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For the last four days I’ve been in the Jenin Refugee Camp trying to help in digging the corpses from under the rubble. Every day more corpses are dug out, and somehow some people still have come out alive. It has been quite miraculous because some have been under their homes for two weeks. There were three people yesterday I heard that came out alive. Today one person came out alive.
The problem is that the people here don’t have the equipment to do this kind of rescue operation and they are still receiving so little help from outside. They have only three bulldozers working in the entire refugee camp removing some of the rubble and getting closer to where the bodies are and removing them by hand. In an area of four city blocks long and two city blocks wide, there are two hundred homes that are all completely destroyed. So this is where the majority of the rescue operation is taking place.
Where is the Red Cross? The Red Crescent is mainly the people that do a lot of the digging. Also involved were some of the brothers of the victims and other family members with the help of Red Crescent workers. But the Red Crescent workers there are barely even trained. They are volunteers. They just slap on rubber gloves and a mask over their face to try to protect them a little bit from the horrible horrible stench and start digging with small shovels. They are trying to remove whole houses from on top of these people.
I can’t understand why there is not more help. Even Israelis. There is supposedly a peace movement in Israel. Why can’t they bring bulldozers over and take them into Jenin Refugee Camp?
The Israeli army has been pretty much out of the camp for three or four days, and just today five people of the Red Cross from Britain showed up, specializing in rescue operations. And they got a briefing about all the explosive ordinances on the ground and in the homes from the Israeli army, Apache helicopters and some of the booby-traps left by the Palestinian resistance fighters.
The unexploded ordinances are being tripped every day by people coming across them. There are dozens of injuries in the last three days because people run across exploding devices and they blow up. Today I just came from the hospital visiting two ten-year-old boys. I’m a friend of their family. One is Assad Ibrahim Arsal. He lost his left arm at the shoulder and both of his legs are injured, barely still attached, in horrible condition. We don’t expect him to live, he looks horrible–he’s the cousin of one of my friends here. The other Palestinian boy is named is Saed Sobhay Wahsh. He is also in pretty bad shape, but he looks like he will survive. Both of his legs, torso and face have a lot of cuts, burns, his eyes are sealed shut, pus oozing out of his body. He will need a lot of treatment and time to recover.
These two kids likely stepped on a land mine in an area we recently observed about ten Israeli soldiers. Every day, we hear two or three explosions a day and every time we know exactly what happened. Every day several people are injured by unexploded ordinances.
I can’t understand why nobody is here to help! There are a few Red Cross people that are running around. The five Brits from the Red Cross, specially trained to find live bodies, I suspect they’re only going to find corpses. There are two Norwegians, maybe with the United Nations, that are trying to figure out where the exploding devices are. They mark the area with spray paint and then supposedly are going to come later and take some of these devices out. But this is two people in a camp that is one kilometer square that was home to 15,000 people.
It has been days since the Israeli army has moved out from the center that was home to 15,000 people. I cannot understand why there are not hundreds of people from aid organizations here in order to not only remove unexploded ordinances but to offer assistance in digging into the rubble, to offer humanitarian aid, food and water.
Right now, there is still no electricity in the camp, there is still no water, because the Israeli army bulldozed all the water lines–and they haven’t been repaired. There is literally almost no help from outside. Everyone is talking about this here and we are all just amazed. Sometimes I have a hard time working, in shock just wondering, “where is everyone?”
Israeli Army Withdrawn? Though it’s been reported that the Israeli army has withdrawn from the area the truth is that every day soldiers are shooting at people. The Israeli army is just on the outskirts of the refugee camp–they’re just not in the center anymore. Soldiers are still all around. If you draw a circle on a piece of paper, they’re not inside that circle but they’re standing on the line.
Today, they were firing at everybody who went through one particular valley that is one of the main entrances of the camp, the one I use everyday. They were shooting live ammunition from an armored personnel carrier at every single person that moved through there. People are trying to go back to their homes after trying to get some food or water.
They have closed the entire area from Jenin to an Israeli town called Umma Sahem (spelling?) about 17 to 20 kilometres west of Jenin. They called this a “closed military area”. Apparently this is part of the plan to build a buffer zone between the West Bank and Israel. Basically this means they have confiscated hundreds and hundreds of acres of more land and they do not allow anybody to come close to the border.
Today there was only one road out of Jenin where any person could come and go without getting shot at. There are three entrances from the North (Northeast, Northwest, North). The entrance from the Northeast was the only one that could be used today. Some friends of mine tried to get out using the Northwest entrance but they didn’t even get close to the checkpoint. The soldiers are literally standing on the edge of the camp and the city and continue to fire at people. They don’t fire into the city or the camp but they fire at anyone who is going in or out.
A future in Jenin Refugee Camp? Over the next month my feeling is that there will be no rebuilding process. Nobody is likely going to help the people to rebuild. It’s obvious, because for weeks nobody did anything to stop the Israelis while they were destroying all this, even though the much of the world knew what was going on. Now that this round of destruction is finished, there is so much to build, to be done, to clean up and to assist the people.
One big question to resolve is where are all these people going to go? There are hundreds of families without homes. They are staying with families and friends and whatever, but nobody has even bothered to set up tents for these people. Not the United Nations, the Red Cross or anybody. It’s the most astounding thing that I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s like a horrible earthquake that hit the entire area that caused massive destruction and barely anybody is doing anything to help. Generally when you see an earthquake, organizations raise millions of dollars, food and clothing from all over the world. But here there is literally nothing.
Even the Israeli peace activists who a little over a week ago attempted to bring a convoy of food to Jenin. Almost none of it got to the people. More bizarre is that they tried back then when they couldn’t come in and now they can come in and they’re not trying. It’s just the most amazing, dumbfounding experience I’ve ever had in my life.
With all this suffering I have the utmost respect for the Palestinian people, especially in the Jenin Refugee Camp for their resilience, to live and to try to live in peace with the Israelis. They continue to do what they can with whatever they have. They’re an amazing people.
Documenting the massacre with one friend, we have been interviewing refugees from the Jenin Refugee camp who have been living in villages outside of the camp. We interviewed almost two dozen people, getting very detailed stories from them in order to reconstruct both their stories, what happened to them in particular, but also the overall picture of the invasion and destruction of the Jenin Refugee Camp. This is the most valuable chore we can do right now.
This important task is actually quite difficult right now because people are coming back to what was their homes. They’re homeless, with no food, they don’t have water, and you cannot just sit with them in a room for an hour and get detailed stories from them because they are literally looking for a place to stay, looking to survive.
So we are going to continue to try to get detailed stories from survivors of this enormous massacre and to continue to document this and turn these over to Palestinian and perhaps some international human rights organizations. But we need more help in this.
Nobody is doing the detail work that we have being this far. The international organizations (like the UN) come in and take brief statements and they get a little bit but they don’t get the whole detailed story like we’re getting. People need to pressure these international agencies to do more, to at least help document what happened.
I wouldn’t be surprised if international aid organizations started to help rebuild. But this would be pointless without addressing the root issues of this conflict. They’ll rebuild and a new group of fighters will emerge from the Jenin Refugee Camp and there will be more Israeli invasions that will destroy what is rebuilt. This continues to be the problem here.
I remember I lived in Beit Jala in the first invasion last August (2001). The European Union acted quickly to broker a deal between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government for the Israelis to leave Beit Jala. But the first thing I thought back then – why did no one address the issues?
There is no way to insure that the Israelis aren’t going to come back into Beit Jala. Sure enough they’ve been back four times since August of 2001 and they’re still there right now! And the same thing in Jenin Refugee Camp — tens of millions of dollars will be spent to rebuild the camp and then what?
Brian Wood is a member of the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace living in Palestine with other internationals helping to resist Israel’s 35-year military occupation of Palestine.
More information on his experience at: http://www.ccmep.org/palestine.html