Last updated on: 5/14/2008 5:36:00 PM PST

Did a Massacre Take Place in the Jenin Refugee Camp?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The following excerpt (paragraphs 48-61) of the United Nations (UN) "Report of the Secretary-General Prepared Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution ES-10/10 (Report on Jenin)," was released on Aug. 1, 2002:

"Israeli Defence Force incursion into Jenin city and refugee camp, 3-18 April 2002

Although available first-hand accounts are partial, difficult to authenticate and often anonymous, it is possible, through Government of Israel, Palestinian Authority, United Nations and other international sources, to create a rough chronology of events within the Jenin camp from 3 to 18 April 2002. The fighting lasted approximately 10 days and was characterized by two distinct phases: the first phase began on 3 April and ended on 9 April, while the second phase lasted during 10 and 11 April. Most of the deaths on both sides occurred in the first phase but it would appear that much of the physical damage was done in the second.

There are allegations by the Palestinian Authority and human rights organizations that in the conduct of their operations in the refugee camp the Israeli Defence Forces engaged in unlawful killings, the use of human shields, disproportionate use of force, arbitrary arrests and torture and denial of medical treatment and access. IDF soldiers who participated in the Jenin incursion point to breaches of international humanitarian law on the part of Palestinian combatants within the camp, including basing themselves in a densely populated civilian area and the use of children to transport and possibly lay booby traps.

In the account of the Government of Israel of the operation, IDF first surrounded and established control of access into and out of the city of Jenin, allowing its inhabitants to depart voluntarily. Approximately 11,000 did so. According to Israeli sources, in their incursion into the camp IDF relied primarily on infantry rather than airpower and artillery in an effort to minimize civilian casualties, but other accounts of the battle suggest that as many as 60 tanks may have been used even in the first days. Interviews with witnesses conducted by human rights organizations suggest that tanks, helicopters and ground troops using small arms predominated in the first two days, after which armoured bulldozers were used to demolish houses and other structures so as to widen alleys in the camp.

Using loudspeakers, IDF urged civilians in Arabic to evacuate the camp. Some reports, including interviews with IDF soldiers, suggest that those warnings were not adequate and were ignored by many residents. Many of the inhabitants of the Jenin camp fled the camp before or at the beginning of the IDF incursion. Others left after 9 April. Estimates vary on how many civilians remained in the camp throughout but there may have been as many as 4,000.

As described by the Government of Israel, 'a heavy battle took place in Jenin, during which IDF soldiers were forced to fight among booby-trapped houses and bomb fields throughout the camp, which were prepared in advance as a booby-trapped battlefield'. The Palestinian Authority acknowledges that 'a number of Palestinian fighters resisted the Israeli military assault and were armed only with rifles and … crude explosives'. An IDF spokesman offered a slightly different portrayal of the resistance, stating that the soldiers had faced 'more than a thousand explosive charges, live explosive charges and some more sophisticated ones, … hundreds of hand grenades … [and] hundreds of gunmen'. Human rights reports support the assertions that some buildings had been booby-trapped by the Palestinian combatants.

That the Israeli Defence Forces encountered heavy Palestinian resistance is not in question. Nor is the fact 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. Clarity and certainty remain elusive, however, on the policy and facts of the IDF response to that resistance. The Government of Israel maintains that IDF 'clearly took all possible measures not to hurt civilian life' but were confronted with 'armed terrorists who purposely concealed themselves among the civilian population'. However, some human rights groups and Palestinian eyewitnesses assert that IDF soldiers did not take all possible measures to avoid hurting civilians, and even used some as human shields.

As IDF penetrated the camp, the Palestinian militants reportedly moved further into its centre. The heaviest fighting reportedly occurred between 5 and 9 April, resulting in the largest death tolls on both sides. There are reports that during this period IDF increased missile strikes from helicopters and the use of bulldozers - including their use to demolish homes and allegedly bury beneath them those who refused to surrender - and engaged in 'indiscriminate' firing. IDF lost 14 soldiers, 13 in a single engagement on 9 April. IDF incurred no further fatalities in Jenin after 9 April.

Press reports from the days in question and subsequent interviews by representatives of non-governmental organizations with camp residents suggest that an average of five Palestinians per day died in the first three days of the incursion and that there was a sharp increase in deaths on 6 April.

Fifty-two Palestinian deaths had been confirmed by the hospital in Jenin by the end of May 2002. IDF also place the death toll at approximately 52. A senior Palestinian Authority official alleged in mid-April that some 500 were killed, a figure that has not been substantiated in the light of the evidence that has emerged.

It is impossible to determine with precision how many civilians were among the Palestinian dead. The Government of Israel estimated during the incursion that there were 'only dozens killed in Jenin … and the vast majority of them bore arms and fired upon [IDF] forces'. Israeli officials informed United Nations personnel that they believed that, of the 52 dead, 38 were armed men and 14 were civilians. The Palestinian Authority has acknowledged that combatants were among the dead, and has named some of them, but has placed no precise estimates on the breakdown. Human rights organizations put the civilian toll closer to 20 - Human Rights Watch documented 22 civilians among the 52 dead, while Physicians for Human Rights noted that 'children under the age of 15 years, women and men over the age of 50 years accounted for nearly 38 per cent of all reported fatalities'.

The Israeli Defence Forces stated at the time that their methods might not change, 'because the basic assumption is that we are operating in a civilian neighbourhood'. Other accounts of the battle suggest that the nature of the military operation in Jenin refugee camp did alter after 9 April 2002. On that day, in what both the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel describe as a 'well-planned ambush' 13 IDF soldiers were killed and a number of others wounded. A fourteenth soldier died elsewhere in the camp that day, bringing the IDF death toll during the operation in Jenin to 23.

Following the ambush, IDF appeared to have shifted tactics from house-to-house searches and destruction of the homes of known militants to wider bombardment with tanks and missiles. IDF also used armoured bulldozers, supported by tanks, to demolish portions of the camp. The Government of Israel maintains that 'IDF forces only destroyed structures after calling a number of times for inhabitants to leave buildings, and from which the shooting did not cease'. Witness testimonies and human rights investigations allege that the destruction was both disproportionate and indiscriminate, some houses coming under attack from the bulldozers before their inhabitants had the opportunity to evacuate. The Palestinian Authority maintains that IDF 'had complete and detailed knowledge of what was happening in the camp through the use of drones and cameras attached to balloons … [and] none of the atrocities committed were unintentional'.

Human rights and humanitarian organizations have questioned whether this change in tactics was proportionate to the military objective and in accordance with humanitarian and human rights law. The Palestinian Authority account of the battle alleges the use of 'helicopter gunships to fire TOW missiles against such a densely populated area … anti-aircraft guns, able to fire 3,000 rounds a minute … scores of tanks and armoured vehicles equipped with machine guns … [and] bulldozers to raze homes and to burrow wide lanes'. Other sources point to an extensive use of armoured bulldozers and helicopter gunships on 9 and 10 April, possibly even after the fighting had begun to subside. During this stage, much of the physical damage was done, particularly in the central Hawashin district of the camp, which was effectively levelled. Many civilian dwellings were completely destroyed and many more were severely damaged. Several UNRWA facilities in the camp, including its health centre and sanitation office, were badly damaged.

Within two days after 9 April, IDF brought the camp under control and defeated the remaining armed elements. On 11 April, the last Palestinian militants in Jenin camp surrendered to IDF, having requested mediation by B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that operates in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, to ensure that no harm would come to them. According to Palestinian Authority sources, those surrendering included wanted Islamic Jihad and Fatah leaders; others were three injured people and a 13-year-old boy."

Aug. 1, 2002 - United Nations (UN) 

PRO (yes)

Arabic, in a Apr. 11, 2002 article titled "Massacres of Unarmed Palestinians in Jenin; Suicide Operation Kills 10 Israeli Soldiers," reported the following:

"As the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon stressed he will not pull out his forces from the Palestinian territories and that he had informed the U.S. President George Bush about that, the cities of the West Bank had witnessed more crimes and ugly terrorist operations by the Israeli occupation army with the Jenin Camp witnessing a mass massacre committed by the Israeli forces."

Apr. 11, 2002 - Arabic 

In a Apr. 17, 2002 article titled "Arabs seize 'Jenin' as rallying cry", The Christian Science Monitor reported the following about the Arab street:

"In the 'Arab street' Jenin is already viewed, almost across the board, as a 'massacre' of several hundred people. Ahmed Sami, a Cairo University student who sports a money belt bearing a McDonald's logo, says he has no doubts about what 'really happened' in Jenin. 'The Israelis killed large groups of Palestinians and buried them all together,' he says.

A sense of biting cynicism dominates what many Arabs say they believe happened in Jenin. 'The Israeli army killed between 3,000 and 4,000 Arabs,' says Mohammed Khalil, a 33-year-old accountant."

Apr. 17, 2002 - Christian Science Monitor 

Ramzy Baroud, MA, Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine Chronicle, in a Jan. 21, 2003 CounterPunch commentary titled "Searching the Ruins for Truth," wrote:

"An atrocity was carried out, an atrocity whose disturbing details unfolded in following months, and again, cover-up attempts persisted. But concealing the atrocities in Jenin was much more complicated than the Beirut massacre. The UN commission that set out to investigate the incidents was blocked by Israel, who accused the mission of being anti-Semitic.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan caved in, issuing a lame report based on press releases and reports mainly generated by Israeli lobby groups in the US. The US's pressure intensified in an attempt to bale out their Middle East ally, which proved successful. Annan ruled that both Israelis and Palestinians were responsible for the killings. His report disregarded the legitimate war crimes accusations issued by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch."

Jan. 21, 2003 - Ramzy Baroud, MA 

CON (no)

Joseph Biden, Jr., JD, US Senator (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a May 6, 2004 statement posted by Global Beat Syndicate titled "Truth vs. Double Standards in Jenin," stated:

"For the past few weeks we’ve been hearing sensationalist claims of a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank. But in recent days hundreds of reporters have descended on the camp, and not one has verified these claims. In fact, just days ago a senior official in Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement in Jenin was quoted as saying the death toll stands at 56. Most of them were armed fighters.

The death of even one innocent civilian is one too many, and there’s still considerable excavation work to do in the camp. But we should acknowledge that the public relations campaign mounted to convince the world of a massacre in Jenin was a politically motivated lie."

May 6, 2004 - Joseph Biden, Jr., JD 

Colin Powell, MBA, former US Secretary of State, as quoted in the Jerusalem Post on Apr. 25, 2002:

"I have no evidence of mass graves. I see no evidence that would support a massacre took place."

Arp. 25, 2002 - Colin Powell, MBA 

Human Rights Watch, in its May 2002 summary of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) operations in Jenin, reported the following:

"Human Rights Watch found no evidence to sustain claims of massacres or large-scale extrajudicial executions by the IDF in Jenin refugee camp. However, many of the civilian deaths documented by Human Rights Watch amounted to unlawful or willful killings by the IDF. Many others could have been avoided if the IDF had taken proper precautions to protect civilian life during its military operation, as required by international humanitarian law."

May 2002 - Human Rights Watch (HRW)