Date: Mon, 15 Apr 2002 11:09:18 -0700 (PDT) |
i'm not surprised to see history repeat itself. but i am surprised to see the victims of a holocaust later commit one. and once again, the u.s. is letting it happen.
THE MIDDLE EAST
'They Forced Me to Hate'
April 15 2002
JENIN, West Bank -- Lukea Tomei could only watch through a peephole as one neighbor was shot, his arms in the air. She cried out when she saw an elderly woman blasted by a sniper.
But she could stay still no longer when she saw a little girl wandering through a mine-filled street.
"The soldiers told me not to go out, but I didn't listen to them," said Tomei, a Palestinian nurse who rushed outside to snatch the girl to safety. "I could not sit by any longer." Nearly two weeks after the Israeli army launched the bloodiest battle in the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East War, there is growing testimony that its victory at the Jenin refugee camp was marred by human rights violations.
Israeli soldiers shot unarmed civilians, bulldozed people alive and blocked access to medical care, according to more than a dozen witnesses who spoke Sunday in a temporary shelter just outside the smoldering camp.
Their 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.
Israeli forces escorted a group of reporters into the blasted camp Sunday for the first time since the start of the offensive. The body of one bearded Palestinian gunman lay in the street, covered with flies. Homes and other buildings were flattened. Israeli soldiers said they had found booby traps throughout the camp.
Israeli officers said they had almost achieved their objective of ridding the camp of militants, noting that half the suicide bombers who have killed scores of Israelis during the last 18 months came from the Jenin camp, which was established in 1953.
But late in the day, after the group of reporters had left this city, fighting flared anew. Explosions that locals said were charges designed to blow down doors could be heard. Machine-gun fire rattled, and tank fire boomed. Black smoke billowed from one side of the camp, once home to 13,000 refugees.
A local man, speaking by telephone, said that few people remained in the camp, which lacked water and telephone service, though power was restored late Sunday.
"We are in despair," said the man, who identified himself as Waleed Zagha, a father of three. "We can smell the rotting bodies."
The Israeli officials put the number of dead at 23 Israeli soldiers and about 70 Palestinians, though they said more bodies might be found under 25-foot-high piles of rubble. Palestinians have insisted that between 300 and 500 people were killed in almost two weeks of fighting.
The final toll may remain controversial. On Sunday, Israel's Supreme Court denied a bid by Israeli Arab politicians and human rights groups to block the burial of bodies by the army. It said the army was entitled to bury the dead if Palestinian authorities failed to do so, although it recommended that the International Committee of the Red Cross be involved.
Military officials denied that any massacres or human rights violations had taken place.
"Most of the houses we approached on entering the camp were empty [of civilians]. The camp was ready for war," Lt. Yoni Wolff, commander of a platoon involved in the battle, told reporters. "We saw very few civilians. Some old ladies and children were made to hold a gun in front of terrorists to make it hard for us to fight back."
Many of those who fled the camp in the last few days have wound up at the headquarters of the local Muslim charity and school, where about 2,000 people were packed into two buildings without running water.
There, as tanks rumbled through the city's deserted and devastated streets, more than a dozen witnesses independently described a pattern of attacks against civilian targets that began April 3, the first day of the Israeli assault, and continued until Saturday, when the camp was nearly vacated.
Many of those interviewed said they had seen Israeli soldiers shoot at unarmed civilians or bulldoze occupied houses. Others said Israeli soldiers had prevented wounded people from seeking medical treatment.
Still others said Israeli soldiers had detained them and threatened them with death before releasing them.
On the first night of the invasion, Tomei ran from a United Nations clinic in the camp to seek shelter in the nearby home of a cousin. Later, as she watched through a peephole, she saw a man walk into the street, holding his stomach, she said.
"He had no guns. He said: 'I want a doctor. I want to go to the hospital,' " Tomei said. "They shot him."
Tomei and a second witness, Baha Awad, 20, a worker for the Palestinian ambulance service, also described an incident in the early days of the invasion when Israeli soldiers ordered a family out of a house with loudspeakers, then proceeded to bulldoze it.
The family ran out, screaming that they had been forced to leave behind their mentally handicapped son. Army officials denied that they had buried civilians alive.
"We never bulldozed houses if we knew civilians were inside, only when firing persisted despite our repeated calls for surrender," Wolff told reporters.
The battle grew heated in the center of the camp, in two neighborhoods known as Al Damaj and Al Hawashin.
There, Israeli and Palestinian sources said, about 200 Palestinian fighters holed up in various homes, vowing to fight to the end. At least 13 Israeli soldiers were killed by an explosion in the area Tuesday. That represented the Israel Defense Forces' heaviest loss in a single incident since 1997.
Gasan Haija, 22, who identified himself as a Palestinian fighter, said the Palestinians managed to get into positions all around the Israelis in the two neighborhoods, which are filled with winding alleys only a few feet wide.
Haija, who said he was throwing pipe bombs from a home, was shot by a sniper. On Sunday, he lay in a bed in the temporary shelter, a metal bolt protruding from his shattered leg and a bullet wound in his side.
"They got stuck in the middle of the camp. That was where they ran into trouble," he said.
In the confusing days at the beginning of the battle, camp residents said, the Israelis brought in helicopter gunships to provide cover for bulldozers to knock down buildings and clear out the warren of alleyways in the camp's center.
Kamel Ali, 48, said his son and a friend, both 20, were fleeing from one home to another April 5 when a rocket struck, killing both young men. Ali said neither was armed.
A few days later, on April 8, Ali and four other men were rounded up by Israeli soldiers, taken outside and made to strip. One man who said he spoke Hebrew said he heard the soldiers discussing whether to execute the men in a store or beside a car. The men, frightened, wrote their names on a nearby wall as a memorial to their killings.
Then, after three hours, the Israelis handed the men white T-shirts and told them to leave the camp.
"Such acts only solidify hatred in our children, when they see such humiliating things," said one of the men, Mohammed Hamed, 52.
Not far away that same day at the camp clinic, said Awad, the emergency worker, Israeli soldiers entered the facility, hit and slapped several people, including himself, and told them to leave.
"They said: 'You'll take out explosives in your ambulances. You're just treating terrorists,' " Awad said.
Tomei, meanwhile, remained locked in her cousin's house, terrified of leaving. One day, she said, an elderly woman who was staying with the family went to the bathroom to wash herself for prayers.
As she came out, a soldier in an apartment across the street heard the noise of the door opening and fired several shots through it, killing the old woman.
But the final straw for her, Tomei said, came when she looked out the window and saw the little girl, who seemed as if she had only just learned to walk, tottering alone through the streets.
Tomei rushed out and scooped her up despite soldiers' protests. Family friends now have the child, but Tomei said several people have told her that the girl's parents were killed during the invasion.
"I believe in peace and harmony. I have never hated the Jews," Tomei said. "But now, they have forced me to hate them."
last updated: 04.15.2002