Skip to comments.Brutal, yes. Massacre, no
Posted on 04/20/2002 9:05:22 PM PDT by scratchgolfer
Brutal, yes. Massacre, no
Jenin will not give up its mysteries until more of the bodies have been found. But Israel will struggle to defend itself against the mounting evidence of the suffering its soldiers inflicted on the camp's civilian population.
It is easy to be distracted by the presence of the bodies. On Friday, in their white plastic shrouds, they were stacked like stinking chords of wood outside the main hospital in the northern West Bank city of Jenin. Some had been collected from where they had been hastily buried in the back gardens of the refugee camp's least damaged sections, then sprayed with perfume to make the job less awful for those who had to handle them. Others had been collected from their temporary mass grave made by the doctors in a yard outside the hospital.
They were all waiting for reburial in a common grave. By their very weight of numbers laid out on the ground - almost 30 on this afternoon - they suggested themselves as victims of a massacre.
But a massacre - in the sense it is usually understood - did not take place in Jenin's refugee camp.
Whatever crimes were committed here - and it appears there were many - a deliberate and calculated massacre of civilians by the Israeli army was not among them.
And if a massacre did not take place, what did happen in Jenin?
It is a question that will weigh heavily on the future of Israeli and Palestinian relations. Yesterday Israel promised to co-operate with a United Nations fact-finding mission to Jenin, saying it had nothing to hide. Both sides have moved quickly to appropriate the story of Jenin as part of their national narratives of victimhood - the same narratives that have fed the increasingly bloody conflict.
For Israelis, Jenin camp is the 'Capital of the Suicide Bombers', a place that has sent almost a quarter of the bombers who have plagued Israel's towns and cities. It is a place where 13 Israeli soldiers died, in a single bloody incident: the West Bank's own 'heart of darkness'.
For Palestinians, Jenin refugee camp is the place that fought to the bitter end, a symbol of resistance, whose civilians were punished with the destruction of their homes for standing up to, and bruising, Israel's military might.
One thing, however, is beyond question: that the soldiers of Israel carried out an act of ferocious destruction, unparallelled in Israel's short history, against an area of civilian concentration where Palestinian fighters were based.
And what will settle whether what happened in Jenin camp was a war crime is the relationship between those civilians and the Palestinian fighters.
For increasingly at issue is a simple distinction. If the refugee camp at Jenin was a population centre that simply harboured fighters - that had fighters in its midst - then, say human rights advocates, Israel had a duty of care during its attack towards the civilians resident there under international law.
But if Jenin camp could be proved to be something else, say lawyers for the army, the Geneva Convention might not apply.
Already Israel is working hard to define why the destruction in Jenin was something 'other' - exempt from the Convention.
It is that something 'other' that Israeli legal sources advising the army are desperately now trying to establish in international opinion. The refugee camp at Jenin, they say, had become an 'armed camp', booby-trapped and organised for fighting. It is a place, they argue, where the civilian population was effectively being held hostage under military orders. In those circumstances, the Israeli lawyers argue, the laws of war should not, and must not, apply.
It is an argument that holds little water with those who lost their homes. I meet Khalil Talib amid the camp's ruins on Friday, digging with a mattock to retrieve his bedding from the ruins of his house. Talib is 70. His daughters drag cushions and blankets from the dirt. If Talib is a terrorist, then he is an old and frail one.
For at heart of the question of whether Jenin was a war crime are not the bodies stacked at the main hospital. It is what happened to the homes of those like Talib.
For even as the hunt for the bodies goes on, it is increasingly clear from evidence collected by this paper and other journalists, that the majority of those so far recovered have been Palestinian fighters from Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the al-Aqsa Brigades.
Certainly, civilians died. But so far they are in the minority of those who perished.
At the excavation of the bodies at the hospital for reburial, I meet Yassin Fayed whose two brothers, Amjad, aged 30, and Muhammad, 21, both fighters with Hamas, are among the dead. He says they were executed after their arrest by Israeli soldiers, but this is impossible to check. He makes no bones that they were fighting before they died. Elsewhere we come across a bulldozer searching through the rubble for three bodies. The men digging tell me they are trying to recover bodies of dead fighters.
And the tales of civilian slaughter are simply less credible in their accounts. Mr G, as he asks me to call him, tells me that a handicapped boy was 'buried alive by the Israelis'. He translates this in Arabic to the men surrounding him, and they 'correct' him. He tells me then that, in fact, five handicapped residents of the camp were buried by Israel's bulldozers.
I hear many accounts like this. Numbers of the missing and the dead that will not bear scrutiny, horror stories that are impossible to check, and in some cases, in all likelihood, concocted.
Colleagues tell me too of being told of the death of so-and-so by neighbours, only to meet him or her alive and well.
All of which brings the focus back to the sheer intensity of the devastation of the camp.
You see it the moment you enter what once was the heart of Jenin camp. The aerial photographs of the demolition of the centre of the camp, produced by the Israeli army, do not convey the shock of what you see. Filmed from above - a place the size of several football pitches where over 100 houses once stood - is rendered a blank and texture-less expanse.
On the ground, however, it is the detail of ordinary life destroyed that catches the eye. Tangled mounds of concrete and reinforcing rods climb up a gentle slope. The eye alights on a shoe here, the leg of a doll, bedding, pages from the Koran, pictures and shards of broken mirror.
It is, somehow, most shocking at the very the edges of the devastation where the destruction is partial. Here whole walls of buildings have been peeled off to reveal the still occupied homes inside - pictures, beds and bathrooms - daily life stripped bare.
The true crime of Jenin camp is this act of physical erasure. It is covered by Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention in its prohibition on 'the extensive destruction or unlawful appropri ation of property, not justified by military necessity committed either unlawfully or wantonly.'
Article 147 mentions other crimes that may be applicable to Jenin: the alleged taking of hostages for human shields by the Israelis; the same army's refusal of access for humanitarian and emergency medical assistance and the deliberate targeting of civilians, particularly by Israeli snipers. But it is the sheer scale of the destruction that Israel will most likely have to answer for.
I am reminded of this prohibition on 'wanton destruction' of civilian homes by Miranda Sissons, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, whom I meet walking through the rubble and who has the Fourth Geneva Convention on her Palm Pilot. She is with Manaf Abbas, a human rights worker with the Palestinian human rights group al-Haq.
'Whether or not there appears to have been any mass killing here,' says Sissons, who appears inclined to be cautious of this claim until better evidence is provided, 'there have been very serious violations of the rules of war that need to be investigated.
'Those key issues are the disproportionate use of force; the excessive use of force and the extensive destruction of property. There has been a total lack of respect for the rights of civilians. And those breaches are still continuing. Israel is still blocking the facilitation of humanitarian access and continuing to shoot on civilians here.'
Abbas is also cautious about using the word 'massacre'. 'We need to find out if those reported missing have been arrested, fled, are living with relatives - or are buried under the rubble.'
An hour later I run into into Eyad and Jawad Kassim, two brothers who lived with their family in four houses at the edge of the destruction. Eyad's house and his mother's have been reduced to rubble. Jawad's still stands but one outside wall has been demolished and two missiles hit the building.
Eyad and Jawad deny that they are fighters. 'We had four homes,' says Eyad. 'Now they're destroyed.' He admits there were fighters and heavy fighting in the camp, but believes his house and those of others were destroyed as punishment for the deaths of 23 Israeli soldiers.
'They are lying when they say there were gunmen in all of the buildings they destroyed.' He seems a gentle man. After a while he lights a cigarette, excuses himself and walks off to cry.
'Liar' is the word you hear most about what happened in the refugee camp. I hear it used in almost every conversation. On Thursday on a ridge overlooking the city, Colonel Miri Esin, a senior intelligence analyst with the Israeli army, uses it with the same bitterness as Eyad Kassim.
She says the 'Palestinians are liars' in their descriptions of what happened. She tells us the Israeli version 12 hours before the army withdraws from the camp to the city limits. The point of Esin's presentation, I later realise, is to make the same case as the lawyers advising the army: that the destruction of the homes of men like Eyad and Fawad was not a war crime but an act 'justified by military necessity' - an act, in other words, exempt from the Geneva Convention.
She tells us the army is 'not proud of the destruction', that the 100 out of 1,100 homes destroyed is not 'a lovely figure'. But Esin insists that for all the Israeli regrets the destruction was justified by the 'harsh fighting', the levels of resistance and infiltration by the Palestinian fighters of the camp.
But other Israeli soldiers, speaking anonymously, have a different view. Their version of events is this: the commanders of the operation were complacent. An arrest raid against the camp a month before had gone without a hitch so they assumedJenin would be relatively easy. Instead it turned into vicious fighting on both sides.
After the 13 Israeli soldiers were killed in a booby-trapped bomb and crossfire ambush, say these reservists, the soldiers simply lost control. It is a version, curiously, given credit by the Palestinian residents of the camp. For their accounts, taken together, describe a breakdown of command at the height of the fighting.
Some describe one group of soldiers calling to them to evacuate their homes before destruction then being threatened with being shot by other soldiers who insisted that a curfew was still in force. What they describe is a panic that seems to have taken hold of the Israeli army in Jenin camp, and in its panic it laid the camp to waste.
But panic is not an excuse for gross violations of human rights. And as international pressure mounts for a full investigation of what happened in Jenin camp, many insist it must go beyond President George Bush's calls for an inquiry 'to find the facts'.
Two British lawyers in Jerusalem - Patrick O'Connor QC and Olivia Holdsworth - are investigating violations of human rights in the present campaign. O'Connor is tough in his assessment. 'The duty to investigate state responsibility for events such as the Jenin incursion is triggered by credible allegations of violations of fundamental human rights. That investigation must be prompt and effective. It must be capable of leading to the prosecution and punishment of those responsible.'
I guess he wasn't out to the site where the World Trade Center once stood, just after 911.
Why isn't the U.N. drafting a resolution condemning these parents who offer up their children to these EVIL terrorist who brainwash them into killing themselves. Or where is these humna rights activist who are so worried about the rights of the battlefield combatants being held in GITMO. But don't seem to give a rats ass about Saudi Arabia and Iraq paying the families of these suicide bombers for selling their children into so called martyrdom. Where is the outrage from these groups?
When the Sabras take precautions NOT to kill civilians, their "crime" is detroying property. Does this guy play Philadelphia lawyer in busting the "Palis'" balls? I didn't think so.
Article 147 mentions other crimes that may be applicable to Jenin: the alleged taking of hostages for human shields by the Israelis;
Oh. So the Jewish sioldiers are obliged to get blown up by boobytraps?
... the same army's refusal of access for humanitarian and emergency medical assistance
Sure, they're supposed to permit Red Crescent bomb runs!
... and the deliberate targeting of civilians, particularly by Israeli snipers.
Now, he sneaks in the blood libel! He has no evidence of this claim. Indeed, he had earlier suggested that it was phony (just another "Pali" lie). This guy is one sophisticated propagandist!
But it is the sheer scale of the destruction that Israel will most likely have to answer for.
He said from the outset, that it was no massacre, but now he's trying to bring the notion back in, through the back door.
BINGO This is just how the leftist operate. It reminds me of the sailor who kept a diary, and one morning he wrote "The captain is sober today" and yet the captian never drank a single drop of alcohol in his life. There are many ways to smear someone or smear a nation without actually lieing. Kinda reminds me of Al Gore's political hacks when they kept repeating "We want all the votes counted" and convieniently forgeting to mention that Al Gore sent lawyers to all 67 counties in Florida to discard military ballots and the only votes they wanted counted were those in counties where they could gain the most.
What do they put in the water in europe that is rotting their brains?
The more I think about it (re 1984), it's not only in totalitarian states that the media constantly re-writes the past; it's in every state. The difference is, in a state that has not yet been fully enslaved, there are still some uncorrupted newspaper morgues.
Has anyone got a link to the photos? I saw them a day or two ago, about 10% of Jenin is destroyed, at least 70% is untouched.
But the media continues to film the 100 destroyed houses from every angle, while telling the world that all of Jenin has been flattened.
"The captain is sober today" -- I love it!