|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
2 - 8 May 2002
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Ramallah for JeninIsrael's decision to withdraw from Ramallah may mean a defeat for justice in Jenin. Graham Usher reports from Jerusalem and Jenin
From the moment Israeli soldiers stormed Yasser Arafat's presidential compound in Ramallah on 29 March, Ariel Sharon laid down one essential condition for their withdrawal: the transfer into Israeli custody of five Palestinians suspected of assassinating Israeli cabinet minister Rahavam Zeevi in October, and a sixth, Palestinian Authority official Fuad Shubaki, accused of purchasing a shipment of Iranian arms in January.
A young girl raises the Palestinian flag above the rubble that three weeks ago was her home in Jenin. Israel continues to stonewall all attempts by the UN fact-finding committee to report on the actions of the Israeli army, seeking to buy time to cover up evidence of the crimes committed
"I am ready to go to elections on this issue," vowed the Israeli Prime Minister.
Last Sunday Sharon made an impassioned plea to his cabinet to accept a proposal from US President Bush to end the month-long siege of Arafat's headquarters. Contrary to Sharon's absolute stipulation, this involves the six remaining under PA custody but "monitored" by American and British "wardens," actually intelligence agents, and probably in Jericho.
After a six-hour debate the cabinet accepted the compromise by a 17-8 majority. Those who opposed were ministers from Sharon's bedrock constituencies of Likud, the National Religious Party and the Russian Immigrants party, Yisrael Baaliyya.
What made Sharon turn? In the wake of the decision, Bush extended yet another invitation to the Israeli leader to visit the White House and promises of "strategic cooperation" with Israel on US policy in the region, including any new move against Iraq. America also issued the mildest of rebukes against Israel's latest reconquest of a Palestinian city, the invasion of Hebron on 29 April.
But these were the small fry. The main carrot, said the Israeli media, quoting government sources, was American "understanding" of Israel's objections to the UN fact-finding mission to Jenin refugee camp authorised by UN Security Council resolution 1403 on 19 April.
Having initially accepted the resolution, the Israeli government on Tuesday refused for the fourth time any cooperation with the mission until certain "terms" had been "clarified."
The first is that the government screen any soldier interviewed by the UN and that his testimony be immune from any "third-party prosecutions." The second is that the mission restrict itself to uncovering the "facts" of what happened at Jenin without "observing" who, legally, may be held accountable for them.
A senior UN official in the occupied territories explains the difference between the two investigations: "A fact- finding mission per se simply reports events that occurred between specific dates. A mission with the power to make 'observations' can interpret whether these events were in breach of international humanitarian law."
The quiet consensus emerging from the dozens of human rights lawyers and military experts who have visited Jenin camp over the last two weeks is that there appears little substance to the Palestinian claim that a massacre occurred. But there is growing evidence that the army's actions violated humanitarian law. For example: there was the mass detention of men and boys from the camp who, according to consistent testimony, were stripped, manacled, sometimes hooded, occasionally beaten and then dumped in villages neighboring Jenin.
There was the wanton destruction of Palestinian civilian property within the camp which, in the view of one military expert, was "unwarranted." Finally, there is undeniable evidence that the army denied humanitarian and medical access to the dead and wounded in the camp for eight days while the fighting raged and four after it subsided.
All of these are breaches of humanitarian law under the 4th Geneva Convention. Some are "grave" and could be construed as war crimes, say international human rights lawyers.
It is to block the mission going down that road that Sharon was perhaps convinced to trade a temporary retreat from Ramallah for the rule of illegality in Jenin.
If he succeeds, if the UN mission disbands in the face of Israel's stonewalling -- the struggle for a more violent reckoning will pass to those who currently sit in tents on the rubble of Jenin camp, under billowing flags of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and beside daubed wall slogans that vow "never to forgive or forget." But the responsibility will lie with a world that, as so often with Israel, is easily persuaded to do both.
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