Tuesday, February 03, 2009

There were Israeli war crimes in Jenin

One of the least unsettling photos taken of Jenin after the Israeli attack on it in April 2002 - for more see Sandiego Indymedia here

It’s become common for those people who think Israeli forces can do no wrong to claim that claims of war crimes in Jenin and Nablus in 2002 were later “discredited” or “proven untrue” – and even that this proved the UN and human rights groups were “unreliable” sources of information. This is then used as supposed evidence to claim Israeli forces have not targeted civilians more recently either.

There is a tiny grain of truth to these claims which has been exaggerated so massively that the resulting claims are completely untrue. The tiny grain is that Amnesty International initially believed hundreds of civilians had been killed in Jenin refugee camp and called this a “massacre”, but after further investigations it and other groups found the number killed in Jenin itself was not hundreds but twenty-two. In the entire ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ which covered Jenin, Nablus and elsewhere 497 Palestinians were killed (according to Amnesty and the UN), including over 70 children (according to Amnesty). Physicians for Human Rights said around 38% of the dead were children, disabled or over 50 years old (1),(2),(3),(4), (5).

If you want to play with words on the definition of “massacre” then whether hundreds or dozens of civilians were killed could make a difference, but the fact remains that Israeli forces targeted and killed dozens of civilians including ambulance crews. They had also fired on ambulances earlier in the same year (6)

During the Israeli assaults on refugee camps in Nablus and Jenin in 2002 there were initially allegations of the massacre of hundreds of civilians from some Palestinians. Amnesty international began an investigation and initially said that the forensic evidence they had so far seemed to corroborate the allegations.

In their final report however they, along with Human Rights Watch and Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, found that dozens, rather than hundreds of civilians had been killed by Israeli forces, along with dozens of armed combatants.

There were also armed Palestinian combatants killed, but this does not justify what was done to civilians. Eyewitness testimony from Israeli soldiers and Palestinians confirmed that Israeli forces had bulldozed many houses without warning, killing many Palestinians. Other unarmed civilians were forced to walk ahead of Israeli forces as human shields or shot or run over by tanks in the middle of the street – including at least one disabled person in a wheel chair. Ambulances, medics and aid organizations were prevented from bringing wounded Palestinians to hospital and even fired on and killed. Journalists were also banned from the area until days after the offensive ended.

For instance B’T selem took this testimony from Israeli soldier Moshe Nissim who drove a bulldozer at Jenin.

“They called out on a bullhorn to warn the residents before I came. But I didnt give anybody a chance. I didn’t wait. I didnt strike once and wait for them to leave. I would smash the house really hard so that it would collapse as quickly as possible…Everything I did was according to orders.” (5)

These are all quite clearly war crimes – a mixture of deliberately targeting civilians, not making any attempt to avoid killing civilians and using them as human shields. The fact that dozens rather than hundreds were killed in this way does not erase these crimes from history. Nor can Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.

What’s more Amnesty reported that “Throughout the period 4-15 April, the IDF denied access to Jenin refugee camp to all, including medical doctors and nurses, ambulances, humanitarian relief services, human rights organizations, and journalists.” (2). So Israeli forces had 12 days in which to move or bury bodies – and bulldozers to do it with. So the 22 civilians Human Rights Watch found solid evidence of being killed in Jenin, like the 70 children cited by Amnesty for Operation Defensive Shield as a whole, may have been far less than the real totals. Any Palestinian witnesses could be killed, or, even more easily, dismissed as lying Arabs – the usual response of the IDF to any claim by any Arab witness.

The UN report on ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ came to few conclusions of its own, preferring to merely summarise the different claims made by the Israeli military and government, the Palestinian authority and investigations by human rights groups, as if the two sides in the conflict were as unbiased as neutral third parties (4).

So those who claim that claims of Israeli war crimes against civilians in Jenin and Nablus in 2002 were ‘disproven’ or ‘discredited’ are mistaken at best. This is even more true for those who claim this ‘proves’ the UN and all human rights groups are unreliable sources.

(1) = BBC 18 Apr 2002 ‘Jenin 'massacre evidence growing'’,

(2) = Amnesty International 2002 ‘Israel and the Occupied Territories
Shielded from scrutiny: IDF violations in Jenin and Nablus’,

(3) = Human Rights Watch May 2002 ‘Jenin: IDF Military Operations’,

(4) = UN 2002 ‘Report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant
to General Assembly resolution ES-10/10’,
http://www.un.org/peace/jenin/index.html ; On the 497 Palestinians killed on the Operation see Paragraph 37 Section E;
For figures from Physicians for Human Rights see Paragraph 57

Palestinian Testimonies , Soldiers’ Testimonies’,

(6) = B’Tselem Mar 2002 ‘Impeding Medical Treatment and Firing at Ambulances
by IDF Soldiers in the Occupied Territories’,

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