NEW YORK (Aug. 5)
A U.N. report on the April battle in the Jenin refugee camp refutes Palestinian allegations of an Israeli massacre and vindicates the Jewish state, Israel and Jewish groups say.
But they aren’t entirely happy with the report, complaining that it contains bias and errors.
Released Thursday, the report could finally put an end to the international community’s inquisition into Israel’s invasion of the Jenin camp, which aimed to root out the terrorist infrastructure there.
Known as the suicide bombers’ capital, Jenin was the home base for 28 suicide bombers since the intifada began in September 2000, according to Israeli officials.
Israeli officials welcomed the report, saying that it cleared up “misconceptions” about a massacre.
The report rejects the Palestinian claim that some 500 Palestinians were killed in the battle, corroborating Israeli figures of 52 Palestinian dead, most of them fighters.
“We understand that the report is absolutely categorical, there was no massacre and statements by the Palestinian leadership talking about hundreds of civilians that were killed were nothing more than atrocity propaganda,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.
A Palestinian official called the report “an important step.”
Israel’s refusal to allow a U.N. fact-finding team to visit the Jenin camp, and its unwillingness to submit material to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, forced Annan to rely on second-hand sources, the report stresses.
Jewish submissions were slight in comparison with the Arab ones — and it seems they were considered as such.
A senior U.N. official said the single Jewish submission, a 150-page document from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, was problematic.
The document compiles news reports and eyewitness accounts that discredit the massacre accusations. However, its use of anonymous eyewitnesses accounts compromised its credibility, said the U.N. official, who asked not to be named.
The United Nations corroborated the Conference of President’s submission with statements by Israeli officials and material from Israel’s Foreign Ministry and army Web sites, according to Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for Annan.
The report also used information from U.N. officials, private relief organizations, public documents and submissions from the Palestinians, Jordan, Qatar and the European Union.
The report avoids using the word “massacre,” and a senior U.N. official refrained from placing blame on any party or making “value judgements.”
It states that “United Nations officials criticized Israel for its handling of humanitarian access in the aftermath of the battle and, in particular, its refusal to facilitate full and safe access to the affected populations in violation of its obligations under international humanitarian law.”
But, in its harshest language, the report states that “Palestinian militants in the camp, as elsewhere, adopted methods which constitute breaches of international law that have been and continue to be condemned by the United Nations.”
That was a reference to suicide bombings, a senior U.N. source said.
The report also accuses Palestinians of violating international law by stockpiling weapons and mixing fighters among civilians in the densely-populated camp.
The American Jewish Committee disputed portions of the report, but described the confirmation that no massacre took place in Jenin as a “welcome development.”
“The report validates Israel’s contention all along,” said David Harris, the group’s executive director.
Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents, had more concerns.
“There is much in the report that is incorrect or misrepresents what actually occurred,” Zuckerman said.
“The disproportionate space accorded the behavior of the” Israel Defense Force “as opposed to that of the terrorists is immediately obvious,” he said. “The failure to identify those engaged in these barbaric attacks as terrorists but rather referring to them as ‘militants’ again reflects the bias that permeates the report.”
However, the report does explicitly mention and condemn Palestinian terrorism, stating that Israel’s attack came after a Passover eve suicide bombing in Netanya that killed 28 and injured more than 100.
Among the report’s findings are:
Israel blocked humanitarian care to Palestinians. “As the fighting began to subside, ambulances and medical personnel were prevented by IDF from reaching the wounded within the camp, despite repeated requests to IDF to facilitate access for ambulances and humanitarian delegates, including those of the United Nations.”
Israel targeted ambulances. “It appears that, in addition to the denial of aid, IDF in some instances targeted medical personnel,” the report states, citing the March killing of an UNRWA staff member aboard an ambulance and the April shooting of a uniformed Palestinian nurse.
Palestinians booby-trapped the refugee camp. “Human rights reports support the assertions that some buildings had been booby-trapped by the Palestinian combatants.”
Israel soldiers made arbitrary arrests and used Palestinian civilians as human shields. The report refers to numerous accounts of IDF soldiers forcing Palestinian civilians to accompany them during house searches, check suspicious subjects and stand in the line of fire.
Israeli forces excessively destroyed Palestinian property. “Operation Defensive Shield resulted in the widespread destruction of Palestinian property,” such as computers and photocopying machines, “that did not appear to be related to military objectives.”
Israel “rejects the accusations made regarding its actions during the course of Operation Defensive Shield, which derived from its right to self-defense in the face of” terrorism, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Some Jewish leaders say those accusations are inaccurate, or distort the true picture through an artificial even- handedness.
For example, where the report accuses Israel of targeting ambulances, it mentions Israel’s “explanation” — though the Israeli contention that Palestinians were using ambulances to transport weapons and fighters is incontrovertibly documented.
Some fear that the report will provide fodder for future attacks on Israel.
The report gives “further life” to the inaccurate accusations against Israel, said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Students of the Middle East will now be able to refer to a U.N. document on the subject which is full of unsubstantiated reports and innuendos.”
“This is not a study. They weren’t able to do an investigative job,” Foxman said. “All they did is compile views” that are biased.
The report comes after Israel rebuffed a Security Council decision to send a fact-finding mission to Jenin in April.
Israel initially accepted the mission but later refused to cooperate after Annan expanded the team’s mandate and ignored Israeli concerns about its composition.
Annan ultimately disbanded the mission, opting instead to assemble his own report on the Jenin battle, in line with a General Assembly resolution.
Despite the inability to visit the scene of the battle, Annan said he was “confident that the picture painted in this report is a fair representation of a complex reality.”
“While some of the facts may be in dispute, I think it is clear that the Palestinian population have suffered and are suffering the humanitarian consequences, which is very severe,” he told reporters Thursday.
Zuckerman would not comment on why the Conference of Presidents had relied on anonymous accounts in its submission. But he said the United Nation’s objection to the anonymous reports demonstrated the “prejudice” with which it views Israel’s case.
Given the harsh anti-Israel climate at the United Nations, Zuckerman was skeptical that Thursday’s report marks the end of international scrutiny of Israel’s actions in Jenin.
In any case, he said, “the Jenin case may be behind us, but the attitude of the United Nations is not.”