THE ISRAELI government is trying to cover up its horrific war crime in the Jenin Palestinian refugee camp. Israeli troops sealed Jenin off for 13 days last month and attacked the camp. Three times Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has refused to allow a United Nations (UN) fact finding group into the camp. Socialist Worker spoke to Palestinians from Jenin.
Nemervet works at the Arab American University: ‘The camp is really terrible. It is worse than an earthquake. People returning are astonished at what they find. Some people left friends and family behind. Now they are desperately searching for them. Every day we find bodies-or really pieces of bodies. You can only tell by their clothes if they were children or grown ups. We are waiting for the international people. I think we need to know the real truth.’
Samah is an assistant director at the same university. She stayed at her home near Jenin throughout the Israeli occupation:
‘The Israelis were on our streets all day and all night. They shot at us all the time, and from helicopters. One night I started crying because I thought I would die that night. In the morning I found bullets on my veranda. If you see the camp you would know that the Israeli army just wanted to kill people. They killed one man I know who was just standing in his house. Everything is damaged. Everyone is searching for people in the ruined houses, but they don’t have equipment so the work is very slow. We need professional people to help. Many people still don’t have water and electricity. If you came here, if you heard the stories of the people who live here, you would know the truth. The Israelis lie about what happened, about not killing people who had no weapons. No people should have to live like this. More people will take up weapons and bombs if they treat us like this.’
Rami stayed in the camp during the occupation. He escaped the Israeli Defence Force by dressing as a woman. As he was speaking to Socialist Worker Israeli soldiers started firing live bullets into the camp:
‘I was in Jenin. I saw what happened. I feel very hurt. The Israeli Defence Force destroyed important old streets and hundreds of homes. I don’t know for sure, but everyone is saying at least 400 Palestinians were killed and another 200 are missing. Now there is shooting going on. It is still very dangerous in Jenin. If people come to Jenin and see the wreckage they can know who the terrorists are. Colin Powell said Arafat should stop the terrorists, but how can he stop anything when he is a prisoner?’
Islam has been helping Palestinians from Jenin search for relatives: ‘Yesterday I saw some people looking for relatives in the ruins of their house. They told me they were looking for an old man and woman. I helped them to dig in the wreckage and I found something-a hand, just a hand. There was nothing else left to find of these old people.’
Jamal translated the story of a woman he met in Jenin. She was sitting on a pile of rubble next to an empty wheelchair when he saw her: ‘When the soldiers came, she and three of her sons stood outside their house. They told the soldiers that the fourth son was in the wheelchair, that he couldn’t get out on his own. The mother showed a picture of her son in his chair to the soldiers. She begged them, ‘Let me bring my son outside.’ The soldiers just bombed the house and fired shots into the ruins. Now she is just sitting on the rubble that used to be her home, next to the chair they found while her friends dig in the rubble.
One month before, the soldiers came to the house of a Palestinian policeman. ‘His mother and his three children told the soldiers that the man was injured, cut in the leg and couldn’t walk out of the house. They refused to believe them, and destroyed the house with him in it.’
DREW McEWAN lives near the Jenin camp. He told Socialist Worker what he had witnessed:
‘AS I have made the journey to Jenin after previous Israeli incursions, I thought I would know what to expect. The Israelis seem to have a game- plan of pulling up roads to strategic places, and taking out the communications networks, electricity cables and water mains-all designed to cause maximum disruption to this so called ‘nest of terrorism’.
As we approached Jenin I saw all this, plus burnt out buses, street lights bent double by marauding tanks, and people everywhere working feverishly to bring some normality back into their lives. What I didn’t expect to find was the dust storm which blew from the centre of the city like a massive desert storm.
The Israelis had meticulously picked out a square in the centre of the camp and reduced it to dust. This was the source of the storm. In some areas on one side of the street the houses are badly damaged. But on the other side they are just dust, with twisted metal rods sticking out of the ground like burnt out trees.
These are like scenes I remember from my childhood in the 1960s, like the projected images of the aftermath of a nuclear attack. The streets I had walked up before now bore the marks of the oppressors. Everywhere were Israel’s Stars of David, regimental insignia, names and messages in Hebrew and Arabic saying what the soldiers had done there, and what they would do when they came back.
Some people were afraid to go back into their homes. They were afraid that the soldiers had left booby traps. Ferocity Each street became worse than the last. The destruction seemed to take on greater ferocity as we moved to the heart of the camp where some 15,000 people lived.
For three weeks I had stood on my roof night after night watching and listening to the nightly assaults on the Jenin camp. Slowly it filtered out that the Israeli Defence Force was not doing very well and had sustained casualties. The streets were too narrow for the tanks, and in one to one fighting the people of the camp were defending themselves.
Then the machine-guns stopped, and instead it was mortars and Apache helicopters firing rockets into the camp. I watched for nights as they came with rockets flashing red through the sky and again on impact so they could see through the never-ending dust storm. Everywhere there are signs of people’s lives scattered and lost forever. Through the rubble people search for anything they can find.
Some are searching for their brothers, sisters and parents. Every day they find bodies, and every day they wait for the UN teams to come. They are people who have to wait for everything in their lives. Now they must wait even for this help.
Someone is painting the faces of the children in an attempt to distract them. The dominant colour on their faces is red. It is not painted but streaked across their cheeks. Now, on my second visit, the graffiti of the oppressors has been painstakingly removed and replaced.
The Palestinians’ graffiti is written in red. Emblazoned across walls in Arabic and English it says, ‘We were born to die and we will never leave here’.’
‘THIS IS horrifying beyond belief. This is a blot that will live forever on the history of the state of Israel.’
Terje Roed-Larsen, UN envoy to the Middle East, after visiting Jenin
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