Monday, April 22, 2002
But a massacre - in the sense it is usually understood - did not take place in Jenin's refugee camp.
Whatever crimes were committed here - and it appears there were many - a deliberate and calculated massacre of civilians by the Israeli army was not among them....
For even as the hunt for the bodies goes on, it is increasingly clear from evidence collected by this paper and other journalists, that the majority of those so far recovered have been Palestinian fighters from Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the al-Aqsa Brigades.
Certainly, civilians died. But so far they are in the minority of those who perished.
So that must mean the allegations of Israeli atrocities are false, right? Well, not exactly. You see, now:
For at heart of the question of whether Jenin was a war crime are not the bodies stacked at the main hospital. It is what happened to the homes of those like Talib [NB: a 70-year-old resident introduced in a previous paragraph].
Huh? A massacre of houses? Let's go back up to the earlier part of the article:
One thing, however, is beyond question: that the soldiers of Israel carried out an act of ferocious destruction, unparallelled in Israel's short history, against an area of civilian concentration where Palestinian fighters were based.
And what will settle whether what happened in Jenin camp was a war crime is the relationship between those civilians and the Palestinian fighters.
For increasingly at issue is a simple distinction. If the refugee camp at Jenin was a population centre that simply harboured fighters - that had fighters in its midst - then, say human rights advocates, Israel had a duty of care during its attack towards the civilians resident there under international law.
But if Jenin camp could be proved to be something else, say lawyers for the army, the Geneva Convention might not apply.
Already Israel is working hard to define why the destruction in Jenin was something 'other' - exempt from the Convention.
It is that something 'other' that Israeli legal sources advising the army are desperately now trying to establish in international opinion. The refugee camp at Jenin, they say, had become an 'armed camp', booby-trapped and organised for fighting. It is a place, they argue, where the civilian population was effectively being held hostage under military orders. In those circumstances, the Israeli lawyers argue, the laws of war should not, and must not, apply.
Indeed. Presumably this interview in Al-Ahram with one of the fighters from Jenin who fled when ammo got low will help buttress the Israeli position. I'm still waiting for the Observer to acknowledge its existence.
So I decided to write to a bunch of the folks who have publicly chided Israel for "disproportionate" action. Thus far I have written to:
1. Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA ("Certainly there is evidence of overwhelming and apparently disproportionate use of force, even if a battle was going on in Jenin camp.").
2. Francine Lalonde, Bloc Quebecois (BQ) member of Parliament in Canada and "foreign affairs critic" for the BQ (Question from National Post: "Have Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza been disproportionate?" Answer from Lalonde: "Yes, I think they have been disproportionate.").
3. Bill Graham, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (Israel's current incursion into the West Bank is a "disproportionate" response).
Here's the email I have sent, with slight changes to the third paragraph for each:
Dear Mr. Graham:
I was intrigued by your recent statement, as reported in The Globe and Mail and the National Post, that Israel's current drive to secure the West Bank is a "disproportionate" response to recent terror attacks on Israel.
Could you provide any suggestions for what would have constituted a "proportionate" use of force in response to these attacks? I would be very grateful to learn what these would be, if you are willing to share them. Surely the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department wouldn't do anything as unproductive as offer criticism without having a constructive alternative in mind.
Thanks in advance for your response, and best of luck fighting the good fight regarding foreign policy and international trade.
I'll be sure to keep you posted of the responses. In the meantime, if anyone else finds an official quoted as decrying Israel's disproportionate response, please forward it to me and I'll churn out another email!