P.A. rewrites Jenin (AP, Boston Globe, LA Times, Ha’aretz)

April 29, 2002

I attach four items from today's papers. Here is a summary for those who don't have time to read them.

-- Tom Gross


(1) An AP report entitled "Jenin graffiti artists adopt English for benefit of VIP visitors". In an effort to project a moderate image in advance of the arrival of the UN investigative team, the PA has orchestrated a painting-over of radical graffiti praising Osama bin Laden and the killing of Jews. It has replaced them with moderate slogans in English for the succession of VIP visitors now parading through the camp, such as members of the European Parliament, U.S. church leaders, Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan and Bianca Jagger, ex-wife of pop music legend Mick Jagger.

(2) An investigation printed in today's Boston Globe concludes that allegations by Saeb Erekat and other spokespersons for Yasser Arafat "that a large-scale massacre of civilians was committed [in Jenin] appear to be crumbling under the weight of eyewitness accounts from Palestinian fighters who participated in the battle and camp residents who remained in their homes."

In interviews with civilians and fighters in Jenin, the Globe says "none reported seeing large numbers of civilians killed." On the other hand, referring to the Israeli deaths there, Abdel Rahman Sa'adi, an Islamic Jihad grenade-thrower, said "This was a massacre of the Jews, not of us."

(3) Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Yossi Klein Halevi says that the UN commission formed to investigate the nonexistent Israeli "massacre" in Jenin won't be investigating how donor nations, especially those of the European Union, allowed the Palestinian Authority to sustain a terrorist war for the last 19 months, lavishing funds on a corrupt regime that devotes its budget to building bomb factories rather than hospitals and schools.

(4) An article in the liberal daily Ha'aretz by Ze'ev Segal titled "The findings are known in advance" points out that today the findings of the commission of inquiry into Sabra and Chatilla are regualrly misreported in the Western media (to exagerate the responsibility of Israel and Ariel Sharon) and that Israel should not expose itself to another fake, impartial inquiry which will "open the gates to war crimes tribunals and other investigations, and serve as the basis for anti-Israel decisions in UN institutions."


Jenin graffiti artists adopt English for benefit of VIP visitors
By Hamza Hendawi
The Associated Press
April 29, 2002

For the benefit of foreign visitors and U.N. investigators, much of the fresh graffiti in this Palestinian refugee camp is in English these days, not Arabic; and it's uncharacteristically placid, almost polite.

Battered by a fierce battle between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops, the Jenin refugee camp a bastion of militancy has gone to great lengths to project an image of moderation for its visitors, and in preparation for a visit by a U.N. team mandated to probe Israel's military operations in the camp.

Israel on Sunday decided not to allow the team to come to the region, repeating its objections to the team's composition and charging that its findings would certainly blame Israel. The Israelis said consultations with the world body would continue over the makeup of the team and the scope of its inquiry.

The team was to look into claims that hundreds of Palestinians, many of them civilians, were killed during the April 3-11 battle either in heavy shelling or buried alive when giant bulldozers moved in to bring down homes suspected of sheltering gunmen.

Israel, which lost 23 men in the battle, says several dozen Palestinians died, mostly gunmen. So far, nearly 50 Palestinian bodies have been recovered, according to the Jenin hospital.

The battle was fought as part of an Israeli military campaign launched March 29 to hunt militants in the West Bank following a series of particularly lethal suicide bombings.

The Palestinians are making sure that whoever visits the Jenin refugee camp those who have already been include members of the European Parliament, U.S. church leaders, Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan and Bianca Jagger, ex-wife of pop music legend Mick Jagger reads the right slogans and sees the right stuff.

"We love Palestine" and "Palestine is for the Palestinians" read two of the new English-language slogans on the walls of the Jenin camp very different from the venomous and warlike graffiti that has for years threatened "rivers of blood" or "opening the gates of hell" on the walls of every Palestinian town, village and refugee camp.

An old graffito declaring that "Osama bin Laden is a hero" has been painted over. Bin Laden is thought by the United States to be the architect of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, events that sent a few dozen Palestinians publicly celebrating on the day much to the dismay of many, including Yasser Arafat's administration.

In the huge mound of debris and rubble that was the heart of the Jenin camp, several families spend their days just sitting at the spot where their homes once stood. Huge Palestinian flags together with those of different Palestinian factions and militias are hoisted over buildings of which parts are still standing.

Israeli military sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the Palestinians have taken measures to "prepare" the Jenin camp for the arrival of the U.N. team.

The preparations, they say, include instructions to residents who had lost their homes to spend the day where their houses once stood and to halt any reconstruction of damaged houses so the U.N. team can see the extent of the destruction. Palestinian gunmen left in the camp, they said, have been instructed not to engage in any military activity for the duration of the U.N. team's visit.

Palestinian Jenin lawmaker Jamal al-Shati denied that Palestinian authorities were trying to "flirt" with the U.N. team or important visitors, arguing that the fresh slogans and the camp residents spending their days on the mounds of debris were spontaneous and emotional acts of a people in distress.



Claims of massacre go unsupported by Palestinian fighters
By Charles A. Radin and Dan Ephron
The Boston Globe
April 29, 2002

Palestinian Authority allegations that a large-scale massacre of civilians was committed by Israeli troops during their invasion of the refugee camp here appear to be crumbling under the weight of eyewitness accounts from Palestinian fighters who participated in the battle and camp residents who remained in their homes until the final hours of the fighting.

In interviews yesterday with teenage fighters, a leader of Islamic Jihad, an elderly man whose home was at the center of the fighting, and other Palestinian residents, all of whom were in the camp during the battle, none reported seeing large numbers of civilians killed. All said they were allowed to surrender or evacuate when they were ready to do so, though some reported being mistreated while in Israeli detention.

Palestinian Authority leaders have asserted that more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were killed in the camp and that many of the dead were buried by Israeli forces in mass graves. Investigators for Amnesty International said that Israel failed to provide safe passage from the camp to noncombatants.

The Palestinian allegations led to the creation of a UN fact-finding team for Jenin, but Israel yesterday barred the team from arriving amid allegations of an anti-Israel bias.

Israel says that those Palestinians killed in the Jenin battle were almost all fighters, that none were buried in mass graves, and that ample chance was given to fighters to surrender and for civilians to leave. It initially estimated the death toll at 100 to 200, and has since revised that toll downward to 50.

Meanwhile, a British military adviser to Amnesty, Reserve Major David Holley, was quoted yesterday by Reuters news service as dismissing the Palestinian allegations of a massacre and predicting that no evidence would be found to substantiate them.

Jamal al-Shati, who was appointed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to document events at the camp, said last night that 52 deaths have been documented, including those of three women and five children under 14. He asserts that the Israelis secretly removed bodies from the battleground.

Munir Arsam, 15, a member of Islamic Jihad, said that during the siege, which began April 3 and ended around April 11, he did scouting work for older militants, threw homemade pipe bombs, and helped with ambushes of Israeli troops. He said he was one of 50 boys, divided into groups of 10 by militant leaders, who were assigned these tasks.

In contrast with allegations by some Palestinians and Amnesty investigators, Arsam said women and children were able to evacuate the camp before the climactic battle began. Even at the height of the struggle, fighters were able to put down their weapons and surrender, he said, though he also said, as did the Amnesty investigators, that those who surrendered were beaten and otherwise mistreated while in detention.

Arsam said he knew of five fighters in houses bulldozed by the Israelis, at least two of whom were wounded and screaming for help when the bulldozers came. "The men in the tanks and bulldozers could not hear them," he said.

He said he saw Sheik Ri'ad Abu Abd, 57, of Tulkarem, one of the Palestinian heroes of the battle, wounded with a bullet in the leg near the end of the fighting, and asked him if he wanted to surrender.

"He said 'No, I want to die, I want to fight and die,' and a while later that house was bulldozed," Arsam said. On the last day of the battle, with no ammunition left, Arsam buried the weapon he had acquired during the fighting and surrendered.

"They destroyed all the houses in Hawashin," he said, describing a now-demolished neighborhood in the camp. "I was in the last house, and they called out, 'Surrender or we will fire at you.' There were only two of us, so we left, and they destroyed the house." He said the Israeli soldiers held him for four days, frequently beating and kicking him to make him confess to membership in Hamas or Islamic Jihad, then released him.

Asked if he felt any massacre had occurred, Arsam said: "We killed them and they killed us, but we were victorious."

Abdel Rahman Sa'adi, 14, another Islamic Jihad grenade-thrower, said he was one of a group of 11 adults and seven young men who surrendered upon Israeli demand. He said they were confined in a courtyard near the camp to which the Israeli troops brought dozens of other men and women.

"They told all the small kids to just leave, and they let all the women go after they checked their bags," said Sa'adi, who has braces and was wearing a baseball cap. "None of them were kept for questioning."

"Of course the Palestinians won" this battle, he said, because "they did not shake our morale. This was a massacre of the Jews, not of us."

Prompted by bystanders, he revised his statement. "I think there was a massacre here maybe 100 people," he said.

Khalid Mohammed Taleb, 70, lay on a concrete slab from his ruined house, shaded by a makeshift plastic awning, watching with a blank expression as people clambered over the rubble yesterday and buried mines and grenades occasionally exploded.

"I come every day," he said. "I lived here 50 years."

Taleb and his extended family of 11 people stayed in the camp rather than evacuating because "we thought it would be like the first invasion, they would make an incursion and leave. I used to say I wouldn't leave even if they buried me in this house, but I saw the bulldozers killing people and I left."

That was around midnight, on the day before the battle ended.

Taleb said he raised a white flag and walked at the front of a group of 20 people his own family and those of two neighbors. The destruction of his house and the surrounding buildings occurred after the civilians left, he said, when only fighters remained.

He said several times that no civilians were killed, but after repeated questioning from reporters and bystanders, he said: "Well, maybe one or two. It was a big battle." Was it a massacre? "Perhaps," he said. "Both sides lost."

An Islamic Jihad leader, who insisted on anonymity, said he was wounded as the battle drew to a close, and crawled 300 yards to where other fighters were gathered.

"There were 35 of us, and they were bringing down houses on us, so we surrendered," he said. Israeli soldiers "threw me on the garbage near the hospital at noon" on the last day of the battle, "and I remained there until 1 a.m." The Israelis did not attempt to confine or question him, and he returned to the camp Saturday, he said.

All the fighters said that the Israelis failed to wipe out the militant leadership in the camp, which long has been known as an Islamic Jihad stronghold.

"Of course we are reorganizing," said the Islamic Jihad leader, who walked with a cane and was thronged by comrades near the wreckage. "I don't know what is the plan, what is the strategy, but people are full of hatred."

Arsam, the 15-year-old fighter, said leaders of Islamic Jihad and other factions were taking new groups of youngsters to a hill near Jenin every day for military training, teaching them to fire automatic weapons and to make bombs.

A spokesman for the Israeli army asserted, meanwhile, that Palestinians were moving bodies of people not killed in the Jenin fighting into graveyards around the camp "to score points with the UN committee due to arrive to investigate the happenings in the Jenin refugee camp." The military said this charge was based on information received from Israeli intelligence agencies, and refused to elaborate.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 4/29/2002.



"The U.N. Won't Investigate the Real Tragedy"
By Yossi Klein Halevi
The Los Angeles Times
April 28, 2002

The United Nations commission formed to investigate the nonexistent Israeli "massacre" in the West Bank town of Jenin could have been a means for some desperately needed truth-telling about the Middle East conflict.

Instead, given its mandate to focus on Israel's self-defense rather than on the Palestinian terrorism that provoked it, the commission will only confirm that there is no justice to be had in the U.N. for the Jewish state.

The commission won't be investigating how the Palestinian Authority, established and lavishly funded by the international community, abused its sponsors' trust by turning Jenin and other West Bank towns into centers for suicide bomb factories. The commission won't be investigating how Palestinian terrorists used civilian neighborhoods as shields for their death work and Red Crescent ambulances to transport explosives belts into Israeli cities.

The commission won't be investigating the verifiable massacres that have happened here in Israel's cafes and wedding halls, on its street corners and buses.

The commission won't be investigating the role played by Yasser Arafat's official apparatus his police and militias and intelligence services in planning, funding and recruiting for the suicide killer operations.

The commission won't be investigating how the internationally recognized leadership of the Palestinian people nurtured a culture of suicide among its young for example, Arafat's televised plea to God to grant him the martyrdom of the suicide bomber who killed 28 Israelis in the Passover massacre, or his wife's public lament that she had no son to offer as a suicide killer.

The commission won't be investigating the cultural infrastructure that made terror possible the Palestinian textbooks that exclude Israel from the map of the Middle East, the Palestinian media that proclaim that the Holocaust never happened, the Palestinian mosques where preachers invoke God's blessing for those who kill civilians.

The commission won't be investigating how donor nations, especially those of the European Union, allowed the Palestinian Authority to sustain a terrorist war for the last 19 months, lavishing funds on a corrupt regime that devotes its budget to building bomb factories rather than hospitals and schools.

The commission won't be investigating the Arab world's culpability in creating the Palestinian refugee crisis by rejecting the U.N.'s own partition plan in 1947 and then maintaining the Middle East conflict by rejecting President Clinton's peace plan that would have created a Palestinian state on almost all the territories and part of Jerusalem.

The commission won't be investigating why much of the world's media rushed to proclaim a massacre in Jenin without evidence, and then appeared disappointed not to find mass graves beneath Jenin's rubble.

Neither will the commission be investigating itself to expose how the U.N. has been hijacked by a coalition of international dictatorships that have singled out Israel, which struggles to maintain democratic norms under permanent siege, as the world body's symbol of evil.

It won't be investigating how a country such as Syria, whose government routinely imprisons opponents and has sponsored the mass murder of its own citizens, is given a seat on the Security Council, to say nothing of its seat on the U.N.'s Human Rights Commission.

And it won't be investigating the U.N.'s neglect of desperate human rights issues such as the occupation of Tibet and of Lebanon and the mass murder and enslavement of black Sudanese.

Those are all issues that have been obscured by the U.N.'s obsessive focus on Palestinian statelessness, which the Palestinians refused to end through negotiation and compromise.

The commission won't be investigating the real tragedy: how the U.N. squandered the dream of a united humanity animated by justice a dream first offered by the prophets of ancient Israel and instead joined the unholy coalition of Islamic fundamentalists, far-left moralizers and far-right neofascists in again targeting the Jewish people.



The findings are known in advance
By Ze'ev Segal
April 29, 2002

The commission investigating the events of the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps determined that the massacre was carried out by the Phalangists and that the State of Israel thus did not bear direct responsibility for it.

In a note to the summary of their report, published in February 1983, the members of the Kahan commission said they were not deluding themselves into thinking that "the results of this inquiry would convince or satisfy those with prejudiced views and a selective conscience."

About a year ago, the Belgian court hearing the case against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other senior Israeli officials was presented with a whole set of testimonies, which appeared to be well-coordinated and orchestrated, about atrocities allegedly committed by Israeli soldiers in the camps.

A similar set of testimonies could also be the daily bread of the fact-finding committee appointed by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to look into the events in the Jenin refugee camp. Palestinian sources, who are still making waves in international broadcasts, continue to claim there was a massacre in Jenin. This is the picture that will be presented to the fact-finding team by Palestinian witnesses, who will presumably speak with a single voice.

There is reason for concern that Israeli testimony will not lead the committee which is commissioned to report its findings to the UN secretary-general and Security Council to an unequivocal conclusion that there was never was any massacre. A complete rejection of the massacre claim would entail a pointed refutation of the testimony of the Palestinian side, something the committee would seek to avoid given its political nature.

The fact-finding committee is comprised of people of political and humanitarian background, without legal expertise in the objective and professional reviewing of facts. The committee does not include any experts with military background in fighting terror, and the general characteristics of the committee are far from that of the commission of inquiry that is customary in Israel. This type of committee does not even raise an expectation that its investigation would be impartial.

Israeli government officials assume that the recordings, photographs and transcripts of prisoner interrogations pointing to the truth would be relevant only to a fact-finding committee of a legal nature. The UN committee is not like this. At best it may conclude in a "note" attached to the findings or in some other way that it is impossible to determine with certainty that there was a massacre in Jenin. This conclusion would come together with the predictable findings that Israel used "excessive force" and "prevented humanitarian aid." This type of conclusion was actually already sounded by Terje Larsen, according to which "Israel prevented aid organizations and international assistance from entering for seven days."

This type of statement, without addressing the overall context, is enough to open the gates to war crimes tribunals and other investigations, and serve as the basis for anti-Israel decisions in UN institutions. The UN secretary general did not rule out the possibility of putting soldiers on trial for war crimes, though UN sources said those testifying would be promised immunity.

The need to vigorously oppose sending soldiers before the UN panel is not because we have something to hide. The widespread assumption is that we have nothing to hide. The IDF could have submitted its material and personnel for a review before a neutral and objective committee, but not to a committee representing the the Security Council, in which Israel does not get a fair hearing.

The promise of immunity for IDF soldiers from international criminal prosecution is a bluff. Immunity inherently exists only on the assumption that those implicated under questioning will not travel abroad. Otherwise, they will not have immunity and the findings of the committee will haunt them wherever they go. A government decision to subject them to questioning would be inconsistent with the state's obligation to protect the dignity and freedom of its soldiers, as also expressed in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom.

It is accepted in law that a state can renege on a promise in the face of a clear "public interest." Israel does not need to stand by its initial agreement to the formation of a UN committee in light of its composition and character, which does not promise an honest and unbiased inquiry.

Israel cannot agree to cooperate with a committee that would discuss the actions in Jenin according to political considerations without addressing the overall picture of Jenin as "the capital of suicide bombers" and the whole series of horrific attacks that led to the IDF action. Israel could submit to the committee if its relationship with the United States so required recordings and aerial photos of the Jenin operation, and documents about Jenin's role in terror and about the chain of terror attacks in Israel and the territories.

However, the government should not, under any condition, expose IDF soldiers to an international inquiry whose findings are actually known in advance.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.