What Happened in Jenin?


What
happened in Jenin? What is happening in Jenin? The second question
is more important than the first, but the two are related. With
the United Nations report on Jenin published and the Human Rights
Watch Report tabled some time ago, the official voices have spoken. 

The
United Nations report is so “balanced” it is almost a
cartoon. From the outset the reader is told, “The report was
written without a visit to Jenin or the other Palestinian cities
in question and it therefore relies completely on available resources
and information.” Israel and the U.S. have long since decided
that the UN was an anti-Semitic organization (starting with the
2001 Anti-Racism conference in Durban). The opening paragraphs tell
the sordid tale of how Israel blocked the investigation and conclude
with Kofi Annan’s regrets: “I had every confidence that
the team would have conducted itself in a professional and fair
manner in producing the report requested by the Council.” 

Despite
their inability to get into the field, the United Nations has produced
a report that ought to make Israel quite happy. It features the
famous passive voice: “In many instances, humanitarian workers
were not able to reach people in need.” It does not differentiate
between occupiers with the latest in modern weaponry and the occupied
with improvised weapons: “Combatants on both sides conducted
themselves in ways that, at times, placed civilians in harm’s
way.” It leaves the perpetrators of certain crimes quite ambiguous.
“Much of the fighting during Operation Defensive Shield occurred
in areas heavily populated by civilians and in many cases heavy
weaponry was used.” Palestinians don’t have heavy weaponry,
but the conclusion as to who used that weaponry  is left to
the reader. 

Annan’s
report also features tidy lines of cause and effect: “I called
on Palestinians to stop all acts of terrorism and all suicide bombings,
stating that such attacks were morally repugnant and caused harm
to their cause. I called on Israelis to stop the bombing of civilian
areas, the extrajudicial killings, the demolitions, and the daily
humiliation of ordinary Palestinians.” The Palestinian crimes
first, the Israeli crimes second. When it comes to counting the
dead, the order is reversed: “there has been sustained violence
between the parties, fluctuating in intensity, causing by  May
7, 2002 the deaths of 441 Israelis and 1,539 Palestinians.” 

The
facts are in, however. A total of 497 Palestinians killed between
March 1 and May 7; 1,447 wounded, 538 with live ammunition; 1 million
under curfew; 17,000 rendered homeless; 50 schools damaged; an estimated
repair bill of $361 million. 

For
testimonies, for a sense of what went on, one has to turn to the
Human Rights Watch Report. HRW went to Jenin and conducted 100 interviews
over a 1-week period from April 19 to April 28, but had their own
difficulties with access—the IDF refused to provide any information. 

Still,
the HRW report provides a sense of the incursions and of where primary
responsibility lies. “Despite the close quarters, the IDF had
a legal duty to distinguish civilians from military targets. At
times, however, IDF military attacks were indiscriminate, failing
to make this disctinction. Firing was particularly indiscriminate
on the morning of April 6, when missiles were launched from helicopters,
catching many sleeping civilians unaware. One woman was killed by
helicopter fire during that attack; a four-year-old child in another
part of the town was injured when a missile hit the house where
she was sleeping. Both were buildings housing only civilians, with
no fighters in the immediate vicinity.” 

Combat
or Massacre? 

At
least 52 Palestinians were killed, and 23 Israeli soldiers. At least
22 of the confirmed dead were civilians, 27 were suspected fighters.
The fighters set ambushes, mined roads, fought the invading army
as hard as they could with their light arms, and inflicted significant
casualties. This makes it a combat. The IDF used tanks, armored
bulldozers, helicopter gunships, and, according to some testimonies,
fighter aircraft. They killed at least 22 civilians and destroyed
hundreds of buildings, razing a whole district to the ground, destroying
much of the infrastructure. It could be argued that this makes it
a massacre. Perhaps “combat or massacre” is a false question,
and the Jenin incursion was both. 

The
trouble with reports on the combat/massacre, however, is that by
emphasizing the April incursions, they give the reader the impression
that the atrocities in Jenin are over. They are not. 

A
typical update from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM)
in Jenin was sent July 29, 2002 and reported: “Five days ago
the Israeli military occupied Palestinian homes in Jenin’s
Old City for a day and night, while they conducted their military
operations. Three teenage boys who are best known to us for hanging
out at the internet cafe, talking and joking with us, were shot
by Israeli snipers in the occupied buildings as they walked through
the Old City that day towards their homes. One got a bullet in the
chest, one in the legs, and the other in the middle of his back.
There is no doubt the snipers were aiming to kill. 

“Miraculously,
the two shot in the chest and legs are okay after operations. The
other one though (seventeen years old and the studious, shy one
of the group) had to be transfered to Nablus where he underwent
two operations. The doctors had to remove two disks from his spine,
resulting in him being paralysed from the chest down. He will also
never be able to have children. 

“Two
more teenagers were badly shot later that day, as well as an 11-year-old
boy from the nearby village of Yamoon.” 

A
July 12 ISM report featured, along with other reports of tank attacks,
mass arrests, and destruction of infrastructure, the murder of “Emad
Abd Al-Aziz, the freelance journalist who was shot at a distance
of 80 feet by an 800 mm round from a tank-mounted gun, died earlier
this morning from his wound.” My own report from Jenin had
information about the murder of Bassam al-Sahdi, a seven-year-old
boy who was killed by machine gun fire from a tank on June 26. 

There
is nothing special about Jenin. Nablus, Hebron, and Bethlehem—all
get similar treatment. So does Gaza. The bombing of a building by
an Israeli F-16 on July 23 in Gaza City that killed 15 people, 9
of whom were children, in order to assassinate a Hamas militant,
was reported in the mainstream press. That bombing may have been
timed specifically to scuttle a peace dialogue, but this possibility
was never reported in the mainstream. To quote Mitchell Plitnick
on ZNet, July 28, “only a day before, the spiritual leader
of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, had announced that Hamas would be
willing to agree to a cease-fire, including a halt to suicide bombings,
in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the areas that had previously
been under Palestinian administration under the Oslo agreements.” 

That
attack surely qualifies as a massacre. It made peace a little less
likely and possibly helped channel Palestinian resistance a little
further in the direction of desperate, criminal suicide bombings
like the one at Jerusalem University on July 31 that killed 7 people,
with Hamas claiming that the bombing was in retaliation for the
IDF bombing in Gaza. 

There
are those who believe that the April combat/massacre destroyed opportunities
as well. Coimhe Butterly, an Irish activist, has been in Jenin for
several months—before and after April. She said that before
the incursions, Jenin had “a real feeling of an autonomous,
strong, organized community. It was apparent that it was well armed,
yes. But what was remarkable was the organization. There were locally
elected committees and some of these had participation by women.
The community organized distribution centers for UN donations. There
was emphasis on education.” 

This
wasn’t, in Butterly’s eyes, religious fanaticism, even
though Hamas and Islamic Jihad were highly involved in the community.
“This was really a ‘people’s camp’. The leaders
weren’t in charge and organizing the camp. The people organized
it and the leaders found their place. There wasn’t any desire
to kill anyone, although there was a desire to resist. It was pride,
defiance—a will to keep working, educating, where others had
been broken long before the incursions.” 

“The
biggest effect of the incursions was to break this leadership and
organization. The young men are in jail—thousands of them.
They have no access to counsel. They are interrogated, tortured,
over prolonged periods. The bulk of the prisoners are held in Ofer,
near Ramallah. Ashkalon II has been re-opened. These prisons have
horrific conditions…. We still don’t know how many were killed,
because Israel won’t release the names of the people they are
holding. 

“These
people were leaders, people who were eloquent and could speak to
their people’s pain in a way that the Palestinian Authority,
who are somewhat cushioned now, cannot. The vacuum is dangerous.
Without effective leadership, the young are in a dangerous position.
There was a structure to the resistance before, a whole infrastructure
of education, politicization. In the two months before April, I
saw a leadership that was eloquent and in touch, emerging. And this
was snuffed out. There is a danger of people being broken and if
they’re not, all that power and anger will exist without a
channel. People will turn to individual, non-strategic actions like
suicide bombings instead of collective action.” 

Butterly’s
account of what was happening in Jenin, and what was lost there,
is the only one of its kind that I have heard. That Israel would
want to destroy organized resistance is, however, no surprise. The
disorganized attacks on civilians made by suicide bombers are far
less of a threat as they unite the Israeli population in support
of further atrocities against Palestinians. From Israel’s perspective,
the more Palestinians who think about martyrdom rather than strategy,
the better. 

I
asked one of the few young men around what I should tell North Americans
when they ask me what Palestinians are after. “I want to fight
to the death,” he said. After five minutes of explanation,
I learned that he wanted a free Palestine without Israeli settlements
or occupation, but he said it as if it was just idle fantasy —while
fighting to the death was something that was far more likely to
happen. 

The
United Nations set up a tent city shortly after the incursions in
order to house those whose homes were destroyed by IDF bulldozers.
It had spacious tents, water facilities, mats for sleeping on. No
one moved in. The people of Jenin said they would rather stay in
the rubble of their homes than move into tents again. Among the
hundreds of destroyed buildings in Jenin camp, people spray-painted
messages on the walls. One of them says, in English: “We will
stay here.”   




Justin
Podur is a Z/ZNet contributor and volunteer. He visited Jenin, Gaza,
and Ramallah in June.