's children was hard, even before the Merkava tanks and Apache helicopters came.

Over 13,000 people built a community of resistance in Jenin's refuge camp. For them, for the next generation, the only real hope remains victory against the occupiers. Here, in Jenin, the belief is strong that the fight of the Palestinian people is a long war for Palestine itself, not for the peace of unjust occupation, not just for a sliver of their homeland.

The Israeli army came to punish the people of Jenin and destroy their community. Their commanders openly swore to finally crush resistance. When they came, the people fought them.

The Israeli government and high command tells the world that Jenin is a "terrorist camp." In Jenin it is clear: that "war on terrorism" is an unjust war on an oppressed people.

Entering Jenin Today

"I have seen demolished houses before. I have seen wells stuffed with bodies. I have seen civilians terrorized and living under siege. But what remains of Jenin camp is a wasteland of death that once housed 13,000 people. Sofas and satellite dishes hang from the crevices of third floors of what once were family villas. A red curtain, peppered with bullet holes, flaps in the breeze. This is what war does: it leaves behind imprints of lives. A sewing machine with a girl's dress still under the needle inside a house with the walls blown out. A goose-down pillow ripped, the feathers fluttering. A photograph of a child with a bird hangs on a partly demolished wall. `I saw some children who were wounded take four days to die, bleeding to death because there was no one here to tend them,' says Fahdi Jamal, a 30-year-old laborer."

Janine di Giovanni, journalist

"We have expert people here who have been in war zones and earthquakes and they say they have never seen anything like it. It is totally unacceptable and horrific beyond belief."

Terje Roed-Larsen,
special UN envoy to the Middle East

Today, the heart of Jenin's refugee camp is being called "ground zero" by foreign observers. It used to be the neighborhood of Hart al-Hawashin.

Two whole city blocks of houses have been bombed out, leaving a crater of rubble the size of four football fields. Fires continue to burn. The smell of the decomposing bodies and cordite explosives are intense, making it almost impossible to stay.

Fragments of normal life lie scattered in the rubble--broken plates still smeared with food, fluttering pages from a shredded schoolbook. And here and there, in ways that bring horror into every report, pieces of human beings, sometimes protruding from the ruins of their own homes.

The surrounding town is ruined. Every wall is torn by bullet holes and explosions. Windows are caked in soot from the flames that gutted the buildings.

Many hundreds of houses are wrecked and half toppled--gouged where armored Israeli bulldozers plowed a path 30 feet wide through the alleyways to bring their tank artillery deeper into the camp. As the buildings collapsed many inhabitants were buried in basements and back rooms where they had sought refuge.

A reporter for the London Times wrote: "Rarely, in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life."

The Battle for Jenin

When the Israeli army launched its massive invasion of the West Bank on March 29, the people of Jenin made themselves ready. The youth here have long fought the fight of the Intifada. Many of them proudly joined the ranks of the various armed groups. They knew the troops were coming for them, and they prepared to fight.

A long column of Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers arrived on April 3 and attacked. They penetrated the outer town easily, but at the heart of the Jenin refugee camp, the fighters and the people were waiting. The resistance was fierce.

One woman, Aisha Salah, described to reporters how her home was commandeered by the Israeli soldiers. One occupier wrote on her wall, "I don't have another land"--meaning he intended to take and hold her land .

"The soldiers had a map with them of the houses they wanted bulldozed, and outlined them with a blue marker," said Aisha Salah, "It was a very detailed map. I could even find my own home.

Israeli tanks pounded Jenin. American-made Apache helicopters (which had just arrived in Israel) were put to use, shooting intense machine gun fire and rockets into the dense community. D-9 bulldozers started clearing a passage into town, trapping and burying the people.

The town's people say that the first Israeli attack was stopped in heroic house-to-house resistance-- fought with little more than automatic rifles and booby traps.

On April 9, 13 Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush. An explosive mine brought down a house around an advance of Israeli unit, and Palestinian fighters emerged to surround and attack the enemy. The Israeli command responded with massive fire from artillery, helicopter gunships and, by some accounts, F- 16s that flattened the entire heart of the town. The resistance continued for two more days in these hellish conditions. Ali Damaj, who lives on the eastern edge of the camp, said: "In one night, I counted 71 missiles from a helicopter." Riad Hussain, 30, saw a house receive a direct hit from a rocket fired by an Apache helicopter. The women and a baby inside were killed.

Bulldozers systematically flattened large parts of the camp. "They just started demolishing with the people inside," said Hania al-Kabia, a mother of six.

As the Israelis finally took the heart of town, they unleashed murder and terror on the people they had captured. Men, women and children were separated. Men were stripped of their clothes and some were executed in cold blood. One survivor described how Israeli soldiers turned on the household gas supply before tossing a stun grenade into a room full of people--blowing up everyone inside.

According to Palestinian eyewitness accounts, many hundreds of Jenin residents were killed as Israeli forces swept through the town, including at least 60 to 70 who were summarily executed. Even western media are acknowledging this. For example, the British Guardian reported (April 16) that "There are convincing accounts from local people" that the Israeli soldiers carried out "summary executions" of people who fell in their hands.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz quoted one Israeli officer admitting that troops used Palestinian civilians as human shields during the fighting--a war crime under the Geneva Convention. Rene Kosirnik, head of the Red Cross delegation in Israel, accused the Israeli military of subjecting the Palestinian people to "collective punishment"--which is also a war crime.

Hiding the Massacre

"Until now we have taken out 25 bodies. We think there are 80 to 100 bodies, most if not all of them terrorists... we behaved as the most moral army in the world and the most careful army in the world."

Didi, commander of Israeli troops in Jenin

"There has not been a massacre."

Sharon Feingold, Israeli army spokesperson

"I do believe Ariel Sharon is a man of peace."

President George W Bush,
as reports of Israeli atrocities emerged from Jenin

The Israeli army flattened and then occupied Jenin in six days. They then kept out the outside world for another six days while they covered over their killing ground.

Reporter Phil Reeves interviewed a young man, Kamal Anis, who described how Israeli soldiers piled 30 bodies in the basement of a ruined house and bulldozed the walls down to cover the mass grave. Reeves writes: "Then they flattened the area with a tank. We could not see the bodies. But we could smell them. A few days ago, we might not have believed Kamal Anis. But the descriptions given by the many other refugees who escaped from Jenin camp were understated, not, as many feared and Israel encouraged us to believe, exaggerations. Their stories had not prepared me for what I saw yesterday. I believe them now."

There are numerous reports, including in the Israeli media, that Israeli soldiers took bodies out of Jenin for burial in secret mass graves near the Jordan River. The Israeli high command denies this.

Palestinian authorities fear that around 500 people were massacred in Jenin--either killed during the battle, executed or buried alive in the destruction of the buildings. Many of them were clearly non- combatants--including children. Some UN observers have said that the missing might number in the thousands. Israeli authorities say the dead are only in the dozens, and that civilians had all fled, so that the dead are almost all "terrorist" fighters.

One young westerner, Brian Wood, made his way there after the massacre and he reports that the area was still full of people, many describing how they lived through the brutal attack: "It's not totally deserted like we thought we would find. The people obviously have no place to go; so, they are still in their homes with huge holes and the inside trashed, because soldiers have gone through them, breaking everything."

Derrick Pounder, professor of forensic medicine at Dundee University, who is working with Amnesty International, visited the ruined camp and said: "Claims that a large number of civilians died and are under the rubble are highly credible. It is not believable that only a few people have been killed, given the reports we have that a large number of people were inside three- and four-story buildings when they were demolished."

Pounder also did on an autopsy on a 38-year-old man who had been shot both in the foot and in the back in a way that suggested summary execution.

The Criminal Cost of Cover-up

"I and my colleagues working in crisis situations for decades do not recall a situation where co-operation from the authorities has been less than what we have experienced from the Israeli government. It is beyond any human decency to let ambulances, food and water stand outside the camp, as has been the case."

Peter Hansen, head of UN Relief and Works Agency

"What was significant was that here were no gravely injured people. In a war scenario, you would usually expect about three gravely injured people to every one dead. But, during the campaign, the Red Cross were kept out and no medical aid could reach the wounded--a serious flouting of international law."

Derrick Pounder, after he was finally allowed into Jenin

"We carried food, water and nappies, searching for the medical center that people were too dazed to tell us where it was. One woman wailed, `I don't want to drink or eat. I just want my son.'"

Rory MacmillanScottish lawyer and rescue volunteer

"Everyone who survived the fiercest battle of Israel's Operation Defensive Shield has a terrible story to tell. They take your hand and lead you into their houses across bulldozed mounds of rubble including photo albums, clothing, toys and pillowcases. There, there are more bodies, burnt or twisted grotesquely, caught off guard by sudden death."

London Times , April 15

For 12 days Israeli roadblocks kept ambulances and medical workers out of Jenin. On Wednesday, April 17, days after the fighting stopped, over 150 medics tried to enter Jenin to help the wounded through the main military checkpoint at Walaheh. They were Palestinians who live and practice medicine in Israel. The soldiers refused to let their vehicles pass into this "closed military zone." They made a banner saying, "We want to save the lives of women and children" and raised it in protest, chanting "Fascism will not work."

Dr. Mohammed Bakri, their spokesman, told the BBC, "People are dying from lack of treatment as we speak. We have had emergency calls from inside Jenin and we must do something. It's calm in there. They have finished shooting and killing and destroying." After hours of confrontation, the medics finally pushed their way past the Israeli forces, defying the threats of shooting, and headed into Jenin.

One doctor later said: "We found a 20-or 25-year-old man who had a bullet wound in his side, and two bullets in his hand--still there after 10 days.... He will have his hand amputated. We are treating many light injuries. Those who were seriously injured have died already."

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees revealed that the Israeli army had prevented them from taking earth-moving equipment into the camp. The UN envoy Roed-Larsen said: "It is totally unacceptable that the government of Israel for 11 days did not allow search and rescue teams to come."

For days, people heard voices of survivors calling out from under the rubble. Dr. Abu Ghali, director of Jenin Hospital, said 16 Palestinians were pulled out alive from the rubble of their houses.

But the people, often with bleeding hands, could not move the blasted cement fast enough. Some were saved. Some voices just stopped. And the smell of death spread as the days passed.

The Israeli army has world-famous teams for rescuing people from rubble. They were sent to Turkey after the recent earthquake, and to Kenya where the U.S. embassy was bombed. They were withheld from Jenin, as the people died.

Instead, Israeli tanks occasionally lobbed in shells at those trying to rescue the trapped people. They announced that their nighttime curfew would be enforced, under penalty of death, even though people were trying to dig up the buried around the clock. The announcement was accompanied by machine gun fire into the camp from surrounding Israeli forces.

As we go to press, supplies have still been kept from the people of Jenin. The Israeli paper Ha'aretz described how people suffered simply because the Israeli army had destroyed the water system and refused to let emergency water in. Hundreds of tons of supplies backed up in nearby towns, waiting to be allowed into Jenin.

Meanwhile, the fate of the detained Palestinians is unknown. Five thousand had been arrested in the West Bank during the Israeli attacks. Israeli sources suggest that as many as 4,000 remain imprisoned. Prime Minister Sharon ordered the reopening of Ketziot, a notoriously barbaric detention center in the southern Negev desert.

The World Is Watching

"See what Sharon has done to us. America is with Sharon, Britain is with Sharon.''

Palestinian woman confronting western reporters

"This was someone's life. Now it is gone, do you understand?"

Abu Bashir, 70 years old,
pointing to a photo album in the rubble

In a White House interview, George W. Bush said Sharon was "on schedule" for pulling back his troops--as Israeli troops repositioned themselves from one Palestinian town to another. In Jenin, they "pulled out of town,"--which only meant that they moved their tanks to a perimeter still encircling the town and still occasionally shelling the survivors there.

But meanwhile the world is slowly learning the details of the shocking war crimes that went down in Jenin. The intention of the Israeli occupiers was clearly to crush the spirit of the people, to punish them for their fierce resistance. It is an act of slow-motion ethnic cleansing--carried out with clear U.S. backing, and frontline U.S.-delivered Apache and Cobra helicopters--intended to impose defeat, desperation and fear on the Palestinian people.

In Jenin, a man named Mohammed knelt in what used to be a street. A journalist watched him as he worked, intensely, to discover pieces of his previous life among the ruins. Mohammed looked up and said, "We dream of returning to our land. We will win in the end--because we are right."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)