Revolutionary Worker #1147, April 21, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
On April 4 the killing machine known as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) invaded the Jenin refugee camp in northern West Bank. The Israeli assault began with massive tank and helicopter gunship bombardment of the camp--a small, poor area of less than a square mile where 15,000 Palestinians lived. The Israeli troops met fierce resistance from Palestinian fighters for several days before they were able to seize complete control of the camp.
Survivors who emerged from the wreckage of the camp told of the horrors they experienced and witnessed--whole families buried in rubble as their homes were hit by Israeli missiles; Israeli troops rounding up people like cattle and then beating and humiliating them; people forced to drink sewage because the Israelis had blocked all water supplies; countless dead bodies in the streets.
The full scale of the Israeli atrocities at Jenin is not yet known. The IDF prevented ambulances, journalists, and others from entering the area as their troops rampaged house-to-house through the camp. Israeli officials claimed their troops had killed 100 to 200.
Palestinians and others say the toll is much higher, perhaps many hundreds. Survivors described bodies deliberately mutilated by Israeli troops. One woman who fled the camp recalled, "Whenever I passed a few meters, I saw two or three bodies. The bodies were covered with dust."
Even after they declared the camp under control, the Israeli military kept the area strictly off-limits. IDF officials said the army will deal with the bodies of the dead--returning those considered to be civilians to the families while burying those Israel claims are "terrorists" in unmarked graves. These are actions of war criminals who want to hide what they have done.
Survivors from the Jenin camp tell of seeing Israeli troops burying corpses of Palestinian victims-- including women and children--in mass graves. They recount how Israeli tanks and bulldozers ran over bodies in the streets. They remember hearing screams of children from inside the houses under attack from Israeli helicopter gunships.
As the Israeli army rolls through the West Bank, leaving a horrendous trail of blood and destruction, the whole world is witnessing the savage actions of the Zionist occupiers. And the takeover of Jenin revealed some ugly realities about Israel's occupation of Palestine.
Targeting the People
The Israeli government justifies its military offensive in the West Bank as a move to destroy the "terrorist infrastructure." And they accuse the town of Jenin and the nearby refugee camp of being the home of many suicide bombers. But it's clear that the Israeli troops were engaged in a vengeful operation of collective punishment against the whole population of Jenin. Like elsewhere in the West Bank, the Israeli occupiers imposed a reign of terror on the people in this refugee camp.
Khadra Samara, 33 years old and mother of three children, is one of those who lived to tell the story of the Jenin refugee camp. She was in her home on Rawabi Street at 11:30 at night when Israeli bulldozers began tearing into the building.
"We started screaming and lighting lamps and candles so they'd know someone was inside," Khadra said. "But as we screamed, a missile was fired at the house, destroying the second and third floors. The whole house shook, there was a flash of light, and all the windows were blown out."
The bulldozer backed off for a few hours--and then began smashing into the house again. Khadra grabbed the kids. The front door was blocked by rubble, so she handed the kids to a neighbor through a side window. "They destroyed the house with everything in it. We didn't even take one T-shirt for one child."
Khadra said she was scared--but also very angry. She grabbed a cylinder of cooking gas. "I was so furious I wanted to make a suicide bomb and use it on them," she said.
The family fled to another house but had to run again when the bulldozers came. A third house they took shelter in came under attack from a helicopter gunship.
Finally, Khadra, her family, and residents of two other houses managed to walk out of the camp. She counted nearly 30 women and children in the group. "We walked for a half hour from the camp into the town," she said. "Israeli helicopter gunships dropped stun grenades to scare us."
Similar accounts of harrowing ordeals have come from other survivors. Muhammad Saadi, 22, said he and his family were in their small two-room house when an Israeli armored bulldozer smashed through the walls of one room. "The ceiling fell half a yard from us and we shouted to the soldiers that we were inside," Muhammad said. "They told us to come out, and destroyed our house. The house across from us was also demolished."
An Israeli army spokesperson coldly said that "some houses" in the camp were torn down for "operational reasons." They wanted to move tanks through the camp's narrow streets- -so their bulldozers plowed through houses to clear the way.
Some people were able to get out with their lives--while losing their homes and what little possessions they had. Unknown numbers of others perished under the vast rubble that used to be the Jenin refugee camp.
Mass Round-ups,Beatings, Humiliation
The Israeli troops ordered all men in the Jenin camp to turn themselves in. The survivors said those who refused the order were executed on the spot when caught.
Once in Israeli hands, the men were forced to strip off their clothes. The Israelis said they wanted to make sure the Palestinians had no weapons or explosives--but the real intention was to utterly humiliate the people and break their spirit.
After their release, the men recounted how they were kept for days in their undershorts, handcuffed and blindfolded, often denied food and water. Prisoners were beaten brutally for any resistance--or for no reason at all. The soldiers took photos of the men in underwear--to use on new ID cards to replace the ones that were taken when the men were rounded up.
Abdullah Wishahi, 28, saw his mother and brother killed inside their home by bullets from an Israeli helicopter before he was taken prisoner by the Israelis. After several days detention at an Israeli base, he was released. As he left, an Israeli soldier declared that all Palestinians were criminals. Wishahi told the soldier, "You killed my mother and brother in my house. You destroyed the homes above our heads-- and we are criminals?"
Some Jenin men were used as "human shields" by the Israeli troops. Israeli soldiers burst into Ali Mustafa Seriya's home the first day of the siege. Pointing their guns at him, the troops ordered him to knock on the doors of other houses. These cowardly soldiers used Seriya to check for booby traps or enemy gunfire. After the doors were opened, the soldiers sent in their sniffer dog to search inside.
This is how the occupation troops see the Palestinian people: they consider their search dogs more valuable than Palestinian lives. This racist view is not only accepted by but promoted from the highest levels. From the earliest days of the Zionist movement to recent times, Zionist officials have often referred to Palestinians in ugly, derogatory terms like "animals," "vermin," and "cancer."
Refugees from a Refugee Camp
As a result of the devastating IDF assault, the people of Jenin who lived through the massacre are now refugees from a refugee camp.
Jenin is one of many Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and in Lebanon and Jordan. The Jenin camp dates back to 1953, and the oldest residents can remember when they first became refugees. Many of the original residents of the refugee camp at Jenin were driven out of Haifa and the surrounding farm lands on the Mediterranean coast when the state of Israel was established in 1948 with imperialist backing and a war was launched on the Palestinians.
It was 54 years ago--on April 9, 1948--that Israeli forces massacred 254 defenseless people, including women and children, at the village of Deir Yassin. Israel used the masscare to spread terror among the people, eventually forcing 800,000 Palestinians--two-thirds of the population at the time--into exile from their own land.
Israel claimed then that it was only "defending" itself from an unprovoked attack--just as Sharon today claims Israel is only "defending" itself against terrorist attacks. But at the time of the 1948 war, David Ben Gurion, a top Israeli leader, was upfront about the Zionists' war aims: "The issue at hand is conquest, not self-defense... In each attack, a decisive blow should be struck, resulting in the destruction of homes and the expulsion of the population."
The state of Israel was founded on the blood of the Palestinian people and the violent dispossession of their land. This deep injustice remains at the heart of Israel's occupation of Palestine today.
Destroying the Palestinian Infrastructure
Sharon claims that Israel's existence is threatened by suicide bombers. The argument is totally preposterous. The reality is that Israel is wrecking Palestinian society and infrastructure. It is the very existence of the Palestinian nation that is under threat from the Israeli occupiers.
Roads, schools, electricity pylons, water pipes, telephone lines and other essential elements of life have been devastated. Israeli troops have ransacked the offices of the Palestinian Authority and taken or destroyed records. Historic neighborhoods of Palestinian towns have been flattened.
At Ramallah city hall, land deeds, tax receipts, building permits and other essential records were missing after a raid by the Israeli army. The Washington Post pointed out, "The possibility that deeds were destroyed is particularly important in an area where successive Israeli governments have historically confiscated property on the grounds that the owner possesses no documents." At the Education Ministry, the troops ripped out computer hard disks and took away high school graduation records dating back to the 1950s.
The Israeli government claims that their offensive has netted a "paper trail" linking the Palestinian Authority to suicide bombers. Are land deeds and high school records part of such a "paper trail"? What purpose does the ransacking of these offices have--other than to undermine the functioning of government entities?
In the town of Nablus, the Israelis unleashed a brutal helicopter attack on the casbah, totally destroying the centuries-old neighborhood of shops, markets and homes. One man pointed to a pile of rock and cried out, "I have two aunts still underneath! The whole house collapsed on us. It was 200 years old." A 76-year-old man said, "I have never seen bloodshed like this. They had an appetite for killing."
Kids darted through the wreckage, pointing at collapsed walls or holes in buildings. They shouted, "Apache, Apache!" The Israelis had used U.S.-made Apache helicopters to fire missiles and automatic weapons into the Nablus casbah through the night.
In Jenin, the IDF forces met the strongest resistance yet of this current offensive. There were news reports that the various armed groups in the camp had joined together to make a stand against the onslaught--fighting with small arms and explosives against the massive onslaught of tanks, helicopter gunships, and heavily armed troops.
The fighters took out over 20 enemy troops--including 13 in one ambush. As an Israeli unit moved through an alleyway, there was an explosion and the soldiers--along with another back-up unit--came under intense fire.
It's not known how many of the Palestinian fighers in Jenin were killed in the days-long battle. Some surrendered after they ran out of ammunition--even stones to throw at the Israeli troops. There were reports that among the last to walk out of the rubble was a 13-year-old youth who took up arms after his father was killed during an earlier incursion by Israeli forces into the camp in March.
The fighters at Jenin were not part of a real strategy to wage a revolutionary war that can defeat the oppressors and liberate Palestine. But in their defiant stand, others saw the courageous refusal of the Palestinian people as a whole to submit to the ruthless occupiers, their determination to fight for a just cause. "I feel very proud of what the fighters did in Jenin," said a man in a neighboring village.
Israel is tightening its death grip on the occupied West Bank. They are carrying out collective punishment against the people and declaring that all resistance will be violently crushed. But the Palestinian people refuse to be conquered.
In Ramallah, groups of people gather whenever there are brief breaks in the curfew to confront the soldiers and denounce the occupation. Outside Jenin, a Palestinian man said of the Israeli takeover of the refugee camp: "I don't believe this is a victory for Israel... If they kill so many people, the next generation will fight even harder."
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