Anatomy of Anti-Israel Incitement:
Jenin, World Opinion and the Massacre That Wasn't
International organizations, non-governmental agencies and many foreign governments prematurely and sweepingly attacked the Israelis for committing atrocities in the course of military operations in Jenin refugee camp in April 2002. As the evidence became known, it demonstrated that these initial opinions were wrong. Yet the voices that zealously condemned Israel have been largely remiss in publicizing these new facts.
In Their Own Words: Palestinian Statements Demonstrate that Israel's Actions in Jenin Were Clearly Warranted
- The Palestinian fighters in Jenin spoke of how they booby-trapped the camp elaborately, armed themselves with explosive belts and grenades and enlisted women and children into the battle.
- "Believe me, there are children stationed in the houses with explosive belts at their sides."
-Abu Jandal, Islamic Jihad commander
- "We have prepared unexpected surprises for the enemy….We have prepared a special graveyard in the Jenin camp for them."
-Ali Safori, Islamic Jihad Al-Quds
- "We had more than 50 houses booby-trapped around the camp. We chose old and empty buildings and the houses of men who were wanted by Israel because we knew the soldiers would search for them."
-"Omar," Islamic Jihad bomb-maker
The Rush to Condemn Israel:
The United States: Restraint in the Face of Allegations
The United Nations and the European Union
- The reckless and eager rush to condemn Israel was epitomized by the statements of international organizations, which attacked Israeli military actions - without knowing the facts - either by equating them with the tactics of suicide-bombers or by demonstrating hostility toward Israel more directly..
- "Combating terrorism does not give a blank check to kill civilians. However just the causes, there are illegitimate means, and the means that have been used here are illegitimate and morally repugnant."
-Terje Roed-Larsen, U.N. Special
Coordinator to the Middle East
- "Israelis can't trample over the rule of law, over the Geneva conventions, over what are generally regarded as acceptable norms of behaviour without it doing colossal damage to their reputation."
-Christopher Patton, European Union
External Relations Commissioner
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch
- Non-governmental organizations, including leading human-rights groups such Amnesty International also pre-judged Israel's behavior.
- "What was striking is what was absent. There were very few bodies in the hospital. There were also none who were seriously injured, only the 'walking wounded.' Thus we have to ask: where are the bodies and where are the seriously wounded?"
- Derrick Pounder, a forensics expert
working with Amnesty International
- Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch charged Israel with violations of international law and war crimes. Neither discussed the international law violations involved in arming a refugee camp, or demanded the United Nations be held in any way accountable for its lack of oversight in the camp. While Human Rights Watch acknowledged in a May 3 report that there was no evidence of a massacre and that Palestinian gunmen had contributed to endangering Palestinian civilians, they continued to emphasize that there was prima facie evidence Israel committed war crimes.
- Some of the world's governments also chose to speak out before the facts were known.
- The U.N. Commission on Human Rights endorsed a resolution which adopted, by reference, a 1982 resolution recognizing the "legitimacy of the struggle of peoples…by all available means, including armed struggle." Austria, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain and Sweden supported the resolution.
- "…the kind violence involving suicidal bombings which killed Israelis, Palestinians as well as Chinese, should be condemned. However, what was more shocking to the world was the human tragedy caused by brutal military attacks in Palestinian territories by Israeli forces…." (sic)
- Xinhua (Chinese news agency),
reporting the comments of Wang
Yingfan, China's Permanent
Representative to the United Nations
- In the United States, the official response to allegations of Israeli human rights violations was restrained. Both the White House and Congress supported Israel's right to take action in the West Bank to defend itself. The White House urged that humanitarian workers be allowed into the camp and supported an investigation of the conflict by a U.N. fact-finding team. A few members of Congress were harshly critical of Israel's activities.
The Media: Failure to Provide Context and Balance
- The media's greatest failing in reporting on Israel was ignorance about the complex situation there, made worse by the demand to produce scoops and splashy headlines at the cost of providing context and contrasting points of view. While the American media's coverage was uneven, it was generally fair. Lesser-known online media sources and Anglo-Arab sources were highly one-sided, as was much of the international press. The report focuses on the British press.
- "Gaunt and exhausted, tormented with worry about his missing family, Jamal Fayed yesterday wandered round the vast heap of reeking detritus where Israel has buried the war crimes of Jenin refugee camp."
- The Independent
- "Israeli officials were desperately scrambling to explain the war crimes committed at Jenin refugee camps as the international furore over the devastation rose to new heights yesterday."
- The Independent
- "...the evidence of the Israeli army's absolute negligence in trying to protect civilian life is everywhere."
- The Economist
What Really Happened in Jenin
The Legal Basis for Operation Defensive Shield
Jenin: Longtime Terrorist Stronghold
- Jenin is a longtime terrorist stronghold that produced 23 suicide bombers since October 2000 and was highly fortified in preparation for an Israeli incursion.
- The camp at Jenin was founded by the U.N. and supervised by U.N. officials. According to its own resolution, the U.N. is called upon to "help create a secure environment" in refugee centers; it condemns the arming of these centers. Yet the organization's recent attempt to organize a fact-finding inquiry in Jenin focused only on alleged Israeli violations - failing to acknowledge the possibility of either its own complicity or Palestinian violations.
- In stark contract to Jenin, there was not a single Palestinian casualty or any infrastructure damage in other West Bank villages which did not offer armed resistance.
Israeli Accounts of the Battles : Restraint in the Face of Booby Traps and Intense Resistance
- Israeli accounts of the Jenin battle emphasize the elaborate booby-trapping and constant bombings faced by the soldiers - almost all of which could have been avoided had the army relied on an air attack (a strategy that would likely have killed many more non-combatants) - and the provisions taken to avoid civilian casualties.
- "There was always a soldier who approached the family and tried to calm them, asking about the names of the children, offering them candies, checking if they are in need of anything. A child I smiled at was confused. I'm sure he was raised believing that I'm the devil."
-Shlomi Laniado, field fighter
- "The soldiers fought without harming civilians. This was noticeable in every place and on every level. I was moved by the sight of soldiers conducting themselves in such a dignified and moral manner. Many of us are reserve soldiers; we are not hotheaded people, and we were all very careful. I was impressed by the great care exercised by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) in avoiding civilian casualties - especially in regard to children."
-Dr. David Zangen, lead accompanying medic
- Israeli forces acted to minimize civilian casualties while Palestinian actions endangered civilians.
- Casualty and physical damage reports indicate that the vast majority of Palestinians killed were armed. Some were wearing explosive belts.
- Israel's casualties during the battles in Jenin were 23 killed and 75 wounded
Palestinian Fighters Corroborate Israeli Accounts of the Battles
- Taabat Mardawi, a senior member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad who surrendered to Israeli forces, described the battle as "a very hard fight" but said he didn't see "tens of people" killed by the Israeli army. Mardawi said he and other fighters expected Israel to attack with planes in order to avoid their casualties; he spoke enthusiastically about Israel's decision to send in infantry. "It was like hunting…like being given a prize. I couldn't believe it when I saw the soldiers," he said. "The Israelis knew that any soldier who went into the camp like that was going to get killed." He added: "I've been waiting for a moment like that for years."
- Israel had a legal right to engage in military action in Jenin.
- The conduct of the IDF in the conflict did not breach the standards of international law.
- During the battle there several violations of international law by Palestinian forces
The Lessons of Jenin: The Need for Context and Balance
In conclusion, a massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel was widely alleged, reported and condemned, but did not in fact occur. The tendency of groups and governments to speak prematurely - and of the media to report those comments uncritically - reminds us that, in reporting the news, freedom from bias, seeking context and examining all sides is essential for everyone, especially those with voices that carry weight internationally.
The Role of Anti-Semitism
Finally, while the report remains largely silent on the question of whether some of the zealously anti-Israel reaction to the events in Jenin reflected anti-Semitic attitudes, prejudice undoubtedly informed some of the remarks quoted. Mere criticism of Israel is not bigotry, but the vehemence and reflexiveness displayed by some of those considered here seems indicative of a larger set of beliefs about Jews.