After two weeks of screaming headlines that proclaimed “Massacre in Jenin!”, the news story from Jenin is slowly emerging. This follows the decision of the IDF to allow representatives of the Israeli and foreign press to enter Jenin on Sunday April 14th, for the first time since the fierce battle between the IDF and terrorist cells in Jenin began.
Among the first reporters allowed into Jenin were Serge Schmemann and Joel Greenberg from The New York Times, who reported: “With rumors swirling of massacres and mass burials in the UNRWA refugee camp in Jenin, the Israeli Army estimated that the number of Palestinian dead was not in the hundreds but in the dozens, and it agreed to allow the Red Cross to monitor the collecting of 26 bodies that the army said were still lying about… What today’s visit to the camp showed was more destruction than death, since deaths that can be verified right away.”
In a press briefing last week, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said: “There wasn’t a house that wasn’t booby-trapped and there was no way to neutralize the danger without demolishing the structure.
“We also encountered booby-trapped men, Palestinians who raised their hands to surrender while wearing explosive vests, in an attempt to detonate themselves among our soldiers. It was a very bitter combat. We lost 23 soldiers, which indicates that this was a difficult operation, in which the Palestinians did their maximum to inflict as many casualties as they could.”
“The Israel Defense forces received clear instructions to avoid harming civilians, and that is exactly what they did,” Peres stated.
Yet the fact that for almost two weeks no reporter – Israeli or foreign -was allowed into the refuge camp to give a first hand account of what was really going on only served to fuel the tales of horror, which spread like wildfire. According to Israeli officials, the reason for the refusal to allow the media into Jenin until the fighting ended was fear for their safety since booby trapped explosives were scattered everywhere.
Col. Gal Hirsh, Head of Operations in the IDF Central Command, explained that Jenin was a maintained as a closed military zone even after the the fighting was over. “We are trying to find all these bodies and trying to remove the booby traps from them”, he said. “It is very complicated, very dangerous, and we are doing our best in order not to cause much more damage after the fighting. We are trying to take all the explosives, all the hand grenades, all the booby traps from the bodies and the houses where there are bodies.”
The PLO’s WAFA press service took advantage of Israel’s refusal to allow the media in to Jenin, declaring that the number of killed Palestinians was 500; they said that bodies were piling up in the streets and spread the word that Israel was refusing to bury them.
Organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International took the PLO at its word and joined the chorus of groups that alleged that Israel had conducted some kind of mass execution – without verifying facts from any objective source. The allegation of “massacre” was reported as FACT by the foreign media.
For two weeks, media outlets throughout the world devoted huge amounts of ink to unverified tales of conspiracies, rapes, executions, mass murders, and mutilations. The credibility of Palestinian “eyewitness testimony” was barely questioned -despite the PLO track record of fabricating claims. In Lebanon, back in June 1982, the Red Crescent made the fallacious claim that the IDF had killed 10,000 people and made 600,000 homeless. Apparently the media has forgotten this, as well as the fact that the Red Crescent – which continues to be the source of most of the allegations of IDF “war crimes”- is directed by Dr. Fatchi Arafat, the brother of the PLO leader.
Tens of European media outlets and Arab foreign ministries described the fighting in Jenin in terms of “genocide,” “unprecedented humanitarian disaster,” “Sabra and Shatilla #2,” “a campaign of revenge and murder,” and “Nazi ethnical cleansing.”
European media focused on the physical damage to buildings due to Israeli tanks moving through the camp, and failed to mention the fact that many of the buildings and streets were rigged with explosives which were set off by the many terrorist cells operating in the refuge camp.
Since the media moralizes about the ethics of the IDF operating in a heavily populated UNRWA refugee camp, why do they not question the morality of armed members of the PLO, who are wanted by the IDF, using residential dwellings in the camp as places of refuge in the first place? No reporter even raises the issue of whether it is appropriate for a United Nations organization to allow armed personnel to use their facilities. When we called UNRWA, their public affairs spokesman acknowledged that the PLO’s army is indeed based in the UNRWA refugee camps, something which he had little problem with.
The British Press in particular printed unsubstantiated and unverified reports of what took place in Jenin. The British newspaper, The Independent, called what was happening in Jenin, “the Jenin Slaughter House”. The Independent, The Telegraph, and The Times of London all quoted the same lone individual, 28-year-old Kamal Anis, who said that “he saw the Israeli soldiers pile 30 bodies beneath a half-wrecked house. When the pile was complete, they bulldozed the building, bringing its ruins down on the corpses. Then they flattened the area with a tank.” (The Independent)
By contrast, the American press was generally more balanced in reporting from Jenin, though there were some reports like the one from James Bennet, writing for The New York Times, who reported: “Palestinians here describe bodies cut in pieces, bodies scooped up by bulldozers and buried in mass graves, bodies deliberately concealed under collapsed buildings. They describe people drinking out of sewers and people used by Israeli soldiers as human shields.” Although Bennet did say that these were Palestinian sources, his reporting did very little to challenge the tendentiousness and questionable nature of such “eyewitness” testimony.
In contrast, T. Christian Miller of the LA Times writes that Palestinian “accounts, which could not be independently confirmed, painted a picture of a vicious house-to-house battle in which Israeli soldiers faced Palestinian gunmen intermixed with the camp’s civilian population.”
And Washington Post correspondent Molly Moore wrote: “Interviews with residents inside the camp and international aid workers who were allowed here for the first time today indicated that no evidence has yet surfaced to support allegations by Palestinian groups and aid organizations of large-scale massacres or executions by Israeli troops.”
Yet Israel’s comments on what was actually happening at the UNWRA Jenin refuge camp were for the most part ignored by world media.
In a press briefing on April 12th, 2002, Mr. Danny Ayalon, the foreign policy advisor to the Israeli prime minister, dismissed Palestinian reports of putting Palestinian dead bodies into mass graves as part of the Palestinian propaganda and advised the press to again check Palestinian credibility. “Most of the people who were killed in the Jenin camp,” said Ayalon, “are Palestinian terrorists and Palestinian gunmen, including major terrorists on Israel’s wanted list who are directly responsible for the murders of many Israelis.”
A statement from Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said: “Alongside the defense activities, we have to undertake an explanatory effort regarding Jenin to stop the flow of rumors. We check the figures well, and the number of those killed in Jenin stands at dozens and not hundreds, and the great majority of them were armed men who shot at our forces. We did not bury a single body, certainly not in a mass grave.”
In a briefing held on April 12,th 2002, Col. Gal Hirsh- Head of Operations in the Central Command said: “When you think of the term refugee camp, you think of poor and helpless people. This is not the case! Jenin Refugee Camp was a strong combat zone. Do not think of Jenin Refugee Camp as the model of a refugee camp but as a real military and terrorist infrastructure. These people decided to fight, and we had to fight back.
“I’ve heard the rumors of 500-600 Palestinians dead. These are lies. We had no choice but to destroy the terrorist infrastructure- everyday there were terrorist acts dispatched from Jenin Refugee Camp. The operation in Jenin cost us the lives of 23 soldiers and many were injured. I regret that some Palestinian civilians were injured and some were killed. We were fighting against armed terrorists. We asked the Palestinian civilians to evacuate their homes so they would not get hurt, some chose not to. Most of the Palestinians that were killed were armed terrorists; many had explosive devices strapped to their bodies. We found a lot of evidence of terrorist activity, for example, labs for explosive devices. We are talking about an organized terrorist infrastructure throughout Judea and Samaria.”
The first eyewitnesses from outside of the Jenin refuge camp were able to see for themselves the destruction and devastation that came from the fierce fighting that took place in the camp and the grim results of the terrorists’ booby trapping their own houses, bodies, cars, and streets with vast amounts of explosives which reduced the refuge camp into rubble.
No mass graves were uncovered; the number of Palestinians killed in the battle has been reduced by all the media to dozens as opposed to the reported hundreds.
So there you have it. The media was forced to cope with the fact that an alleged massacre was turned into a few dozen casualties. Some reporters just could not bring themselves to “adjust” their story to the facts on the ground.
Better luck next “massacre.”