Getting Away With Murder in Jenin

by Sherri Muzher

June 16, 2002



"Every terrorist must be made to live as an international fugitive, with no place to settle or organize, no place to hide, no governments to hide behind and not even a safe place to sleep," President George W. Bush told an audience of 1,300 at the White House in March.


Among those 1,300 were about 300 family members of those killed in the September 11 attacks. The President was understandably angry with those who "target the innocent for murder." The problem is that this same President doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with the targeting of innocents in other regions.


Consider that Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, long-standing opponent of East Timorese independence, was among the first leaders to visit President Bush in the Oval Office after September 11. Since then, she has been able to take advantage of America's war on terror with the resumption of military aid which former President Clinton suspended in 1999 -- suspended after the orgy of killing that followed Timor's independence vote, when it was disclosed that civilians had been massacred by US-trained troops.


Even the Bush administration's State Department report on Indonesia noted that its human rights record remains poor - Security forces were responsible for numerous instances of rape, torture, indiscriminate shootings of civilians, beatings and other abuse.


The sad reality is that our "war on terror" has been exploited so much by nations seeking to silence and repress others that the terror rhetoric should be re-examined by many in the US Administration Indonesia is only one example. Then there’s the Jenin refugee camp in the Palestinian West Bank.


When Israel invaded this camp of approximately 15,000, there were plentiful stories of beatings, indiscriminate murder, the demolitions of hundreds of homes, the prevention of medical personnel from reaching wounded Palestinians, the prevention of much-needed relief supplies from reaching Palestinians, as well as the prevention of media coverage – sometimes even resulting in Israeli soldiers shooting at journalists.


According to Israel’s Ha’aretz, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was very worried about the expected international reaction as soon as the world learned the details of the tough battle in the Jenin refugee camps. In private, Peres referred to the battle as a "massacre."


Israeli Defense Force (IDF) officers also expressed grave reservations over the operation in Jenin. "Because of the dangers," they said, "the soldiers are almost not advancing on foot. The bulldozers are simply 'shaving' the homes and causing terrible destruction. When the world sees the pictures of what we have done there, it will do us immense damage."


And there was immense public relations damage to Israel when the world was finally able to see the devastation. Of course, the IDF had time to do some cleaning up, but the stench of corpses was enough to wake the dead. Some bodies of the elderly, women, and children were pulled from under the rubble. How many bodies were there exactly? And what about the Israeli truck filled with bodies – the bodies that were refused burial in Israel by the Israeli High Court of Justice, as the IDF had hoped?


A United Nations (UN) investigation was soon ordered. Excuse after excuse was given by the Israelis to bungle the investigation. They didn’t like the makeup of the investigative team; they wanted an investigation done of the Palestinians, etc. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was so exasperated that the investigation was called off.


President George Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, had said, "The president has called for the United Nations and the Red Cross to be permitted to have unhindered access to Jenin. The President believes what's important is transparency so all the facts can be developed." Yet, Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, openly thanked the American government for ultimately scuttling the proposed UN investigation in Jenin. His remarks were made only hours before he met President Bush in the White House.


Sharon thanked the US government for scuttling an investigation into what happened when Israel’s army invaded a refugee camp? Is it just me or do any other Americans feel insulted by Sharon’s "appreciation?" Months earlier, an anonymous IDF officer's shocking confession was reported in a January 25 article by veteran Ha'aretz reporter Amir Oren. The officer had admitted that IDF officers were studying the Nazi Warsaw Ghetto strategy.


A journalist at a White House press conference raised this admission. White House spokesman Fleischer, on January 27, refused to answer questions about it. He stated that he "does not respond to reports with no names attached."


Interestingly, Sharon spokesman Ra’anan Gissen had no problem answering the question. "Some officers may have been looking at that. They thought that it was similar, because you would be fighting street-by-street against the Palestinian Authority," Gissen said. In fact, "the real problem is those who refuse to serve," Gissen continued.


I guess everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. But such an admission should have raised the antennas of the world’s public about the murders and devastation that Israel would later wreak. US antennas, in particular, should have been raised and turned into STOP signs. Instead, our response has been to roll out the unending red carpet for Ariel Sharon; to provide weaponry for Israeli incursions into refugee camps, like Jenin; and to aid Israel in avoiding accountability for its actions.


In the past, we have hindered investigations in Haiti by refusing to return materials seized from the Haitian military in September 1994 and failing to disclose documents detailing atrocities. We also hindered the investigations in Rwanda. We refused to expose those who were providing arms to the killers and we even refused to call genocide "genocide."


In all fairness, many other nations have partaken in refusing investigations of human rights atrocities. The Russians did it in Chechnya. Syria did it in the City of Hama. Guatemala did it in Baja Verapaz.


But the US government’s continuation of its and the world’s record in refusing investigations into suspected atrocities, particularly after the events of 9/11, is unforgivable.


The likely reason for such mind-boggling acquiescence to Israel’s refusal of the Jenin investigation is domestic politics.


The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), recognized as the most powerful foreign lobbying organization on Capitol Hill, promotes Israeli interests in the US. Since 1978, AIPAC has contributed more than $34 million dollars to congressional candidates -- translating into funding for more than 1,700 candidates. In fact, according to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, AIPAC contributed $2,044,606 during the 1999-2000-election cycle alone.


Add the ingredients of Jewish-American Zionists’ mass harassment of US media [as Eric Alterman of The Nation pointed out recently in an MSNBC article], as well as the harassment of US politicians [as former Congressman Paul Findley pointed out in his book, They Dare To Speak Out]. Now, everything begins to look a bit clearer.


In the end, it seems that Israel will get away with murder in Jenin. Countless lives have been lost. And so, too, have the lessons of 9/11. 


Sherri Muzher is a Palestinian-American lawyer, writer and activist based in Michigan