Wednesday I left the wasteland of Gaza and came to East Jerusalem
where it is easier to base oneself for traveling. For two days
I stayed in the Jenin refugee camp, returning only late this evening.
I know I will have to write about it soon in much greater detail
than here, even though I know many people are doing this. The
sorry truth is that it will not be nearly enough.
What I saw in the former Jenin refugee camp was the most horrible
thing I have ever seen in my life. I will never be able to forget
it, or the people whose stories I listened to, or the sounds and
smells that accompanied a kind of destruction I didn't know was
possible: I now know the smell of death and what it is like to
realize that you are standing on top of rubble under which people
lie buried, unrecognizable and in many cases unreachable. I now
know what tank shells, ammunition rounds, and missiles look like
after they've exploded in peoples' bedrooms, family rooms, and
kitchens. I heard a loud explosion just after the first long,
endlessly awful day in the camp, and saw a pitiful shack on the
perimeter of the camp go up in flames the family had left
because a missile fired from an Apache helicopter had failed to
detonate when it first came through the roof.
At the remnants of the refugee hospital inside the camp I watched
as teams of workers with masks over their mouths and noses dug
up bodies that had been buried in makeshift graves because they
were not allowed to be taken out for proper burial during the
seige. More bodies were brought in and laid out on the ground
in white sheets and then loaded into trucks bodies of people
(men, women, and children) who died when their houses collapsed
on them or who were executed while tied up, or run over by tanks
in the streets as a "message" to the other inhabitants
of the camp. I saw men and women sobbing in the arms of their
families and friends after identifying yet another son, brother,
father, or friend decomposing under the plastic and the sheets
and the disinfectants now being desperately sprayed to cover up
Bulldozers plowed through the flattened ruins of an entire camp
unearthing blankets, clothes, shoes, toys, books, schoolbags,
mattresses, smashed furniture, spoons, forks, dishes, unrecognizable
fragments of once intact homes. A woman wandering amid the ruins
told me she had no idea where her house was; Another begged me
to tell people to just give them bread and water so they could
live that's all they needed, she said. Bread and water.
At the Shifa Surgical Hospital just outside Jenin city, I asked
if they were short of blood, oxygen, and other medical supplies.
The head doctor there said no they had plenty. Why? Because
the ambulances and emergency medical teams sent from there to
get the dead and wounded inside Jenin camp were not allowed inside
for twelve days.
13,000 people lived in the Jenin refugee camp. There are 3,000
people there now. Most fled to villages outside the camp and have
nothing left to return to. This morning Israeli tanks fired rounds
at people trying to return to their "homes" to see if
there was anything left in the rubble of their former lives. They
are not being allowed back. Hundreds of people are unaccounted
for and more than one thousand have been arrested and taken to
prison. Doctors, UN workers, human rights workers (such as from
Medicins sans Frontiers and Save the Children) estimate that the
Israeli assualt on the Jenin camp killed between three and six
Don't believe what CNN and BBC, among other western news agencies,
are telling you. Ask why there can be no investigation; why it
must be called a "humanitarian tragedy" rather than
a crime against humanity; why the EU has not imposed sanctions
on Israel for its actions; why no international monitoring force
is immediately leaving for the region; why Israeli political and
military spokespeople are telling reporters that "only (sic)
45 people died" and that they were all armed "militants".
Why no one challenges these comments or reminds these spokespeople
that Israel conducted a massive military offensive against people
who have the right to resist the occupation of their land.
If your blood doesn't run cold when US President George W. Bush
calls Ariel Sharon a "man of peace" then you're getting
nothing but lies packaged as news and information by a massive
propaganda machine. Americans, you are paying for the dehumanization
and destruction of an entire people. Jenin is only the most ominous
and recent reminder of where Israel's 54 year old policies against
the Palestinians are leading.
Loewenstein lives in Gaza City, and works for the Mezan Center
for Human Rights.