Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lessons of the Jenin "Massacre" for today

In 2002, following a month of massive and brutal suicide bombings, the Israeli government reacted to defend its citizens by launching operation Defensive Shield. Palestinian propagandists fabricated a story about a "massacre" perpetrated by the Israel Defense Forces in which 500 Palestinians were killed in Jenin refugee camp. The lie was broadcast around the world. It was carried to the UN where there were demands for action against Israel. This angry chorus of anti-Israel recriminations for non-existent "crimes" was in marked contrast to the silence that had greeted the Palestinian campaign of actual suicide bombings that was orchestrated and financed by the Palestinian Authority.
There was no massacre. Israel warned people repeatedly to leave the camp, and most had left. UN and HRW investigations as well as those of the IDF determined that about 56 Palestinains had been killed in all. Of these, over half were armed terrorists killed in batte. The rest were civilians, most of whom had chosen of their own volition to stay with the terrorists. Some supposedly could not move. How could it be that there was nobody available to help old or infirm people leave the camp. How could people run away and leave family members there?  
A large number of Israeli soldiers were killed as well. It would have been easier to simply bomb the compound where the terrorists had holed up with civilians as willing or unwilling hostages. That is what any other country would have done, and it is what the US has done repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, Israel used ground troops to spare Palestinian lives.
The lie of the Jenin Massacre was also made into a film, "Jenin, Jenin." which perpetuates the lie. Though both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the UN admitted that there had not been a massacre - many months after the fact, Human Rights Watch still alleged Israeli "war crimes" based on the same fake "eye witness" testimony that had earlier been offered as "proof" of the non-existent massacre.
The "Jenin Massacre" is not just history. The same pattern of fabrications has been carried forward and is repeated today in almost every story you read about Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank and in Lebanon.   
Media and rights groups again cited such fabricated evidence in 2006 during the Second Lebanon War, to complain of Israeli rights violations, indiscriminate killing of civilians and other "crimes" that never happened.
Today, the same campaign is being conducted regarding Gaza. An electricity shortage was fabricated by the Hamas, complete with pictures of people gathering by candle-light - with electric signs clearly lit and visible. Nothwithstanding the obvious fakery, media, rights groups and the UN cooperated in disseminating the lie. 
UN rights workers and NGOs complain of a "humanitarian crisis" in Gaza, but Israel has been trucking huge quantities of humanitarian supplies there on a regular basis. Fuel supplies were interrupted when a Hamas terror squad shot up the fuel depot.
Physicians for Human Rights announced that a Palestinian had died because Israel did not allow him to get medical attention in Israel. A few days later, the dead man appeared, alive and well (see Palestinian Miracle: Fatality "victim" of occupation resurrected) . The Hamas falsely claimed, again with "eye witnesses" that Israel had bombed a house, killing seven "civilians." In retaliation for the imaginary "crime," Hamas carried out a real bombardment of targets in Israel (see Hamas Palestinians manufacture atrocity and 'retaliation').
Below is one of the first detailed reports from the Jenin, published in the National Post in 2002, that provided fairly detailed evidence that there had been no massacre. Parts of this article are quoted elsewhere on the Web, but the original appears to be missing, and the entire text is apparently not posted anywhere else. Pay attention to the "eye witness reports" which were all fabrications. Especially - the report of Israel soldiers loading bodies into a truck. In fact, the truck contained only food.
How long will the lies go on? When will the media, the NGOs and the UN learn the lesson of Jenin?
Ami Isseroff
What happened at Jenin?
National Post
Monday, April 15, 2002
Page: A1 / FRONT
Section: News
Byline: Stewart Bell
Column: Mideast: Analysis
Dateline: RAMANEH, West Bank
Source: National Post, with files Reuters
National Post reporter Stewart Bell interviewed Palestinians fleeing the Jenin refugee camp and Israeli military officials in an attempt to sort out the two sides' widely disparate claims about the conduct and human cost of the battles in the camp.

- - -

RAMANEH, West Bank - Ramaneh Elementary and Preparatory School normally echoes with the squeals of children. Yesterday it served a more sombre function as a refuge for hundreds of war-weary Palestinians displaced by the fighting in nearby Jenin.

There was a woman who had fled her home in such a panic she grabbed the wrong child, realizing too late that she was running away from the battle with her nephew rather than her son. She still does not know what happened to her boy.

There were young men who told of being rounded up en masse by Israeli troops, detained and released with orders to carry crude army-issue photo identity cards. And there were those who said missiles had struck their homes, all but destroying them.

During a stop at the Ramaneh school, Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, said he had met hundreds of Palestinians displaced by what he termed the "massacre" in Jenin, where 23 Israeli troops and at least 100 Palestinians were killed last week.

"Everyone has a story," he said. "Everyone has a tragedy, about executions they saw, about their whole family that was killed, about the most tangible concern -- where is my family?"

While the people of Jenin had vivid accounts of the fighting and destruction of homes, few seemed to have first-hand knowledge of the massacres said to have taken place. The lack of solid information has fuelled the rumour mill.

A grocery store owner near Jenin spoke in a hushed voice about seeing Israeli troops loading the bodies of massacred Palestinians into a refrigerated truck which he said was still parked on a nearby hill.

Asked to elaborate, he declined. "The people that are sitting there are collaborators," he said.

The refrigerated truck was parked on a grassy hill, where Israeli troops were resting with their tanks and armoured vehicles listening to Alanis Morissette on a stereo.

When a National Post reporter inspected the truck, it contained not bodies but apples and other food and supplies for the troops.

Yesterday was a day of diplomacy in the Middle East, but it was also a day of all-out public relations, as the Palestinians tried to portray Jenin as a cold-blooded massacre -- their version of Srebrenica or Racak -- and the Israelis did their best to prove such accusations unfounded.

The Jenin refugee camp, a hotbed of Palestinian militancy, was the scene of the heaviest fighting of the current Israeli counter-terrorism offensive. Although the house-to-house street battles ended four days ago, the camp remains off-limits (still, the Israeli army took a hand-picked group of reporters on a guided tour yesterday).

The Israelis say the camp has not been opened up because it was extensively booby-trapped by Palestinian militants. But that has only fuelled speculation that the Israelis are buying time to cover up a massacre. A few reporters who snuck past security lines or broke away from the official tour overseen by Israeli officials found bodies, frightened civilians and heavy damage to buildings.

The contorted bodies of four Palestinian men, blackened by decomposition, were found in a living room apparently hit by a missile. Andeera Harb, 34, a child psychologist whose relatives owned the house, said the four men had been eating dinner.

However, there was a helmet on the head of one body. What appeared to be pipe bombs were partially hidden under a coat.

In a room of a house 100 metres away, the bloated body of a middle-aged man, arms and one leg suspended in rigor mortis, lay on its side next to a bookcase.

Only a few dozen residents were seen, all women, children and older men. They said the army had killed or detained all men of fighting age, whether they were militants or not.

Many homes, including some untouched by fighting, seemed to have been ransacked. Residents claimed money, jewellery and other valuables had been stolen, and that larders were raided.

In Jerusalem, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the Israeli Defence Minister, told the Cabinet around 70 militants were killed in the camp, fewer than earlier army estimates, political sources said.

Jacob Dallal, an army spokesman, said 26 bodies lay unretrieved around the once-teeming concrete camp, home to Palestinian refugees since 1948, and more could be under the wreckage. Another nine Palestinian bodies were turned over to two hospitals for burial and two more had been buried by relatives.

All but three were members of the estimated 200-strong, hard-core Palestinian militant force in the camp, Mr. Dallal said. The others were two women and a child.

Jenin has exacted the highest Israeli toll -- 23 soldiers dead and scores wounded -- in the 16-day incursion into West Bank cities, billed as a drive against suicide bombers. The army says most of its dead were killed by booby traps fitted to cars, assault rifles, garbage cans, doors, closets, chairs, drawers, fridges, sports balls and uniforms.

Mr. Dallal cited these as one reason why 26 bodies had yet to be retrieved. "Some of the bodies themselves may be booby-trapped."

Army officers said the Palestinian Red Crescent had been reluctant to collect bodies for safety reasons. However, Palestinian medics say the army has barred them from entering the camp and some Palestinians said the army was secretly burying corpses in mass graves to cover up a massacre.

Standing before eight-metre mounds of rubble and earth in the square, army officers said most of the camp's 15,000 residents had been evicted by militants who placed booby traps in their homes, before the army arrived.

Camp residents said the army drove them out by threatening to destroy their homes, and then kept them out.

"Most of the houses we approached on entering the camp were empty [of civilians]. The camp was ready for war," said Israeli platoon commander Yoni Wolff.

"People are living in agony because of these massacres," Mr. Tibi said. "No one has any numbers but people here are talking about hundreds of Palestinians murdered. People are talking about a missile attack by helicopter, by tank."

Major Natan Golan, spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces, countered that what the Palestinians are calling a massacre was really an extremely heavy battle between government troops and armed militants who set bombs throughout the village.

Jenin was "littered with explosives and [defended by] very certified terrorists," he said. He acknowledged there was heavy damage to the camp but said it was a result of booby-trap bombs that were either set off by Palestinians or blown up by Israeli forces.

He also said the Israeli army had dispatched rescue teams to Jenin yesterday to help rescue 19 Palestinians trapped in two collapsed buildings.

Tanks were not used in the operation because the streets are too narrow and helicopters were only used on one day, when a group of Israeli troops were ambushed. "There was no massacre in the Jenin refugee camp," Maj. Golan said.

He blamed the Palestinian propaganda machine for the massacre story. "They are doing their job well," he said.

About 800 uprooted Jenin residents are now living in Ramaneh and the nearby villages of Zbouba and Taiiba. Most are staying at the school but hundreds more have been taken in by local families.

The towns lie within the Israeli security perimeter, so locals have set up an underground smuggling operation to bring in clothes and food. The goods are stashed at a house in a nearby village and then carried after dark across the defence lines.

Yesterday, a tractor ferried the supplies to the Ramaneh school -- onions, potatoes, apples and old clothes.

As he lay in the shade of the school, one young man described how he had been arrested by troops and taken by bus to a makeshift prison in Salem. The troops held him for hours and then took his photo with a Polaroid camera and released him, telling him not to return to Jenin.

"Most of the men have pictures like this," said another man, holding an identity card. "This picture shows that they were captured."

Rashid Mansour described how he left after 11 shells hit his house and an adjoining home. "I don't know if my house is destroyed, gone, bulldozed."

Kiffah Moustapha said, on the second day of the fighting, her children were terrified so she made a run for it and the Israeli troops let her go. She walked roughly 10 kilometres to Ramaneh.

She said she saw no bodies, only damaged homes. But if the Israelis were only trying to capture Palestinian militants, she said, why were they bombing homes? She said she suspected the troops were seeking revenge rather than simply trying to catch terrorists.

Almost everyone at the Ramaneh school seemed convinced there had been a massacre. They said the Israelis had taken away scores of bodies because they wanted to hide the evidence.

One Jenin man accused Israeli troops of planting ammunition beside the bodies of civilians to make it look like those killed were fighters.

The debate over the body count might have been settled yesterday by Israel's Supreme Court, which ruled that the army had to let Palestinians identify those killed in Jenin before they could be buried.

The Israeli army planned to escort the Red Cross to Jenin today to begin dealing with the bodies.

• Black & White Photo: Gil Cohen Magen, Reuters / An Israeli soldier stands in front of a poster of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the Jenin refugee camp yesterday. About 800 uprooted Jenin residents are living in Ramaneh and nearby villages.

Idnumber: 200204150160
Edition: National
Story Type: News; Analysis
Note: sbell@nationalpost.com
Length: 1590 words
Illustration Type: P

BASNUM: 3698516
NDATE: 20020415
NUPDATE: 20020417
DOB: 20020415

Stewart Bell
Senior Reporter
National Post
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Toronto, Ontario 
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e-mail: sbell@nationalpost.com
visit us at http://www.nationalpost.com
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