portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article

human & civil rights | imperialism & war

Another Arafat Apologist

Israelis shelter bloodiest battlefield from eyes of media and aid groups
April 12, 2002

Israelis shelter bloodiest battlefield from eyes of media and aid groups
Janine di Giovanni in Burqin

THE last group of hardcore Palestinian militants surrendered in Jenin's refugee camp yesterday, but Israeli troops continued their strenuous efforts to prevent independent witnesses entering the bloodiest battlefield of their two-week-old anti-terrorist offensive.

With Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, arriving in Jerusalem last night the soldiers blocked the United Nations, the Red Cross and the media from entering the "closed military area" where scores of Palestinians, as well as 22 Israeli soldiers, have been killed in ferocious close-quarter fighting.

Some journalists were detained. One had his press card ripped up. Footage filmed by a television cameraman was confiscated. The few pictures that did emerge from the camp showed scenes of devastation.

Refugees leaving the northern West Bank city talked of misery, horror and death inside the camp which formerly housed 13,000 residents. They spoke of "countless dead bodies" and men being executed at close range.

An Israeli soldier insisted: "It was hard, it was tough, but it was not bad. If you kill terrorists it's not bad."

The Israeli Army said that about 100 Palestinians had been killed, and army bulldozers were demolishing wrecked buildings. The dead reportedly included Sheik Ali Sfuri, who is accused of masterminding a series of terrorist attacks on Israeli targets. Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian cabinet minister, put the toll at 500.

An international group representing the UN, the Red Cross and the Norwegian Government, who were given assurances by the Israeli Defence Force that they would be allowed inside the camp, were turned away. Their cars were illegally searched and their cameras confiscated.

"There are extremely worrying reports, but as there are no witnesses, we cannot verify them," one member of the group said.

"I asked one commander what exactly it is that they want to hide as I have never known of UN people not being allowed in before." There are still several thousand people inside the camp, with no communication with the outside world.

Latest reports from refugees include stories of executions of civilians and bulldozers piling dead bodies into a pit. The city is destroyed, damaged even more than other West Bank cities that have sustained Israeli incursions, and there is no water inside the camp.

Refugees speak of bodies piled on the road decomposing in the heat, and the soldiers are allowing very few ambulances into the camp.

"There are worrying reports that there are appalling things happening," one international worker said. Amal Mahmoud Hamid Ruq, a 22-year-old refugee from the camp, wept as she told of being forced to leave her home and her city, and the fear she had that her younger brother, who has disappeared, has been murdered.

Human rights workers have expressed concern about the separation of families. In a white villa in Yaomu, a village outside of Jenin, hundreds of refugees have arrived in the past few days, white-faced, tearful, and clutching cheap plastic suitcases. Inside are remnants of their pitiful lives.

Most of the residents of Jenin camp are children and grandchildren of those Palestinians who lost their properties after the war of independence and as a result, they know no other way of life than the squalor and poverty of a refugee camp. Now they are refugees once again, this time from the teeming camp that they call home.

Beya, a 10-year-old with long plaits, sits with her grandmother, Abla, and her three other siblings and describes the bulldozers, the helicopters, the demolished houses.

Her grandmother, who holds a baby with chickenpox in her arms, says that she has lost her son and his wife and is left with the children. "We got separated and after days of not having water and running out of bread, I took the children and left," she said.

Sitting next to her on the floor is Mervet Hamet Mustafa, 22, who has three children with her, including a baby, who is also suffering from chickenpox. She stops herself talking several times to put her head in her hands to cry. "I am so worried about my children," she wails while her friend, Amal Mahmoud Ruq, leans against a wall and sobs.

"I must find my brother," she says. "I think they have killed him." Her friends try to comfort her, but it seems pointless. She points to a small blue suitcase stuffed with a few blouses and a hairbrush she hurriedly packed when she left. "This is all I have now," she said.