Perhaps my judgment has been clouded by my anger, by my outrage at the collusion to cover up what has happened in Jenin.
The Israelis are the masters of changing the subject, and they have managed (not entirely without his own enthusiastic participation) to turn Arafat into the issue, rather than the occupation and all its machinery of oppression, dispossession, starvation and destruction. Having just removed the irrelevant distraction of Arafat’s imprisonment in Ramallah, the Israelis are already working on a new Arafat-based distraction by threatening once again that if he travels abroad he will not be allowed back.
But Arafat is neither the problem nor the solution. When he is dead and buried the Israelis and Americans will be accusing him of giving orders from beyond the grave. But nothing on the ground will have changed–neither the occupation which seeks to crush more than three million people, nor the Palestinians’ will to resist, survive and be steadfast no matter how many people are killed, tortured and imprisoned.
But it is the scandal of the cancellation of the UN’s Jenin fact-finding mission and the UN Security Council’s failure to react that is most astonishing. It is now clear that the United States and Israel, and some might suspect Arafat too, have colluded to quash an investigation.
On the one hand the Israeli tactic has been to exaggerate the claims Palestinians have made about Jenin, saying that some talked about thousands killed (there have been no such charges), and on the other, the Israelis are saying that if they did not deliberately massacre hundreds of civilians then there were no war crimes at all and no case to answer. Much is being made of the reports that ‘only’ some fifty bodies have been found. The first hand reports I heard from Jenin, from Kathy Kelly and Jeff Guntzel, including photographs of funerals, are that people, unable to wait any longer for the international aid that never came are burying their own dead. In an area which has been described by many witnesses as resembling one struck by a serious earthquake, people are digging with their bare hands and cannot get deep down to the basements where whole families were said to be hiding. Israel still refuses to allow heavy equipment into the camp. And the reports that Israel took away bodies also need to be investigated.
Amnesty International, among others, has sent experts to Jenin, and they reported evidence of ‘serious war crimes,’ not the least of which was deliberately denying medical aid to the injured for almost two weeks. This alone constitutes a serious breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
It was an Israeli general who first said that hundreds were killed in Jenin, and Palestinians have always said that the full story will not be known until it is investigated. Unfortunately that investigation is unlikely to take place now, as Israel has simply refused to allow the UN team in. After accommodating all of Israel’s demands about the make up of the fact-finding mission, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan simply gave up as Israel kept adding conditions.
As usual Israel’s flagrant defiance of the Security Council is likely to go unanswered. At the same time Iraq’s people who have suffered more than a decade of deadly sanctions allegedly because their government refused to cooperate with UN inspectors, are threatened once again with war.
Israel claims that it only wants the UN investigation team to be “professional,” with military experts, and it has incited against international diplomats of impeccable reputation who were named by Annan to head the team. To know that Israel is not interested in professionalism or anything else that could help bring the truth out, one only has to remember what happened after the killing of 106 Lebanese refugees in an Israeli artillery attack on a UN base in Qana, south Lebanon in April 1996. The UN fact-finding mission appointed by then UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali was indeed headed by a senior Dutch general, an artillery expert. When the report found that Israel’s claim that the attack was an accident were just not credible, the United States tried to bury the report and Boutros Ghali, who insisted on publishing it, lost his job. No action was taken against Israel.
Israel said it is afraid that its soldiers would be prosecuted if they testified before a UN fact-finding team, and demanded they be given immunity. That is not what is behind the Israeli fear.
On April 26, The Washington Post quoted Israeli soldiers talking about Jenin. Despite their efforts to put the best spin on their actions, a terrible picture of massive and indiscriminate violence clearly emerges:
“The orders were to shoot at each house,” recalled the sergeant, a member of a heavy weapons company in the Yoav regiment of the army’s Fifth Brigade, a reserve unit that did the bulk of the fighting in Jenin. “The words on the radio were to ‘Put a bullet in each window.”
“The sergeant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was troubled by the orders, which did not require soldiers to actually see the gunmen they were trying to kill. But he said the Israeli soldiers didn’t hesitate. They pounded a group of cinder-block homes — the apparent source of Palestinian sniper fire — with .50-caliber machine guns, M-24 sniper rifles, Barrett sniper rifles and Mod3 grenade launchers.”
“It’s not true there was a massacre, because guys did not shoot at civilians just like this,” the sergeant recalled. “However — and this is terrible — it is true that we shot at houses, and God knows how many innocent people got killed.” (“Ill-Prepared For a Battle Unexpected; Israeli Reservists Tell Of Jenin Camp Assault, April 26, 2002)
No wonder the Israeli government is so scared of any UN inquiry speaking to its soldiers. Some of them, it turns out, might tell the truth. And if they have immunity, then their consciences may really speak. But those who gave the orders will be the ones in jeopardy.
To watch as Sharon is allowed to do again what he did in Lebanon, while the Americans who provide the means egg him on, the Europeans sit by wringing their hands, and the Arabs gesticulate emptily, leaves me with a knot of anger I do not know how to express. If it is this painful for us, so far away, what must it be like like for survivors of Sabra and Shatila to hear the same words and see the same faces, the same images? Or for Palestinians in the occupied territories whose suffering is so great that the only comfort can come from the hope that one day truth and justice will prevail?
We must brace ourselves for worse to come: the US Congress is about to pass resolutions further vilifying Palestinians and extolling Sharon. This will only embolden the Israeli generals, among whom those who advocate ethnic cleansing are gaining ground.
Yes, this just makes me angry. But as hard as it is we need to take that anger and turn it into hard work, to continue to tell the truth, to campaign for peace, to continue to use our voices on behalf of those who have been silenced.
While I am angry, I am not hopeless, nor should any of us be. Over the past few weeks I have traveled to several places in this country and given many speeches. Despite the best efforts of Israel and its champions to conceal the truth, there is more wisdom and knowledge in the heartland than you could guess from listening to our leaders, reading our yellow press, or watching the extreme right wing talk shows on the cable channels where every Israeli spokesman is coddled and feted and any dissenter bullied and attacked.
Who can now doubt that Israel has something to hide? One way or another the truth will come out, and all the terrible crimes committed will not stand in the way of justice.