week, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan released a report
on Israel's attack on Jenin in April. A reminder of the highlights:
After two weeks of heavy fighting in Jenin's refugee camp, journalists
and human rights organisations (including Human
Rights Watch and Amnesty International),
who visited Jenin, unearthed numerous accounts of atrocities.
Some 150 houses demolished, sometimes with their inhabitants inside.
Civilians used as human shields. Extrajudicial killings. A Palestinian
nurse in full uniform shot through the heart while trying to tend
a wounded man. A fourteen-year-old shot dead by an Israeli tank
while shopping. A woman killed when Israeli soldiers blew open
the door of her house as she tried to open it for them. A man
shot dead in his wheelchair. And so on.
the controversial part. Uncontroversial is what followed: UN Security
Council unanimously adopted a resolution to send a fact-finding
team to Jenin (19/4). Israel promised to co-operate. Annan established
a fact-finding team and instructed it to proceed to the area.
Now Israel expressed concerns related to the composition of the
team, the scope of its mandate, how this mandate would be carried
out, various procedural matters, etc. etc. Negotiations took place
and Annan seemed to satisfy Israel's demands. Finally (30.4),
the Israeli Cabinet issued a statement saying that as long as
its terms have not been met, "it will not be possible for
the clarification process to begin." It didn't bother to
say what those terms were; but on the phone with Annan, Israeli
officials broached additional issues to those raised before and
indicated that this list might not be exhaustive. Following this,
Annan disbanded the team (3/5), ordered a report without visiting
the scene, and addressed letters to the Israel and to the Palestinians,
requesting them to submit relevant information. Israel didn't
respond even to this request. All along, then, Israel's very conduct
clearly indicated it had a lot to hide.
the UN finally released its report, based entirely on evidence
from secondary sources, written comfortably in Geneva. Human rights
groups immediately blamed the report of being "seriously
flawed"; Israel's government, naturally, welcomed it. The Independent
noted that the report was "carefully worded not to give offence
to Israel or its allies. It deliberately draws no conclusions,
but only compiles evidence from various sources."
Should We Trust?
we cannot deal here with all the issues at stake, let's examine
just one: that of demolishing houses with their inhabitants inside.
The UN report says:
"IDF also used armoured bulldozers, supported by tanks,
to demolish portions of the camp. The Government of Israel maintains
that 'IDF forces only destroyed structures after calling a number
of times for inhabitants to leave buildings, and from which the
shooting did not cease'. Witness testimonies and human rights
investigations allege that the destruction was both disproportionate
and indiscriminate, some houses coming under attack from the bulldozers
before their inhabitants had the opportunity to evacuate."
were innocent inhabitants given time to leave, or not? The UN
gives both sides equal space (24 words), and takes no stand. Israel
"maintains" they were, whereas witnesses (surely Palestinian)
and human rights investigations "allege" they were not.
We Cannot Know?
we can. We know very well. And the UN knows, or could know, if
it bothered to simply read Israel's most selling daily, Yedioth
Achronot, on 31.5. Not a very clandestine source. An Israeli
D-9 bulldozer driver, one Moshe Nissim from Jerusalem, described
there in detail what he himself
had done in Jenin. Here:
three days, I just destroyed and destroyed. The whole area. Any
house that they fired from came down. And to knock it down, I
tore down some more. They were warned by loudspeaker to get out
of the house before I come, but I gave no one a chance. I didn't
wait. I didn't give one blow, and wait for them to come out. I
would just ram the house with full power, to bring it down as
fast as possible. I wanted to get to the other houses. To get
as many as possible.
people where inside houses we started to demolish. They would
come out of the houses we where working on. I didn't see, with
my own eyes, people dying under the blade of the D-9. And I didn't
see house falling down on live people. But if there were any,
I wouldn't care at all. I am sure people died inside these houses,
but it was difficult to see, there was lots of dust everywhere,
and we worked a lot at night. I found joy with every house that
came down, because I knew they didn't mind dying, but they cared
for their homes. If you knocked down a house, you buried 40 or
50 people for generations. If I am sorry for anything, it is for
not tearing the whole camp down."
an evidence of an Israeli soldier clearly affirms allegations
of human rights organisations and refute the claims of the Israeli
Government. The report presented by Kofi Annan is unreasonably
biased in favour of Israel, at least on this crucial point. Why?
To understand that, we'll have to go six years back in time. It's
an obvious link; strange that nobody seems to remember it. Amazing
how quickly things are forgotten when they contradict our mental
Massacre of Qana
precisely six years before Jenin, on 18.4.1996. It is "Operation
Grapes of Wrath", conducted by PM Shimon Peres and "Defence"
Minister Ehud Barak. The headquarters compound of the Fijian battalion
of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) come under
fire by Israeli artillery. At the time, more than 800 Lebanese
have sought refuge inside the compound, which is located in the
village of Qana. An estimated 100 persons are killed and a larger
number wounded, including four UN soldiers.
obviously, claims that it was just an accident; that it was not
aware of the large number of Lebanese civilians in the compound;
that it had no aircraft flying above the area before or during
the shelling. UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali orders
an investigation, headed by Dutch military advisor Major-General
Franklin van Kappen.
Van Kappen's report dismisses Israel's
outrageous claim about not being aware of civilians, reminding
that a UN compound was not a legitimate target, whether or not
civilians were in it. Moreover, the report stated clearly that
"The distribution of point impact detonations and air
bursts makes it improbable that impact fuses and proximity fuses
were employed in random order, as stated by the Israeli forces"
and that "Contrary to repeated denials, two Israeli
helicopters and a remotely piloted vehicle were present in the
Qana area at the time of the shelling."
very different from the present report on Jenin! A clear-cut conclusion,
stated in a diplomatic language, but in so many words saying that
Israel shelled and killed on purpose the 100 Lebanese civilians
seeking refuge in the UN compound.
what happened then? Well, the US urged the Secretary General not
to publish the incriminating report. SG Boutros-Ghali insisted.
The Clinton administration put pressure on the UN to soften the
language, hoping to turn it into a useless "Israel-maintains-this-and-others-allege-that"
kind of paper like the one on Jenin. Boutros-Ghali refused, and
embarrassing report as is. It was on the 7th of May, 1996.
week later, on the 13th of May, US Secretary of State Warren
Christopher met Secretary General Boutros-Ghali at his official
residence in New York. He informed him of the definite US decision
that it would veto his re-election. Boutros-Ghali later said this
was the first time he had any direct indication from the US that
it was unhappy with him. Boutros-Ghali told Christopher that he
hoped the US would change its mind. It didn't. Though Boutros-Ghali
was supported unanimously by the African countries as well as
by France, China, Russia, Germany, Japan and many European countries,
the US vetoed his re-election, threatening African countries that
loyalty to Boutros-Ghali would destroy the chances of Africa to
retain the Secretary General's post for a second term, and threatening
the UN not to pay the US assessments if Boutros Ghali remained.
Finally, the US imposed the election of Kofi Annan and did away
with Boutros-Ghali, described as "too independent" and
"difficult to control".
is how SG Annan was elected, and this is the background against
which his report on Jenin should be read. The US did a good bargain:
Annan is not Boutros-Ghali. When Israel showed reluctance towards
the fact-finding team, Annan quickly lent it a hand and disbanded
the team. Then, without visiting the scene, Annan issued a shameful
report, echoing Israeli propaganda, ignoring even "embarrassing"
material published in the Israeli press. Considering the background
of his own election, Annan can hardly be expected to have behaved
differently. The issue here is not personal: it is how the US
runs the world.
whom should we trust on the Jenin events? Human
rights organisations and journalists who visited the scene,
and whose report of war crimes and atrocities are corroborated
even by the evidence of an Israeli soldier – or rather a Geneva-based
UN report of Kofi Annan, the man who replaced a predecessor "too
independent" regarding the Israeli massacre in Qana? Decide