A fact-finding delegation dispatched to the West Bank and Gaza that includes legal and public health experts and human rights activists is investigating the conditions of the Palestinian people living under harsh Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. The delegation was organized by the International A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition - Act Now to Stop War & End Racism. The delegation will prepare a report describing its findings in the coming weeks. Below is their initial dispatch from Jenin.
REPORT FROM JENIN REFUGEE CAMP, WEST BANK: Jenin, Like Qibya in 1953, Is Another Massacre by Ariel Sharon
On May 23, the A.N.S.W.E.R. delegation entered Jenin, a densely populated civilian refugee camp, and found undisputed evidence of a massacre. The delegation interviewed and took testimony from witnesses and survivors of the devastation and slaughter perpetrated by the Israeli military in its recent invasion of the West Bank, including the Jenin refugee camp.
In Jenin this testimony confirmed the indiscriminate and vicious nature of the recent Sharon directed military attack against the Jenin refugee camp.
"The coordinator for health services in the camp reported that as of now they have found and identified 55 bodies, and held funerals for those people. Of these, 5 were members of the Palestinian security forces and 12 were from various factions who defended the residents of Jenin against the Israeli invasion. The other thirty-eight rest were non-combatants, including children, elderly and disabled persons. Rescue workers believe there may be 10 to 40 others who are still buried in the rubble or who will never be found, leading sources in Jenin to estimate that there have been about 90 deaths," reported Dr. Hillel Cohen, a public health doctor and epidemiologist and member of delegation. "Many of the houses that were destroyed by tank shells and missiles were then bulldozed flat by the Israelis. If any bodies were inside those, they may never be found. At the spot we were talking, a neighbor saw a shell explode the house of a disabled man. The building collapsed on top of him and his body has not yet been found."
Approximately 5,000 persons have been rendered homeless, as the Israeli Defense Forces methodically destroyed residential areas by attacking first with tanks and missiles, and completing the destruction of homes and neighborhoods through the use of bulldozers. There are wide swaths of land that have been clear cut of houses and inhabitants that were previously occupied by scores of homes separated by narrow pathways only a few meters wide. Many Palestinians still struggle to live in the rubble of partially destroyed homes with walls and roofs torn away and living areas exposed to the elements, and the number of persons displaced or rendered homeless is expected to increase as additional property are declared to be uninhabitable or structurally unsound.
?There can be no doubt, based on the undisputed number of civilians killed by Sharon?s military, the obvious use of indiscriminate forms of violence and weaponry, in addition to the testimony of eyewitnesses to war crimes and countless instances and human cruelty unjustified by any conceivable necessity, that there has been a massacre in Jenin,? stated Carl Messineo, human rights attorney and member of the delegation. ?The evidence of a massacre here is apparent. The only basis on which one could state that there was no massacre here is a political one.?
Yet, the mainstream media have declared Jenin to not be a massacre, most frequently citing a recent report by Human Rights Watch that while admitting the civilian slaughter, and the frequency of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity in Jenin, declared that the indiscriminate killings did not constitute a massacre. That report, which was announced at the same time that the U.N. bowed to Israeli wishes and withdrew its request to investigate Jenin, has been used to legitimize the Israeli and U.N. decision from growing worldwide criticism.
Based on the intensity of the shelling, Jenin residents initially guessed that there might have been hundreds or thousands killed. The numbers were much lower since many fled their homes, despite the curfew, at the first sounds of gunfire. The media contrasted these early, unconfirmed rumors to the confirmed body count of 55 to discredit the Palestinians and to scoff at the use of the word massacre. Yet in the dictionary, massacre is defined as "savage and indiscriminate killing" clearly an apt description of what took place. Some of the most well-known, historic massacres had fewer or similar numbers killed. In the Boston Massacre (March 5, 1770) , British troops shot into a crowd of protestors who were throwing rocks and ice-balls at the troops, killing 5 and wounding 6. Among the five killed was Crispus Attucks, an African-American, considered the first to die in the American Revolution. In the Paoli Massacre (Sept. 20-21, 1777), also during the American Revolutionary war British troops killed 53 Americans, all soldiers. At the Ludlow Massacre (April 20, 1914), 20 coal miners and family members were killed by National Guard during a strike by the United Mine Workers of America. The Sharpesville Massacre (March 21, 1960) is one of the most famous political massacres of the recent era, Apartheid troops fired into a crowd of African demonstrators, killing 69 and wounding 180. The demonstrators were protesting the pass laws that restricted the movement of Africans, not unlike the restrictions now imposed by Israel on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The Sharpesville killings were followed by massive arrests of activists - a pattern followed by the Israelis in Jenin and throughout the West Bank.
Messineo explained, ?The decision to reject the apparent evidence of massacre is a political decision, a mischaracterization used to immunize Ariel Sharon, the Israeli government and its U.S. backer, from responsibility for this unconscionable and indiscriminate military attack against Palestinian civilians. Even the killings of so-called Palestinian fighters cannot be justified under any standard of international humanitarian law, which recognizes the inherent right of people to self defense. When an invading army invades your homeland, fighting in self defense is justified to protect your self, your family and your people.?
As the world knows, this is not Ariel Sharon?s first massacre. In 1953, Ariel Sharon led his Unit 101 into Qibya, a civilian village, to execute Israel?s official policy of collective retaliatory punishment, ostensibly because there had been a recent killing of three Israelis. When Sharon left Qibya, sixty seven civilians had been killed by Israel?s military operation, between one half and two thirds of whom were women and children. Fifty six houses, the village mosque, school and water tank were destroyed. There has never been any dispute among historians as to whether Qibya - which has parallels to the scope of indiscriminate killing in Jenin - was a massacre.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who directed the Jenin massacre, has been found responsible even by the Israeli government for the 1982 massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in southern Lebanon in which up to 2,000 civilians were killed.
The delegation includes Richard Becker, West Coast Coordinator of the International Action Center and member of the A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition steering committee; Carl Messineo, attorney and co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice and member of the A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition steering committee; Sara Flounders, Co-Director of the International Action Center; Dr. Hillel Cohen, doctor of public health and epidemiologist and delegate of 1199 National Health and Human Services Employees Union.
The A.N.S.W.E.R. fact-finding delegation will give direct testimony on the findings of its trip at the June 1 Emergency National Anti-War Conference. For more details about this conference, go to internationalanswer.org. This will include the presentation of photographs, video, written documents and a report.