Julio Noboa: Jenin survivors ending the silence
San Antonio Express- 03/01/2003
What really happened at Jenin? The Israeli military action in the Palestinian town occurred less than a year ago, yet it seems so much longer.
Nobody even utters the word "Jenin" anymore; it's been virtually expunged from the vocabulary of the American mass media.
In the deadly cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, there are particular incidents that lower the level of visceral violence to inhumane levels. Among those is the Israeli military operation at Jenin and the suicide bombing that occurred a week before.
It was during Passover when, as a roomful of Israelis sat down for their traditional feast, a Hamas suicide bomber walked in, killing 28 people, young and old.
Such an evil act can only be motivated by blind revenge, and it became a catalyst for another retaliatory act of vengeance that unleashed even greater devastation.
After 35 years of cruel occupation and a tradition of militant resistance, Jenin had become a center for collaboration among Palestinians holding divergent political views.
Yet, according to Israel, 23 suicide bombers had emerged from Jenin. Thus it became a prime target during the Israeli response, Operation Defensive Shield, the largest military offensive since the 1967 war.
Israelis entered Jenin with 1,000 infantrymen, armored vehicles, Merkava tanks and Cobra helicopters armed with heavy machine guns and missiles. They were expecting a quick and easy victory using overwhelming force.
After all, confronting them, armed only with explosives and Kalashnikovs, were only about 200 Palestinians from various militias, as well as Yasser Arafat's security forces.
However, what the Israeli militarists had not figured was the fierce fight this ragtag band of urban guerrillas was able to muster. It took eight days, from April 3-10, for the Israelis to overcome the tough Palestinian resistance.
But by the end, both sides paid a heavy toll; there were no winners. On the Israeli side, 23 soldiers were killed. The number was at least twice that many among the Palestinians. Moreover, nearly half of those were civilians, including women, children and elderly people.
Major international human rights organizations have alleged that Israeli forces engaged in unlawful killings and arbitrary arrests; used human shields, torture and disproportionate force; and denied Palestinians medical treatment and access.
Humanitarian workers and journalists were kept away from the area for five days after the fighting ended.
Yet, even after the Israeli army had cleaned up the area, U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen exclaimed, "This is horrifying beyond belief ... a blot that will forever live on the history of the state of Israel."
What ultimately happened, however, was that the Israeli government, with the assistance of the Bush administration, prevented the United Nations from conducting a complete investigation.
Although we will never know how many Palestinians were killed, the evidence of human suffering cannot be so easily erased.
Tonight at 6 p.m., we in the San Antonio area will have the opportunity to meet some of the intrepid survivors of Jenin through the medium of film at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center. The award-winning documentary "Jenin, Jenin," banned in Israel, features scenes of Jenin ruins, as well as testimonies and commentary from Jenin residents.
It is a rare opportunity, surrounded as we are by a pro-Israeli mass media, for us to hear Palestinians speak for themselves. In this film we see real human beings who, despite their daily struggles to survive in an uncaring world, have the courage to maintain a sense of dignity and pride.
That's quite a remarkable achievement, especially being Palestinian in Jenin.
E-mail Julio Noboa at jnpapraol.com