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It was by accident how we four internationals ended up in the Jenin Refugee Camp. We weren’t planning to go there today because we’ve been interviewing refugees that are in the villages outside of Jenin. We got to a village adjacent to the camp to interview some people and one of our friends who just came from the camp said, that we could go in just for a couple of hours and have a look around and see how we could help.
So, we decided to go in, the four of us, one from Italy, named Patricia, Sofia, Matt and myself. There is a lot of military on the way. You have to go through several villages and these villages have been systematically invaded over the last few nights.
We finally reached the camp. The first things we saw were houses with large holes in them from tank shells. On the outskirts of the camp things aren’t so bad. From the interviews that we’ve done with the refugees, well, it’s not so bad relative to the center of the camp_I’ll explain to you in a minute.
The refugees that we’ve interviewed have told us that all the fighters had congregated at the center of the camp. When the Israelis came through the edges of the camp they were able to penetrate it fairly easily, because there wasn’t a lot of resistance, and actually, some people have reported that there was no resistance.
On the outside of the camp, the houses are, generally, still standing. The majority that we saw are not for living in. There are still people on the outskirts of the camp. It’s not totally deserted like we thought we would find. The people obviously have no place to go; so, they are still in there homes with huge holes and the inside trashed, because soldiers have gone through them, breaking everything.
We walked through, we slithered our way to the center of the camp. When we made it to the center of the camp we viewed the paths the Israeli bulldozers had cleared so that tanks could enter the camp because the camps have very small alleyways and there’s not enough room for tanks to get through. As the refugees we interviewed had told us all along the bulldozers bulldozed a path from the north to the south end of the camp, about 10 meters wide, so of course this took down dozens and dozens of homes with it.
These homes, many of them, had families still buried inside, under the rubble. Some of them are still alive, though perhaps, a lot of them are dead.
We met up with another friend in the camp and she said that one guy was buried under the rubble of his home for 10 days, and he worked himself out, dug himself out. And now he’s walking around talking like a normal human being.
We maneuvered our way to the center of the camp where all the resistance had gathered and where I guess, something like 13 Israeli soldiers were killed. The first attempt of the Israeli soldiers to enter the center of the camp failed drastically, with their ground troops, because they lost 13 of their soldiers. At that point the Israelis began bombarding the camp with F-16s, with Apaches helicopter gunships, and reinforcing their ground troops.
There is an area right in the center of the camp that must be 5000 square feet where it was all full of homes and now there’s just piles of rubble everywhere. There’s people buried under these homes, they’re dead.
As we walked we saw many bodies buried under rubble, just in the remains of their homes and were killed. Their bodies are decomposing, there’s all kinds of maggots and lice and flies eating their bodies. I won’t go into more detail than that, but I’ll just say that it’s the most gruesome thing I’ve ever seen in my life, with body parts lying all over.
These bodies have been in the homes, we actually viewed six bodies, people that were killed inside homes. They’ve been there for about six days now and these last few days it’s been quite hot, so the rate of decomposition has rapidly increased at this point.
The people in the camp are still very afraid as the Israeli military is still inside the camp. When they move APC’s and tanks around everybody runs, but for the last three days the people have been out and about in the camp, but of course they are absolutely frightened for if they see any soldiers or tanks they run for cover and run to hide. Of course it’s for good reason because of the massive, massive destruction, a large amount of executions and the number of people killed in the camp itself.
There is no food, water or electricity in the camp. I kept asking people what they eat and theyd say,” we have something.” But when I would ask them at first if they had any food or water, they’d say “No.”
And the number one thing they need in the camp right now is water. The Israelis not only bulldozed dozens and dozens of homes on top of people, they also destroyed all the streets and all the water manes
If the Israeli military would leave the camp at least the Palestinians could repair the water lines under ground and water service in the camp could continue. But the military is still in the camp full force.
The camp is just an absolute disaster, so much of it is in total ruins. Anywhere you walk around you know exactly where there’s a body because you can smell them. When you walk by a house and if there’s a body inside, you smell it without going in and seeing it. Because the smell is the most raunchy thing I’ve smelled in my life.
The people are still making do with what they have. The United Nations (UN) is trying to get food and water into the refugee camp but the Israelis continue to forbid them to enter the camp. We were actually with two big trucks that had been stalled by the Israeli military for eight hours today to get into the camp to deliver food and water.
Where we met up with the UN we asked if they’d mind we could take what we could carry up into the people and sure enough they were very happy to let us do this. So we took whatever water and bread we could carry. There was only three of us and we had to walk about a half of a mile, so it was very difficult to take very much.
We need internationals to come here as soon as possible. We have some more coming from Jerusalem tomorrow to help us, to continue to bring food and water to people. The UN has food and water for them but they’re not allowed to enter so we will do what we can to carry what we can by hand.
QUESTION: What about reports of mass graves, have you seen anything like that?
ANSWER: In interviewing refugees people have said they had seen with their own eyes these mass graves. We were only in the camp today for maybe two or three hours this afternoon and actually the only thing we did besides bring food and water, was when Palestinians stopped us and told us they knew where there were people alive still under the rubble of their homes. So we were trying to find them but of course we didn’t’ have any luck because the people aren’t exactly sure where they are now.
We did not personally see these mass graves today. Some of the refugees we’ve interviewed in the last few days have seen these and one we met up with in the camp was with an Israeli journalist who lives in the West Bank and this Israeli journalist confirmed that the Israeli military had said they removed bodies from the camp and took them into the Jordan Valley to bury them in some graves that they have out there.
I’ve heard these reports on television here, on different news services, Arab news services, and people on the ground have said this and now Israeli journalists confirmed that the Israeli government or military had said they had trucked bodies from the camp to the Jordan Valley near the border with Jordan.
QUESTION: But what about the possibility of the UN doing air-drops – is the airspace restricted?
ANSWER: I’m not sure if the UN has the capability. All I’ve ever seen in the year I’ve lived here are ground vehicles. If they could do airdrops I think it would be difficult for two reasons. For one there’s F16s always flying around, over the camp, over Jenin city and even last night there were about ten of them. It was night time and we could see their lights flashing and they kept flying over.
The other difficulty is if people tried to obtain food from some place, any time they try to retrieve bodies of people, any time the UN even tries to distribute food without permission the soldiers shoot at people, the UN people and the refugees in the camp. So it would be very difficult.
The soldiers did let us walk around. We encountered a lot of soldiers when we were carrying the food and water and they tried to stop us but we just told them “we’re taking bread and water to the women and children” and just kept walking.
Brian Wood is one of three members of the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace that have joined many internationals in witnessing the Israeli invasion and trying to end the Israeli illegal military occupation of Palestine. More on their trip at: http://www.ccmep.org/palestine.html.