Jenin – What Really Happened

It is important for Americans, particularly those who support Israel, to know the truth about what happened during Israel’s brutal 10-day invasion of the Jenin refugee camp.

The Palestinian town of Jenin, in the northern part of the West Bank, is a place that very few tourists are ever likely to visit. The Israeli military understood that very well when they decided to invade the Jenin refugee camp, home to some 14,000 Palestinians in April 2002.

On April 3, the day after the Israeli army began its large-scale attack on Bethlehem by bombing buildings around Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity, Israel began a devastating assault on Jenin’s UN-administered refugee camp.

In Bethlehem, where the mass media was allowed to remain, Israel showed restraint as they besieged the most famous church in Christendom. In Jenin, however, things were very different. With the media and international observers locked out, there was no restraint as Israel attacked the defenseless refugee camp with American-made Apache and Cobra helicopters and fighter jets. Israeli snipers occupied the high buildings, including the mosque, from which they fired on everyone that ventured out of their houses, including emergency medical personnel.

During Israel’s assault on Jenin camp all ambulances were prevented from entering the camp to retrieve the dead and wounded. All entries to the camp were sealed.

After seven days of bombing and shelling, Israel brought huge armored U.S.-made Caterpillar bulldozers in to demolish hundreds of homes in the center of the camp – many of them with people still inside. A residential area of about 160,000 square yards was razed and the rubble pushed into 30-foot piles.

One eyewitness told Phil Reeves of The Independent that he saw Israeli soldiers pile 30 bodies in a half-wrecked house, which was bulldozed and collapsed on the corpses. The ruins were then flattened with a tank, he said. “We could not see the bodies,” Reeves wrote, “But we could smell them.”

The accounts given by those who survived were “understated, not, as many feared and Israel encouraged us to believe, exaggerations,” Reeves said. “Their stories had not prepared me for what I saw yesterday,” Reeves wrote on April 15. “I believe them now.”

It is the testimonies of the survivors of Jenin camp that make the book “Searching Jenin” a unique historical document. “Their story must be told and remembered,” Dr. James Zogby writes in the opening quote of this important book.

The stories are personal and real and were given orally to reporters in the mother tongue. In some cases different members from the same family relate what they experienced. Even the testimonies of children are included.

The personal narratives in “Searching Jenin” are replete with examples of extreme barbarity and testify to what Zogby calls “the savage cruelty” that “will ultimately define the legacy of this devastated square mile of earth.” The shocking accounts of summary executions and other war crimes committed in Jenin may one day be used in a court of law when Israeli war criminals are brought to justice.

The depth of religious conviction that pervades nearly every testimony may be a surprise to those not familiar with Palestinian culture. It is this faith that nurtures the Palestinian resistance: “Death is not in Sharon’s hands, it is in God’s hands,” Mahmud Tawalbe, the leader of the Al-Quds Brigade said to his wife before he died defending Jenin camp. “I would rather die in the battle for freedom than any other death.”

“Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion 2002”, Edited by Ramzy Baroud of Palestine Chronicle, 288 pp., is available online through which donates 50% of royalties go to support relief efforts in Jenin.

Also available from Cune Press, PO Box 31024, Seattle, WA 98103 (Phone 800-445-8032) for $17.95 (paper) or $29.95 (cloth).