Media Distortions and the UN Report on Jenin

The most important thing about the new UN report
on Jenin is that it is not an investigation into
the events at the [Palestinian refugee] camp last April: none of the
authors visited Jenin. Israel not only blocked the
Jenin investigation, but refused repeated requests…to submit written testimony for inclusion in the
report. Hence while having done everything possible to block, discredit and undermine an investigation
into Jenin, the Israeli government is today citing
the same report as vindication.

2002.08.02


The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on
August 1, 2002 published his report,
mandated by the United Nations Security Council,
into the Israeli attack on Jenin
refugee camp in the Occupied West Bank last April [ http://www.un.org/peace/jenin/index.html ].


Israel is
crowing that the report exonerates it from charges
that there was a “massacre” in the camp.

The most important thing about
the new UN report on Jenin is that it is not an
investigation into the events at the camp
last April: none of the authors visited Jenin,
since the UN Security Council-mandated
investigation was blocked by Israel,
which refused all cooperation.


The text states:


“The report was written without a visit to
Jenin or the other Palestinian cities in question
and it therefore relies completely on
available resources and information, including
submissions from five United Nations
Member States and Observer Missions, documents
in the public domain and papers submitted by
non-governmental organizations.”

Israel not
only blocked the Jenin investigation, but refused
repeated requests by Annan for it to submit
written testimony for inclusion in the
report.

Hence while having done everything
possible to block, discredit and
undermine an investigation into Jenin, the Israeli
government is today citing the same
report as vindication.

The Israelis cannot have it
both ways. If Israel claims that UN
reports are not credible when they criticize
Israel, it cannot then claim that they suddenly
regain legitimacy when they appear to
“exonerate” it.


The UN report does
repeat the findings of several
international aid and human rights agencies that
Israel used excessive and
disproportionate force in civilian areas, blocked
medical treatment for wounded civilians
for days, and prevented access to the
camp to humanitarian aid and journalists.


Both Amnesty International and Human Rights
Watch, which unlike the UN team,
actually sent investigators to Jenin, reported
that these actions by Israel may
constitute “war crimes” and “crimes against
humanity” among other serious breaches
of the Geneva Conventions.

The Myth that Palestinians claimed that 500 were killed in
Jenin


‘There was no massacre’
is the main headline coming from most media
organizations reporting about UN Secretary General
Kofi Annan’s report about the Israeli
attack on Jenin refugee camp last April.


In fact, Annan’s report does not use the word
“massacre” at all. The report does
state:


“Fifty-two Palestinian deaths had been
confirmed by the hospital in Jenin by
the end of May 2002. IDF also place the
death toll at approximately 52. A senior
Palestinian Authority official alleged
in mid-April that some 500 were killed, a figure
that has not been substantiated in the
light of the evidence that has
emerged.”


Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat was
widely cited in press reports as having
said that 500 people were killed in Jenin. Yet,
despite an extensive search, I have
been unable to find any directly quoted
statement from any Palestinian official, including
Erekat, using that figure for the death
toll in Jenin. None of the reports which cited
Erekat said where he allegedly made the claim, and
some provided conflicting accounts of
when he allegedly said it. For a claim that is so
widely cited, it should not be so
difficult to find a direct quote.


Nevertheless, Israeli officials, commentators
and journalists alike repeated
constantly that Erekat or sometimes other
Palestinian officials had put the Jenin
death toll at over 500.

So what did Erekat actually say?


On April 10, 2002, Erekat did tell CNN that he believed
that up to 500 people had been killed
throughout the West Bank, not just in Jenin,
since Israel had begun its “Operation Defensive
Shield” at the end of March.


In the context of a discussion about the entire
Israeli offensive and the announced
visit of US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the
region, Erekat told CNN Anchor Jim Clancy:


“What we’re saying, we see an opportunity in
the secretary’s visit. We want to help in order to
insure the success of the secretary’s
visit, because insuring the success of
implementing [UN resolution] 1402 means
stopping the killing fields out there, and
you know as the numbers I am receiving today is
that the numbers of killed could reach
500 since the Israeli offensive began. Thousands
of wounded. You know, the Jenin refuge camp is no
longer in existence, and now we’ve
heard of executions there.”


Since Annan’s just published report put the
actual Palestinian death toll in the
period from March 1 to May 7 at 497, and since the
Palestinian Red Crescent places most of
those deaths squarely in the period of the
Israeli invasion, Erekat’s estimate, which he had
stated at the time was unconfirmed, was
far from unreasonable.

Most of the comments from
Palestinian officials such as Erekat about Israeli
actions in Jenin were premised on the
notion that urgent UN intervention and
investigation was necessary precisely
because no one knew exactly what was really
going on in the camp.


Yet, on April 11, the day after the CNN interview, The
Jerusalem Post reported that


“The actual number of
Palestinian casualties in Jenin is
unknown. IDF sources estimated it at between 100
and 200. But Palestinian negotiator
Saeb Erekat told CNN that Israel had ‘massacred’
500 people in the Jenin camp.” (“Hundreds of
gunmen surrender in Jenin”, by Arieh
O’Sullivan, April 11, 2002)


Erekat did not even use the word
“massacre” in this interview, although
the Jerusalem Post quoted him as having done so.
The false claim about Erekat appears to
have originated here. Yet while the Jerusalem Post
misreports what Erekat said, it does highlight that
at the same time that Erekat allegedly
claimed 500 were killed, even Israeli sources
were putting the death toll at up to 200.


Thus, the myth of Erekat’s claim that 500 were
killed in Jenin had begun. It has
become so durable that it even made it into the
report of the United Nations Secretary General.


Without the claim that
Palestinians explicitly accused the Israelis
of killing 500, the main accusation from
supporters of Israel and the media is
that Palestinians alleged a “massacre.”

There is
no scientific or precise definition of
a massacre, and no rule that says that hundreds
must be killed before an event qualifies as such.

“Massacre” is a subjective term and
certainly for those who live through it the
killing of ‘only’ dozens would qualify.

Perhaps it is for this reason that Israeli
officials routinely refer to
Palestinian attacks which kill 20 or fewer people
as “massacres.”


In conclusion, the
UN report provides no new information to those who
are seriously interested in the truth of what
happened in Jenin last April.

To the
Israelis it provides another propaganda coup and
plenty of misleading headlines clearing
it of any fault, to Kofi Annan and the
UN it provides a welcome end to an embarrassing
and politically awkward chapter, and to
Palestinians it proves yet again that for Israel
impunity, not law, is the rule.

Author: Ali Abunimah

News Service: The Electronic Intifada

URL: http://electronicintifada.net/coveragetrends/jeninunreport.shtml