Socialist Worker

Jenin faces a new struggle for the truth

Judy Cox unpicks the United Nations report into Israeli army atrocities

Issue No. 1812

REPORTS OF war crimes began circulating within days of Israeli tanks rolling into the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin in April this year. There were dozens of eyewitness accounts of people buried alive as their homes were bulldozed, and of women and children shot dead in the streets. The friends and families of the victims had to wait for four months until the UN produced a report on events in Jenin. The report has serious weaknesses.

It became known as the 'Google Report', after the internet search engine. The Israeli government blocked the UN team from carrying out their own investigations, so they had to rely on reports available on the internet. The UN report was also carefully written so as not to cause offence to the Israeli government or its allies in the White House. Israeli officials have seized on the fact that the report does not say Palestinians were massacred in Jenin.

UN officials admit they deliberately did not use the word 'massacre' in the report, claiming it is 'too emotionally charged'.

It was a political decision. UN officials were happy to describe as a massacre the killing of 45 Albanians by Serb forces in the village of Racak in February 1999.

The US and NATO seized on that in their build-up to war against Serbia. But despite this manipulation the UN team has revealed evidence of atrocities committed by the Israeli army against Palestinian civilians. It found that during the Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories between 1 March and 7 May this year:

Some 497 Palestinians were killed and 1,477 were injured, much higher than previous official estimates.

Around 17,000 Palestinians were left homeless when their houses were blown up or bulldozed by Israeli forces.

As many as 630,000 Palestinians faced food shortages as food was cut off.

Up to $361 million worth of damage was done to Palestinian infrastructure.

Some 50 schools were damaged or destroyed during the Israeli incursions, including 15 turned into detention centres to hold the thousands arrested, and 11 that were vandalised.

Curfews were imposed on around one million Palestinians, including 220,000 for longer than a week. The army systematically used Palestinian civilians as human shields. In relation to the Jenin camp, the UN team noted that out of a population of 14,000 some 47 percent were either children or elderly.

The report highlights how, during the Israeli occupation from 3 to 18 April, the Israeli army prevented medical teams from reaching the injured, 'endangering many lives'. It refers to the case of Fadwana Jamma.

She was a nurse in full uniform who was shot dead as she tended a wounded man. The findings give only a very limited picture of the atrocities committed by the Israeli forces. The UN first promised to investigate reports of Israeli war crimes thoroughly. But when the Israeli government refused to allow the UN investigators to 'go in' they meekly accepted the decision.

Not only were the team prevented from making their own investigations in Jenin, they also refused to speak to other groups that did. The independent Human Rights Watch organisation visited the camp just after the army pulled out. They found evidence of Israeli war crimes. But the UN team did not talk to them.

Instead they relied on Israeli government statements as much as they relied on what human rights activists and journalists witnessed. So the report repeats the Israeli government's claims that the army 'clearly took all measures not to hurt civilian life'. Then it notes that some eyewitnesses 'assert that soldiers did not take all possible measures to avoid hurting civilians'.

The report holds the Israeli army, with its huge firepower, and Palestinian militants who resisted them equally responsible for the deaths of civilians. This attempt to maintain a neutral position flies in face of the facts. So the report does not mention cases carefully documented at the time.

These include the case of 14 year old Faris Zeben, who was shot dead when he went shopping during a lifting of the curfew. Nor does it mention the case of Afaf Desuqi, who was blown apart by Israeli soldiers as she hurried to open her door to them.

And it does not refer to Kemal Zughayer, shot dead as he tried to escape from Israeli soldiers in his wheelchair. The UN was trying not to anger the Israeli government by telling the whole truth about Jenin.

But as the Guardian commented, 'The destruction wrought in Jenin looked and smelled like a crime. On the basis of the UN's findings, it still does.'

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Sat 10 Aug 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1812
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