The writer traveled to the occupied West Bank during the Second Intifada representing the International Action Center. She gained access to Jenin in April 2002 when Israeli Defense Forces were barricading the destroyed refugee camp.
The densely populated Jenin refugee camp was bombarded with days of Israeli air attacks and ground raids, starting July 3. The attack involved over 1,000 troops, mostly drawn from elite commando units, who invaded the densely populated residential area. They attacked on the ground with tanks and snipers, and from the sky with drones and attack helicopters launching rockets. Israel has an official policy of collective retaliatory punishment.
The White House once again underscored what it called Israel’s “right to defend” itself. The Biden administration’s unconditional backing emboldens the escalating Zionist violence against Palestinians.
At least 120 Palestinians have been killed by soldiers and settlers in near-daily Israeli raids in the West Bank in 2023. The current assault on the Jenin refugee camp shares similarities with the “Battle of Jenin” in 2002. Then Israeli attack helicopters, commando forces and infantry were deployed into the Jenin refugee camp, resulting in the deaths of at least 52 Palestinians.
The destruction of homes and businesses was widespread.
I witnessed the onslaught of the Second Intifada, the militant revolutionary uprising against decades of occupation in the early 2000s in the West Bank – the blocks of ruined cinder block homes, the overwhelmed hospitals, the devastation and rubble from bulldozers and bombs caused by the 2002 Zionist attack on Jenin.
In 2002, in the face of world condemnation of this most extreme attack on Jenin, it was U.S. diplomatic and massive media support that went to great effort to sugarcoat Israeli war crimes.
Insidious role of Human Rights Watch
The U.S. not only had weapons to ship and diplomatic support to provide, but also well-financed organizations that could speak hypocritically in the name of human rights. In every global crisis, these organizations will step forward to issue reports of political assistance to support U.S. imperialist aims.
In 2002, international bodies and United Nations bodies resoundingly called for a war crimes investigation of the Zionist massacre in Jenin. There was a world outcry. The U.S. government used Human Rights Watch (HRW), a notorious NGO funded by the U.S. Congress through the National Endowment for Democracy, to divert and railroad the call for an international inquiry.
The Israeli military conveniently lifted the total lockdown of Jenin’s desperate civilian population to give HRW investigators a special opportunity to gain entrance into the barricaded Jenin refugee camp. In the confusion of the continuing military lockdown and bulldozers plowing up roads, electric lines and plumbing, I was one of a few supporters of the Palestinian movement, who, with local Palestinian help, managed to slip through unobserved. I passed through the Israeli checkpoints and patrols along with the HRW delegation.
The report and photos we provided were sharply different from the sanitized report from HRW. Our reports and photos were intended for the Arab media and alternative and antiwar media, which were anxious for coverage.
HRW conceded that there were at least 52 deaths and perhaps many more bodies under the rubble, along with thousands of injured people, refugees and overflowing hospitals. HRW stated that many of the civilians were killed willfully or unlawfully; others were used as “human shields.” Their report listed the numbers of known deaths.
But the Human Rights Watch report’s sly headline and wording included in their endless reports – and repeated in all the U.S. corporate media – stated that this indiscriminate killing of Palestinian civilians did not constitute evidence of a “massacre” or a “war crime.” HRW knew very well that only that headline was needed.
This was the headline run by all the corporate media. It wrapped up their coverage nicely. It was repeated endlessly. This report was then announced while – at the same time – the United Nations bowed to Israeli and U.S. demands and withdrew their request to investigate war crimes in Jenin.
Israeli crimes can’t defeat Palestine!
Today, both Israeli and U.S. wars are so openly brutal, using cluster bombs, artillery shells, drone attacks and armored tanks on city streets in civilian areas, that they don’t bother with painstaking efforts to deny or cover up their crimes. Instead, the Biden administration just gives a green light and emboldens the extreme right-wing government in Israel while denouncing Palestinian so-called “terrorism” and “extremism.” This support is bipartisan, echoed by both Democrats and Republicans.
Once again, U.S.-funded organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have been willing to support U.S. wars – weapons shipments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Yugoslavia, and Ukraine – while they back Israel’s continuing war against the Palestinians, claiming these wars are a “defense of human rights.” But the reality is all too clear.
The Zionists’ apparatus and the fascist settlers openly declare that they will continue to target the new wave of militants. But overwhelming military force has failed to crush the resistance, despite the use of the most extreme measures and destruction.
Due to the continuing fascist attacks, Palestinians are left with no choice but armed resistance. Today, the whole world overwhelmingly supports Palestine and the Palestinian people’s right to resist.
Like Gaza, Jenin is a symbol of Palestinian resistance. Its refugee populations hold a fierce, collective memory of the 1948 Nakba – or catastrophe – the forced removal and dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians. These refugee camps have been a source of resistance to Zionism for decades.
Now Israel faces a tactical defeat. Israeli brutality has failed to break this heroic Palestinian resistance. It is reaching a new stage of greater unity and new tactics throughout the occupied West Bank, within the 1948 borders and in Gaza.
This is a reality that Zionist bombing and new waves of war propaganda can’t change. Palestinian activist and author of “Mornings in Jenin,” Susan Abulhawa, who lives in the U.S., told Workers World: “I’d say Israel was the devil. But that implies it’s here to stay. That racist settler colonial project is nearing its end.”