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After massive destruction by Israel, U.S. maneuvers to cover up Jenin massacre

By Sara Flounders, Workers World,
20 June 2002

President George W. Bush has been busy, meeting with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt on June 8 and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on June 10. A whole new round of phony diplomacy is underway. At the same time, Israeli troops, tanks and helicopter gunships are again occupying Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin and every Palestinian city on the West Bank.

Anyone calling on Washington to broker a deal or help negotiate a cease-fire or an agreement should first consider the fate of a simple, U.S.-sponsored United Nations resolution on Jenin.

Just two months ago the U.S. wrote and proposed a resolution in the Security Council calling for a fact-finding report on the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian refugee camp named Jenin. It passed unanimously on April 19.

It was the mildest possible wording, introduced to obstruct a much stronger resolution put forward by the Arab members of the Security Council.

The tougher resolution called for sending a multinational force to defend the Palestinians from the Israeli onslaught in the occupied West Bank. And it proposed organizing an inquiry into Israeli occupation crimes.

Pressure on the UN to act was especially strong because Israeli forces were shelling refugee camps that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency had administered for 54 years. UNRWA, a UN agency, was issuing almost daily press releases describing the horror in the refugee camps as its schools and health clinics were destroyed and its ambulances and food trucks were fired on and turned away from West Bank camps. Even members of its staff were rounded up.

By April 7, UNRWA Commissioner General Peter Hansen said the Israeli Defense Forces had made the Jenin and Balata refugee camps a hellish battleground ... we are getting reports of pure horror-helicopters are strafing civilian residential areas, systematic shelling by tanks has wounded hundreds, bulldozers are razing refugee homes ... food and medicine are running out, ambulances don't have passage ... a humanitarian disaster is in the making.

By April 10, UNRWA described catastrophic conditions in Jenin. Its April 16 report to the UN used the term monumental destruction.

It is important to recall that the most damning reports came not only from Palestinians but from the UN's own agencies.

And, by Israel's own admission, thousands of Palestinian men had been rounded up.

Major media coverage about the overwhelming destruction and scale of the onslaught in the West Bank described reports of an Israeli massacre in Jenin.

An international outcry rose up against the brutal invasion, targeting of civilians and calculated destruction of the entire infrastructure. In April, millions of angry people in militant demonstrations worldwide denounced Israel and, increasingly, the U.S. role in financing and equipping the settler military machine.

Even watered-down resolution dies

The U.S. government financially, militarily, politically and diplomatically supports Israel and its continuing attacks on the Palestinian people. That's because Israel is considered the best defense of U.S. corporate interests in the region.

But Washington did not want to be in the position of publicly vetoing an Arab resolution in the UN Security Council at a time of international outrage.

On April 4, the U.S. had pushed through UN Security Council Resolution #1403, welcoming the mission of the U.S. Secretary of State to the region as well as efforts by others ... to bring about a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Washington had claimed it was brokering a deal to end the Israeli siege.

So a backroom deal was made to avoid a U.S. veto and yet ensure that no significant action was taken. The stronger Security Council resolution of the Arab Group was withdrawn and the U.S. crafted the watered-down resolution that would pass with unanimous support.

The U.S.-authored resolution shifted attention away from the real issues. It did not deal with the Israeli onslaught. Nor did it take up the crime of illegal Israeli occupation. The resolution didn't even suggest an inquiry into the destruction of the 3,000-year-old Old City in the center of Nablus. It made no mention of the siege against Ramallah, Bethlehem, Qalqilya, Tulkarm or Hebron. It only dealt with the much smaller issue of what Israeli forces did in Jenin refugee camp.

The mild U.S. resolution emphasized the urgency of access of medical and humanitarian organizations to the Palestinian population. The only action it called for was to welcome the initiative of the Secretary General to develop accurate information regarding recent events in the Jenin refugee camp through a fact-finding team and requests him to keep the Security Council informed.

Israeli leaders claimed they welcomed the U.S.-worded resolution because their hands were clean and they had only acted in self-defense.

But immediately after its passage, the Israelis began a series of demands: change the composition of the delegation, add military personnel, not allow interrogation of Israeli troops. Finally they decreed that the report could reach no conclusions or call for any specific action.

To each new demand, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan acquiesced. Yet Israel still denied the UN team entry into the refugee camp. Israel could not have taken any of these actions without the full support of Washington.

Finally, on May 3, at U.S. urging, Annan officially disbanded the fact-finding team.

Tunisian representative to the UN Noureddine Mejdoub stated in a special Security Council session, Let us imagine that an Arab state had committed an act many times less grave than those perpetrated by Israel. Immediately a coalition force would have been formed, the rule of law would have been invoked, the binding nature of council resolutions would have been reaffirmed and sanctions would have been imposed.

The Bush administration, which scripted and then dropped its mild resolution after just two weeks, is nevertheless still demanding full enforcement of sanctions resolutions imposed on Iraq--12 years after Iraqi troops left Kuwait.

Buckets of whitewash

But even after the UN dropped any implementation of its resolution, the U.S. was faced with a political problem.

It was beyond dispute that the Palestinian refugees in the densely populated cinder-block housing in the center of Jenin had been attacked with tanks and missiles and their homes then bulldozed into rubble. And there was still the stench of the charge that Israeli troops had committed massacres in Jenin and in other camps.

This is where another arm of U.S. policy comes in.

On the very same day that the UN secretary general moved to disband the fact-finding team, all the corporate media were conveniently running banner headlines claiming no massacre had taken place in Jenin. They gave as the authority for this the organization Human Rights Watch.

This let the Israeli Defense Forces and the U.S.--as author of the resolution and primary support of Israell--off the hook.

In fact, the Human Rights Watch report identifies 52 Palestinians killed during the Israeli operation and devotes 42 pages to describing a whole series of possible war crimes and violations of international law that the Israeli forces committed. But all this is buried in its report.

The story that CNN, BBC, AP and all the other big-business media reported globally in headlines was that Human Rights Watch confirmed No Jenin massacre. As CNN reported on May 3, Human Rights Watch found no evidence that Israeli troops massacred Palestinian civilians in Jenin ... said Peter Bouckaert, senior researcher for the group and a member of the investigative team.

Who is Human Rights Watch and how were they able to gain access to Jenin for an inquiry at the very time that Israel was denying entry to a delegation chosen by the UN Security Council?

Human Rights Watch, founded by multi-billionaire George Soros, was created to monitor human rights abuses worldwide. In reality, it is an institution that has acted at every turn to reinforce the policies of the United States and justify its humanitarian interventions. Its board includes multi-millionaires and former U.S. government officials.

Human Rights Watch claims its reports are objective, balanced and evenhanded. When it comes to Palestine this has meant equating the violence of the Israeli occupation with the resistance of Palestinians to overwhelming military force.

Once Human Rights Watch declared that no massacre had occurred in Jenin, the demand for an inquiry and international action against Israeli crimes virtually disappeared.

Massacre at Jenin

The use of the term massacre is not an argument over semantics. The decision to reject the apparent evidence of a massacre at Jenin is a political decision to immunize Ariel Sharon, the Israeli government and its U.S. backer from responsibility for this unconscionable and indiscriminate military attack against Palestinian civilians.

The dictionary definition of massacre is killing with indiscriminate violence, killing a number of people where much resistance can not be made and reckless murders.

During this 18-month Intifada, or uprising, IDF forces have killed more than 1,500 Palestinians. It is beyond dispute that Israel, using overwhelming force against an unarmed population resisting occupation, has committed many hundreds of reckless and indiscriminate murders where much resistance can not be made--many massacres.

That is the truth that Human Rights Watch, Israel and the U.S. government were so anxious to dispel.

It is hard to find another example where even the use of the term massacre has been so disputed.

Some of the best-known massacres in history involved similar numbers of people killed, or even fewer, than the number that Human Rights Watch attributed to Jenin.

In the 1770 Boston Massacre, British troops shot into a crowd of protesters, killing five.

In the 1914 Ludlow Massacre in Colorado, the National Guard killed 20 coal miners and family members during a United Mine Workers strike.

In the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, apartheid troops in South Africa fired into a crowd of Black demonstrators, killing 69. The demonstrators were protesting pass laws that restricted the movement of Africans, not unlike the restrictions now imposed by Israel on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

In 1953, Ariel Sharon carried out the Qibya Massacre. That Israeli military operation killed 67 people, mainly women and children.

There has been no dispute among historians that these indiscriminate killings were massacres.

Ariel Sharon, who directed the Jenin massacre, is also guilty of far larger massacres. Even a commission set up by the Israeli government found him guilty of orchestrating the 1982 massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in southern Lebanon, in which up to 2,000 civilians were killed.

The abandoned UN resolution--and hundreds more passed on Palestine and then ignored--along with the Human Rights Watch whitewash confirm the importance of an independent peoples' inquiry into the crimes of the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation.

The most important lesson is that the world movement standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people can't rely on Washington or the United Nations or any other political institution that has a stake in defending U.S. corporate rule in the Middle East.

In the months ahead it is important to record and document the crimes of the U.S.-financed and supported Israeli occupation. But it is essential to make this a political struggle so that the full impact of the occupation and the U.S. role is understood.