Phil Reeves


Survivors of Jenin creep home to see destruction

The Independent, 15 April 2002

By Phil Reeves, outside Jenin refugee camp


The Independent, 15 April 2002.
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Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten.

The old woman did not dare to look out of her window to see the destruction being committed within a few feet of her rose garden, but she could hear it clearly enough.

A giant Israeli military bulldozer, mounted with a machine-gun, was crashing through her neighbour’s house, reducing it to dust, close to the edge of the killing fields of Jenin refugee camp.

We had arrived in time to see 65-year-old Rashida Raji Ahmed’s trauma as she examined what was left of her house after an 11-day invasion by the Israeli army into Jenin, which has left hundreds dead and injured.

The Palestinians and international humanitarian organisations were still trying yesterday to establish how many people had been killed; how many were still lying wounded, and how many were buried beneath the rubble. Rashida wanted to see her home. She had crept back, for the first time in days.

She was crying uncontrollably when we arrived at her door. The upper floor of her home had been destroyed by a rocket, and chewed up by machine-gun bullets, like many other homes in the area. The house had then been taken over by the armed forces as a sniper’s nest.

Her misery was one small part of the misery of Jenin that continued yesterday. Israel again barred Red Cross and United Nations ambulances and aid lorries from entering the camp, as it continued systematically to cover up the atrocities under the nose of Colin Powell, the visiting US Secretary of State.

And the stories of the death and destruction inside the camp of 15,000 also continued. Palestinians, ecstatic at the arrival into the no-go area of foreign journalists to whom they could tell their stories, described how camp residents had leapt from window to window to escape the advancing bulldozers; how some, equipped with mobile phones, had survived beneath the rubble; how some people had been cut in half by tanks.

The reports were, of course, impossible to verify, and will be denied by the Israeli army, which says that no atrocities have occurred, and that the dead were “terrorists” killed in fighting. But the horror stories keep on coming, rising steadily from the camp, like the fine haze of dust that hung over its ruins yesterday as the bulldozers continued their work.

One week ago, nine Palestinian policemen had been bound hand and foot, stripped to their underpants, and executed against a wall, said Mai Ziyad, a 21-year-old student. The relatives, who had been forced to watch, had come to her house deeply distraught. She could remember several names, the Abu Jamda and Abu Hjab families had both lost men. “The wives and children of those who were killed were here. They told us all about it,” she said, as we hid in a courtyard with an Israeli Merkava tank passing close by.

“They say that only a few hundred people were killed in there, but we think it was far more. The noise was enormous. The soldiers were all around us.”

According to the Jenin municipality authorities, two-thirds of the homes have either been flattened or rendered uninhabitable. Adanan al-Sabah, their spokesman, said there were about 5,000 people still inside the camp, surrounded by tanks and snipers. “Many are still under the houses. We have seen a few bodies, one burnt inside a house, some buried in rubble, and one lying on the floor with his hands tied. But we still do not know how many were killed.

“One woman cradled her dead son in her arms all night. Their children kept on coming up to their father and trying to wake him up, asking for food and milk.” His version of the execution story differed slightly: seven had been executed.

Residents around the edge of the camp say their water supplies were running out. In al-Razi Hospital, Dr Mahmoud Abu Eslieh said the staff had taken about 15 calls from worried mothers saying that they had been feeding their babies powdered milk mixed with sewage water.

Inside his hospital, Ali Abu Sariah, 42, who said he was a teacher, was lying in bed with a bullet in his left leg.

He said the Israeli forces used him as a human shield to go house-to-house through the camp, ahead of an Israeli patrol. They ran into another patrol, which shot him in the leg, he said. “They left me on the ground, bleeding.”

He said that he had spent five days in houses, still injured, before he was carried to the hospital on a ladder. “Half of the camp has been flattened. I am not talking about bullets and rockets. It is totally destroyed and they have driven a highway through it. Alleyways that were three metres wide are now 20 metres wide.”

We pressed him for more, warning of the importance of not exaggerating but getting it right. He did not waver for a second. “The bodies will tell you if we are lying or not,” he said quietly.


Last updated on 17.4.2002