What happened during the battle of Jenin in April 2002?
Aerial Photo of Jenin. Note small area of damage
On April 3, 2002 Israeli troops, tanks and helicopters surrounded the area of Jenin in the northern West Bank, part of Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield that followed a series of deadly bombings against civilians in Israel. Many Palestinian suicide bombers had originated from the refugee camp at Jenin and the Israeli army was determined to “smoke out the terrorist nest”. Nine days of ferocious fighting followed.
Anti-Israel media sources in the Middle East and Europe, and to a lesser extent elsewhere in the world, had a field day. Headlines screamed “Massacre”, “War Crimes”, “Atrocities”, “Genocide” and worse. Every unsubstantiated rumor of Israeli misdeeds was given the status of truth as reporters looked for the big story they were convinced was happening. Palestinian sources were quoted without any fact checking while Israeli versions went unreported.
For example, Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, was given time on CNN to say:
- There’s almost a massacre now taking place in Jenin. Helicopter gun ships are throwing missiles at one square kilometer packed with almost 15,000 people in a refugee camp. . . . Just look at the TV and watch, watch what the–what the Israel forces are doing. . . . This is a war crime, clear war crime, witnessed by the whole world, preventing ambulances, preventing people from being buried. I mean this is an all-out assault against the whole population.
Adding fuel to the fire, the Palestinian Arab mayor of Jenin stated:
- What I saw with my own eyes can’t be described with words, I just can’t understand how human beings are capable of committing nefarious crimes as such. … decomposed bodies of children and old people were scattered everywhere and two thirds of the camp has been reduced to rubble.
But when the fighting ended, quite a different picture emerged. Witnesses observed that the town of Jenin was untouched and most of the refugee camp was at most lightly damaged (See photo on this page and Sources below). Only the terrorist center of the camp, where intense house-to-house fighting took place, was extensively damaged.
From the Boston Globe, April 29, 2002:
- Palestinian Authority allegations that a large-scale massacre of civilians was committed by Israeli troops during their invasion of the refugee camp here appear to be crumbling under the weight of eyewitness accounts from Palestinian fighters who participated in the battle and camp residents who remained in their homes until the final hours of the fighting. In interviews yesterday with teenage fighters, a leader of Islamic Jihad, an elderly man whose home was at the center of the fighting, and other Palestinian residents, all of whom were in the camp during the battle, none reported seeing large numbers of civilians killed.
The final toll of the battle was 52 to 56 Palestinian Arabs dead, mostly armed fighters, while Israel lost 23 of their soldiers. A tough urban pitched battle, but in no way a massacre.
United Press International (UPI) published a three part series of articles (see Sources below) examining the media’s treatment of the phony Jenin massacre story, describing how the US news outlets did relatively well in containing the false rumors while their uncritical acceptance constituted a “humiliation for Western European governments and left-leaning media leaders.”
The after-battle reports made clear that the IDF took great care to avoid civilian casualties, the opposite of Palestinian claims, and took higher Israeli casualties as a result. When faced with strong resistence in a congested urban area filled with explosives, snipers, and booby-traps the easy course for Israel would have been a massive air attack to flatten the area. Instead, the IDF engaged the terrorists in house-to-house fighting that spared civilians as much as possible. Non-combatant casualties would have been even lower if the Palestinian terrorists had not used civilians as shields and decoys.
Initially the United Nations called for an investigation of Israel’s actions in Jenin, but dropped the probe when it became clear that there was no massacre or atrocities. In counterpoint, American congressmen and others called for an investigation of the United Nations whose UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was in charge of the Jenin refugee camp. How did Jenin become a world center for recruiting and training suicide bombers under UN supervision?