Friday, April 19, 2002

There was no massacre in Jenin (Ha'aretz)

[During the Israeli re-invasion of the West Bank cities in 2002, there was an explosion of wild accusations about alleged "massacres," mass graves, "war crimes," "genocide," and so on in Jenin. (For some examples, see here.) But these turned out to be nothing more than groundless mythmaking, fed by totally dishonest Palestinian propaganda and compounded by anti-Zionist hysteria in western Europe and elsewhere. The whole sorry episode should have left "progressive" opinion in western Europe feeling deeply ashamed and appropriately self-critical ... but no such luck. --Jeff Weintraub]
April 23, 2002

There was no massacre in Jenin

The claim that there was a "massacre" in the Jenin refugee camp has been taken up by many news media around the world, human rights groups and even among many governments. This claim, originally made during the height of the fighting in the refugee camp, reverberates with gravity, seriously damaging Israel's political campaign to justify its self defense against terror and the legitimacy of the means it is using in that campaign.

In Israel, too, suspicions were raised that there was truth to the Palestinian claims. Many feared that Jenin would be added to the black list of massacres that have shocked the world. The IDF contributed to those fears when it issued a preliminary estimate of hundreds of dead in the camp (it turned out that several score were killed, with the exact number still unknown) and by blocking journalists from entering the camp to report what was happening inside. That was an invitation to another charge, also widely reported, of an alleged cover-up.

In recent days, journalists - including Ha'aretz reporters - have visited the camp, gathering their own first-hand impressions and eyewitness testimony about the IDF's operations. Ha'aretz reporter Amira Hass spent several days in the camp, and her report appears in today's pages. There is evidence of intense combat, but, with appropriate caution, it can already be said what did not happen in the Jenin refugee camp. There was no massacre. No order from above was given, nor was a local initiative executed, to deliberately and systematically kill unarmed people.

In Israel of 2002, there is practically no way to cover up atrocities. Testimony by commanders and fighters in Jenin, many of whom were civilians called up into reserves for the purpose of the operation, as well as testimony by those who observed the events through various means refute the claims of a massacre. The fighting was intense, as could be expected in built-up areas, and especially against the background of rapid Israeli successes in other areas, particularly the Nablus casbah. Armed Palestinians shot, blew up and mined houses and alleyways. The soldiers, who had difficulty progressing, used bulldozers and suffered heavy losses - 23 soldiers were killed. Under such circumstances, civilians were also harmed. That is a terrible, sorrowful fact, resulting from the nature of the fighting, and in some specific cases there should be an examination to determine whether everything necessary was done to prevent civilian casualties. But declaring the fighting in Jenin a "massacre" is a mistake on the part of the naive, and a slander by others.

Palestinian propagandists have made perverse use of legends that, in part, were invented outside Jenin. Leading these propagandists were officials of the Palestinian Authority who issued baseless charges of "executions," fanning the flames of hatred against Israel. The readiness of international elements, including the heads of the European Union, to accept the Palestinian version without question, is testimony to their character, to Israel's fragile situation and to Ariel Sharon's negative image.