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Published: Saturday, 4/27/2002

The `massacre' in Jenin

The Independent, which vies with the Guardian and the Mirror for the title of the most left-wing of British newspapers, thinks it has found the “smoking gun” in the Jenin “massacre.”

“Evidence of atrocities by Israeli troops in Jenin refugee camp grew yesterday when a British pathologist said he found `highly suspicious' wounds during the first autopsy of a victim,” the Independent said April 18.

The “evidence” Derrick Pounder, a professor of forensic medicine working with Amnesty International, found was that an autopsy of a 38-year-old male revealed that he had been shot in the foot and in the back.

“Whichever order the shots occurred in, it was highly suspicious,” said Mr. Pounder, without explaining why he thought it was suspicious. Prisoners who are executed by firing squads rarely are shot in the back, and never are shot in the foot.

The body Mr. Pounder examined was one of about 40 bodies reporters for Newsday and the Washington Post saw when they were in Jenin on the same day. All but three were males of military age, most of whom were wearing ammunition belts - not a typical fashion accouterment of noncombatant civilians.

Mr. Pounder acknowledged that very few bodies had been found, but added that “claims that a large number of civilians died and are under the rubble are highly credible.”

Given that neither Mr. Pounder nor dozens of international journalists eager to find them have found any such bodies, the possibility exists that what isn't credible are the claims, from Palestinians, that a lot of civilians died there.

Israeli Defense Forces originally said that 100-200 Palestinians, the majority armed combatants, were killed in the week-long fight for Jenin. They've now reduced that number to about 70. Palestinians claim 500 were killed. In Arabic, the Palestinian Authority praised the “heroic resistance” of the Palestinian fighters. In English, all the dead morphed into civilian noncombatants.

It is doubtful that 23 Israeli soldiers would have died if all that happened at Jenin was another My Lai. Nearly 1,000 Palestinian fighters surrendered. If there was a massacre, why are they still alive?

Palestinians have been charging Israel with atrocities for years. But in four wars and two intifadas, only two accounts of Israeli atrocities have the ring of truth.

The first was at Deir Yassin, an Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. In April, 1948, goons from the Irgun and the Stern Gang attacked the village. Somewhere between 110 and 140 Arabs were killed, most of them women and children.

The second was at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut. Thugs from the Lebanese Christian Phalange militia entered the camps on Sept. 16, 1982, ostensibly to root out cells of Palestinian fighters. They went on a bloody rampage. Most of the victims were women and children. Lebanese police put the death toll at about 500. Israeli military intelligence put it at 700-800.

An Israeli commission of inquiry found that Ariel Sharon, then the minister of defense, and Gen. Raful Eitan, the army chief of staff, had been negligent in permitting the militiamen to enter the camps, and recommended both be dismissed. But there is no evidence to suggest either man knew what the Phalangists were going to do.

A senior Saudi official described the massacre that didn't happen at Jenin as “the greatest atrocity in history.”

One wonders how he would describe what happened at Hama in 1982 when Syrian dictator Hafez Assad killed between 6,000 and 20,000 of his own people, most of them noncombatants, in order to suppress a rebellion, and then bulldozed much of the town.

But for some Arabs, killing other Arabs isn't an “atrocity.” It's business as usual.

Jack Kelly is a member of The Blade's national bureau. E-mail him at jkelly@post-gazette.com.



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