By Isabelle Humphries
Freelance journalist – Nazareth

19/10/2002

 

Jenin, a few days after the attack

Six months on and nobody is talking about Jenin anymore. The majority of the media decided to go along with the Israeli view that, because it wasn’t a “massacre,” it was only worth talking about in terms of a classic example of Palestinian lies and propaganda. The IDF didn’t line hundreds of people up against the wall and shoot them all at once, so therefore it’s a boring story compared with what it could have been.

If anyone ever tries the “Palestinian propaganda” line on you, tell them how I walked round and round that camp for over 24 hours, and I couldn’t find any international medical or information services contradicting the Palestinian estimates of between 300 – 500 dead. I found two Canadian medical professionals volunteering in the camp, who told me that they believed it was nearer the higher end of that estimate. And this was several days after the IDF had finished their dirty work.

If the international community is not prepared to engage on the ground, how can they expect accurate figures to get out? If the international community will not sanction Israel for preventing medical and bomb disposal equipment entering such a site, how can they take the moral high ground when Palestinian estimates proved greater than the reality? And in any case, how can Palestinians be expected to have an accurate figure of deaths when everyone was at home under curfew and under attack from Apaches, and nobody knows whether their missing brother is dead or in Israeli jail?

No doubt some people and organizations threw out wild figures of the death toll in order to get greater attention and sympathy. But isn’t there something seriously wrong when those sitting in the comfort of their Israeli, American or British suburban homes can blame refugees, who have had homes, brothers and mothers taken from them, for exaggerating the death toll?

Stumbling out of the taxi last April 19, six months ago, I found myself in the way of people loading carts and tractors with the oddest assortments of things, from blankets to schoolbooks to saucepans. After hurriedly taking a photo of the first building I saw with the roof taken off, I realized that the viewfinder couldn’t incorporate what was happening here. We were standing in the middle of people literally picking up what was left of their lives, and my broken building was only a shade of reality.

A decomposing body being pulled out of the rubble

Following other foreigners up a side road there was suddenly no road anymore. Nor houses. That was the Hawashin district of the camp where more than one hundred homes were destroyed. I didn’t know what rotting bodies smelt like until I reached the Jenin camp. Now I always will. A senior Israeli military official stated that Palestinians put rotting animal carcasses under the rubble. If by this statement he meant that there were no Palestinian bodies under the rubble, then that was a lie.

When I talked to 36 year-old Ahmad I knew that what we could smell was the two-week dead body of his brother. Jamal, 38, was severely disabled, unable to walk since childhood. A third brother was killed earlier in the Intifada. Jamal’s elderly mother came outside to beg with the soldiers to allow her to carry her son out before the bulldozer made the family refugees for a second time. She was swept aside and had to stand with the women of the neighborhood to listen to the screams of her son being buried alive.

10 year-old Asad Qraini was blown to pieces by leftover ordinance that had previously failed to detonate. Actually, Asad was still alive on my first visit, probably scrabbling about somewhere in the dirt. His family thought they were lucky as their house was only pockmarked with bullets. But on my second visit to the camp, a week later, I was pointed in the direction of their home to hear the story of one of the latest victims.

The camp was littered with unexploded ordinance and explosives. No doubt there were some remains of Palestinian explosives, but as Phil Reeves of the UK Independent noted, “Booby traps are a device typically used by a retreating force against an advancing one. Here the Palestinian fighters had nowhere to go.” Little Asad crawled into a place where his father says that Jenin municipality and foreign aid workers had placed explosives that were yet to be secured by bomb disposal experts. Supposedly someone was guarding the area, but they didn’t see Asad crawl into the area until he was blown into the air. He died two days later in the hospital.

Some weeks later, Human Rights Watch issued a report from which the Israeli propaganda machine immediately seized upon the wording that declared no evidence had been found “to support claims that the IDF massacred hundreds of Palestinians in the camp.” It was as if the fact that a dictionary definition of a massacre did not take place somehow meant that the Israeli army was vindicated as whiter than white. The parameters of the debate surrounding what happened in Jenin have been successfully framed as whether or not a massacre took place. If it did not then the conclusion is that all Palestinians are liars.

A massacre? Why was that the question? Jamal was buried alive by the actions of a state that is considered as part of the democratic free world. Even if that was the only brutality that occurred in the Jenin camp, we still have to ask why this is allowed to happen. The Damaj family too was not a victim of a massacre; its members merely had their homes shredded to pieces by US made fighter helicopters.

A massacre ignored

With the intense focus on Jenin last April and May, the camera was as usual out of focus. At the same time as the onslaught on Jenin, the old city of Nablus was being destroyed from the air and residents were denied access to medical aid. NGO offices and clinics of Ramallah were systematically destroyed while bodies lay in open streets.

The Israeli media machine successfully defined what happened in Jenin as a fight against a terrorist camp and has even pointed the finger at UNWRA, suggesting that this UN relief agency was responsible for allowing a hotbed of terrorism to be nurtured under its care. And Jenin was the main “media issue” that they had to address in Operation Defensive Shield.

Six months ago I had an article published in IslamOnline called “Fact Finding is Not Enough.” It seems that the powers that be in the West decided that “Fact Finding is Not Necessary.” When Human Rights Watch released a report suggesting that there was concrete evidence to suggest that 52 Palestinians were killed, Israel played the moral outrage that anyone could have believed that they would do such a terrible thing as to slaughter civilians on a mass scale. Perish the thought.

I spoke today with a neighbor who originates from Jenin. Apparently, the people whose refugee homes were destroyed are now all renting in the curfew stricken town. Where do they get the money from? “From outside.” Is that all the help that Palestinians can expect from outside? Rent if their homes get bulldozed?

And so the UN released a report without even being able to send in their fact finding team, let alone a full investigative committee. And of course nobody launched a “war on state terror.” The media chase was off and few were interested in the fact that Human Rights Watch and countless other international and local NGOs drew attention to the fact that numerous human rights abuses occurred and Israel was in clear violation of international codes of conduct such as the Geneva Conventions.

It seems that the proven use of human shields, the killing of civilians, burying the disabled alive, the denial of access to medical teams, large scale housing demolitions was all irrelevant. There were no massacres or piles of hundreds of bloody limbs, so Israel wasn’t that bad at all. After all why get so worked up about Jenin April 2002, when just as hideous things have happened before and since everywhere from Nablus to Khan Younis? If we, the West, waste our time investigating Jenin we would have to investigate why a 60 old woman was shot in cold blood while knitting on her porch in Nablus last week. Or why there are armed settlers killing olive harvesters. And we really don’t have time. After all, there is a man who has broken UN resolutions in a completely different country that we may need to bomb the hell out of.

Isabelle Humphries is a British freelance journalist and Development Director at Sawt Al Amel (Laborer’s Voice), an organization supporting Palestinian workers inside Israel. She has an MA in Middle East Politics and is also a freelance writer for the Cairo Times. You can reach her at innazareth@yahoo.co.uk

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