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During the brutal Israeli military campaign in the Palestinian territory
of the West Bank during the period of March 29-April 13, 2002, the
Israeli occupation forces committed a massacre in which hundreds of
Palestinians were killed. Initial estimates were more than 500 children,
women, and men. The following are some of the pictures of the
destruction and corpses of Palestinians which remained after Israeli
forces had evacuated many other corpses and buried them in Israel (in
the numbered "enemy" cemetery) in an
attempt to hide the actual number of victims in the refugee camp. The UN
Security Council formed a Committee to investigate the massacre but the
Israeli government refused to cooperate with the Committee unless it
accepts Israeli conditions. Most important for Israel was that the
Committee should grant immunity from self-incrimination for Israelis who
would be investigated. Israel also demanded that the Committee should
not offer recommendations or reach conclusions about the massacre. Upon
that Israeli rejection of cooperation with the Committee, the UN
Secretary-General, Kofi Anan, dissolved the Committee before starting
its work. Thus, the Israeli war criminals are still free to commit more
war crimes, atrocities, and human rights violations against the
Palestinian people, without being held accountable for their actions.
Jenin massacre revisited: ‘Revealing …
the Zionist project’
New doubts over official version of events
Special to The Daily Star, 11/22/03
JENIN: Israeli Army bulldozer driver Moshe Nissim,
also known as “Kurdi Bear,” did enjoy his work in Jenin camp, fortified by
an arsenal of alcohol.
First published in the popular Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot and since
reprinted on the website of the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom, his
testimony gives a version of events that has since largely fallen off the
He left his own at the door to Jenin.
“They were warned by loudspeaker to get out of the house before I come,
but I gave no one a chance. I didn’t wait. I didn’t give one blow, and
wait for them to come out. I would just ram the house with full power, to
bring it down as fast as possible. I wanted to get to the other houses. To
get as many as possible,” he recounts. “I didn’t give a damn about the
Palestinians, but I didn’t just ruin with no reason. It was all under
On orders, the razing continued long after the battle was over. Dated
aerial photos obtained from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
corroborate his tale, leading military expert and Amnesty International
delegate Major David Holley to conclude: “There were events post-11 April
that were neither militarily justifiable nor had any military necessity:
the IDF leveled the final battlefield completely after the cessation of
hostilities. It is surmised that the complete destruction of the ruins of
battle, therefore, is punishment for its inhabitants.”
Nissim concurs. “I found joy with every house that came down, because I
knew they didn’t mind dying, but they cared for their homes. If you
knocked down a house, you buried 40 or 50 people for generations. If I am
sorry for anything, it is for not tearing the whole camp down,” he says.
“They will sit quietly. Jenin will not return to what it use to be.”
To make sure, the Israeli army has since returned in force to the camp
several times a month later in June, then in October.
For Palestinian sociologist and refugee expert Sari Hanafi, Jenin was a
telling example of what he terms “killing of space” the systematic
dismantling of the economic, social and historical fabric that binds a
“Jenin was not unique, but for me it is an example which is very revealing
of the Zionist project. It is not to make forced transfer but voluntary
transfer. Once you kill space, they will leave voluntarily. It has to do
with an interest in land, not people,” explains Hanafi.
The siege that Israel has imposed on Palestinian towns and villages across
the West Bank and Gaza since the outbreak of the intifada should be
understood as part of this process, he says. The refugees of Jenin see it
Graffiti on ruins in the camp’s center trumpet their defiance: “We will
only leave to return to our homes.”
Defiance is something Palestinians have since come to expect from Jenin.
The battle enshrined it as a stronghold of resistance in the national
mythology. Yet increasingly, the camp is sitting quietly.
For those who have just been trying to survive, there is little left to
hold on to. The rubble of 45-year-old Hisham Abu Tabigh’s house sits on
the edges of the camp’s ground zero, torn apart by a helicopter missile
and “something from a tank.” After the army left, the relief workers
arrived and a foreign engineer condemned the remains.
Like others in the camp, Hisham has been promised a new home by the UN
Refugee Works Agency, paid for by the ruler of the United Arab Emirates. A
year later, construction is just starting up.
Life, meanwhile, is hard.
Once a construction worker in Israel, Hisham is now unemployed and lives
off occasional work with his wife and 10 children. Despondently, he asks
for help to emigrate.
While the rubble has been cleared from the Jenin camp, and the bodies
buried, most Palestinians feel that the stories they tell have also been
too hastily swept aside.
Saji Salameh, director of PLO Refugee Affairs, is mildly apologetic about
his leadership’s early marketing of events in Jenin. This, however, is no
excuse for overlooking what did happen, he argues.
“You know the information was not good, because of the isolation that was
imposed. No one knew exactly what was happening. But it is not the numbers
that differentiate the crime as a massacre of otherwise; it is the
suffering of the people. We are speaking of more than 50 dead, 700 injured
and more than 400 houses destroyed,” says Salameh. “Whatever it was, it
was a criminal act against civilians, and should be judged against
Four months after the fact, the UN did produce a report on the conduct of
the Israeli army. Based on secondary sources and internet research, it did
not however provide a judgment as much as a venue for Israel and the
Palestinians to air their opposing versions of events.
“Inevitably the report falls short of a comprehensive inquiry. We found
that the report was not satisfactory because it did not address the issues
in the depth they deserved,” says Donatella Rovera of HRW. “There has to
be an investigation, and those responsible must be brought to justice. The
duty to investigate lies with the Israeli government. The responsibility
for this, failing the Israeli authorities, lies with the international
That a follow-up never materialized surprised a few. “This is in keeping
with the behavior of the Israeli authorities both before and after the
invasion,” continues Rovera. “Our main concern is that this impunity acts
as a catalyst, as an encouragement for more violations to be committed,”
including Palestinian attacks of terror, she adds.
Her fears are well founded. “If this kind of suicide bombing will go on,
we will have to return there again and again and again,” says Zeev
Schiff, Israel’s senior military correspondent.
“I repeat: if people think that because of what happened there, Israel
will stop doing this, they are absolutely wrong.”
Yet as both the intifada and Israel’s counter-insurgency rumble into their
third year, terms like “massacre” continue to be deployed according to a
convenience that has since not enjoyed parallel scrutiny.
When Palestinian militants on Nov. 15, 2002, killed 12 Israelis in
occupied Hebron, Israeli government spokesmen instantly dubbed it “the
Sabbath massacre,” casting it as a terror attack on Jewish settlers
worshipping at the city’s Ibrahimi mosque and synagogue complex. It soon
emerged that all of those killed were soldiers and settler paramilitaries,
but not before fierce denunciations from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
and Pope John Paul II had cast the attack in infamy on major international
The condemnations were never retracted. “This is the double standard that
is usually voiced by the Israelis, and even the Americans,” Salameh says.
On Oct. 14, the Israeli army razed 115 houses and damaged an equal number
in the town of Rafah in southern Gaza, rendering some 1,240 people
homeless and culminating in a series of increasingly brutal mass
demolitions along the path of Israel’s “Separation Fence.”
An act of “self defense,” commented a US State Department spokesman. To
most Palestinians, news that the IDF will soon deploy remote-controlled
bulldozers in the Occupied Territories would only confirm that the
evisceration of their space is now switching into automated overdrive.
Nissim’s army unit received a military commendation for its efforts in
Jenin. Schiff was awarded his country’s highest journalist award, the
Chaim Herzog Prize for unique contributions to the state of Israel.
The Jenin survivors meanwhile are still defending space to narrate. In a
ceremony marking the anniversary of the invasion in Ramallah’s main
square, leaflets asserted their appeal: “On behalf of our Palestinian
refugees, represented by their own popular committees and all our people …
we ask UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to reconsider the report published
in August 2002 about the massacre in Jenin, which disappointingly
expresses only the arrogant racism of Israel and America.”