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As Annan Prepares Jenin Report, Jewish Groups Step Up for Israel

June 5, 2002
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As the head of the United Nations readies a report on Israel’s recent military operation in the Jenin refugee camp, American Jewish organizations are weighing in with a 150-page document in Israel’s defense.

Acting to fulfill a U.N. General Assembly resolution, Secretary-General Kofi Annan is slated to report to the assembly in about four weeks.

Israel is expected to refuse to participate in Annan’s inquiry, but the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has prepared a document that it says shows Israel’s army operated properly in the camp.

In a cover letter to Annan, the Conference of Presidents wrote, “While we believe that the General Assembly resolution calling for the report on what transpired in Jenin is fundamentally wrong and ill-founded, we felt it important that information that has come to our attention from published and other accounts be made available for your consideration.”

The document contains eyewitness accounts by Israeli soldiers at Jenin and news articles debunking the massacre myth.

Israel has insisted its house-to-house raid in Jenin was a fierce but cautious battle in response to numerous terrorist attacks launched from the refugee camp.

The April invasion prompted charges of Israeli human rights abuses and calls for a U.N. fact-finding mission into allegations of a massacre — a calim now widely discredited as Palestinian propaganda.

Israel agreed to the fact-finding mission but then backtracked, fearing the mission was becoming a kangaroo court conducted by a biased team.

The Arab bloc has led a number of efforts at the United Nations to indict Israel for alleged misconduct in Jenin. Annan’s impending report stems from the latest such effort.

After Israel refused to cooperate with the fact-finding mission in April, Annan disbanded his team.

The Security Council then deliberated over Israel’s recalcitrance, but the threat of an American veto prevented the council from agreeing on any action.

The matter then moved to the General Assembly, where resolutions are only symbolic and no country has veto power, making it a frequent target for condemnation of Israel.

The body passed a resolution expressing concern over the “grave breaches of international humanitarian law committed in the Jenin refugee camp” by the “Israeli occupying forces,” condemning “the refusal by Israel, the occupying power, to cooperate with the Secretary-General’s fact-finding team,” and asking Annan to present a report on the issue by “drawing upon the available resources and information.”

That resolution passed 74-4 with 54 abstentions on May 7. With the vote coming just hours after a Palestinian bomber killed 15 Israelis and wounded more than 60 in Rishon le-Zion, many countries that normally vote against Israel abstained.

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for Annan, refused to say how much evidence had been collected or by whom, but said the report will be “sourced.”

Israel will likely abstain from submitting its conclusions for the report as a matter of principle, and Israeli officials predict the report will be biased.

“Why would we cooperate with something we voted against?” one Israeli official asked. Still, Israel salutes the Conference of Presidents’ attempt to “pull the mask off the face of the Palestinians,” the official said.

The Conference of Presidents, an umbrella organization for 54 American Jewish groups, asked member organizations to collect evidence for submission.

One Israeli fighter wrote: “During the week of the incursion into Jenin, the area was a closed military zone. However, contrary to what was reported, humanitarian aid was allowed in, and I myself personally checked many of the hundreds of trucks that were allowed in to deliver supplies to the Palestinians. This was carefully coordinated with the army to ensure that innocent civilians would receive the supplies and to minimize the risks of those entering the areas.”

The closure of the area to the media fueled rumors of a massacre, but the soldier wrote that the area was barred because it had been “booby trapped by the terrorists, and minefields awaited those that entered.”

“Soldiers inside the refugee camp told me of not being able to move five meters at a time without having to diffuse another pipe bomb or mine,” he continued. “Many of the houses destroyed were done so by bombs planted by the very residents of the camp. Some of the dead bodies were also booby trapped with grenades and mines awaiting Israeli soldiers.”

An Israeli peace activist wrote that the city of Jenin, just 100 yards from the camp, remained unscathed.

“The army reservists with whom I entered the area told me that the reason that there was no devastation was simply because no one shot at or attacked the Israeli reservists from these buildings and, therefore, there was no reason to shoot back,” the activist said.

The document details the extent to which the refugee camp had become what one Israeli official called a “fortress of terror,” where terrorists used women and children as decoys to draw Israeli soldiers into ambushes. It also details media bias and the Israeli army’s honorable treatment of Palestinian civilians.

Some Conference of Presidents members objected to the process by which the report was produced. One organizational leader said he hadn’t known about the project at all.

“I don’t know who prepared it, who decided what is in and what is out,” he said.

Furthermore, a “compilation of articles and e-mails” is not a serious response by the Jewish community on this grave issue, he said.

“I don’t think we need to give the secretary-general articles from The Wall Street Journal.”

But Neil Goldstein, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said a member would “have to be blind” to be unaware of the effort, which was publicized by both fax and e-mail.

It was “perfectly appropriate for” the conference “to serve as collector of the information,” Goldstein said.

While conference members were concerned about the “potentially prejudicial investigation of the Jenin refugee camp,” the report “could have been done more consultatively,” said Mark Rosenblum, founder and policy director of Americans for Peace Now.

It “would make sense for organizations that are a part of the conference to have a chance to see the report” and pose questions before it was submitted, he said.

“That would have been a credible and efficient way for an umbrella group to operate,” Rosenblum said.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the conference’s executive vice chairman, said the report, compiled in 48 hours, “served the purpose for which it was intended.”

“It had to be first-hand accounts” because that’s what officials requested, he said.

Israeli, American and U.N. officials have reacted “extremely positively” to the report, urging that it be distributed widely, he said.

The Conference of Presidents is condensing the document for members of the General Assembly, the U.S. Congress, the media and the general public.

The Anti-Defamation League released a separate analysis on Jenin entitled, “Anatomy of Anti-Israel Incitement: Jenin, World Opinion, and the Massacre that Wasn’t.”

That document is not meant for consideration in Annan’s report.

“Our report basically is to track how this story grew, and it’s a case in point how one can set forth a big lie and how that big lie can grow to the point that it becomes fact based on nothing but innuendo and rumor,” said the national director of the ADL, Abraham Foxman.

The ADL report criticizes the press for promulgating rumors in the rush to produce “scoops and splashy headlines.”

The American media is ill-informed, the report says, and the international media badly skewed by ideology.

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