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I'm writing this email after having returned last night from the emergency army call up that sweetly interrupted my life 3 weeks ago.
I'm writing this email for simple reasons, to tell you the truth about what happened in Jenin over the last 2-3 weeks and to share some of the stories and incidents that we had. Its pretty sad seeing and hearing the lies CNN, BBC and all the others have been feeding the world when you have seen a completely different picture yourself. Feel free to pass this email around and send me any feedback or questions.
Let me just get one thing cleared, there was no massacre in Jenin, I repeat no massacre in Jenin!!! (Ill get back to this later)
My reserve battalion was stationed on the northern and eastern border of Jenin with the purpose of ensuring the enclosure of the area during the Defensive Shield Operation took place. We were divided amongst a number of roadblocks and defensive positions with the main purpose of preventing terrorists leaving Jenin to carry out attacks inside Israel and also from escaping during the operation. We were also responsible for monitoring the entrance of the Press and humanitarian aid going into Jenin, and also Palestinians needing to leave Jenin for humanitarian reasons. I myself together with 11 other soldiers manned a small roadblock at the northern tip of Jenin, which was one of the main thoroughfares for traffic entering and exiting the area.
Jenin is not a big town. The refugee camp is a small part of Jenin and the pictures repeatedly shown on TV are of a small section (10%-i 5%) of the refugee camp that was destroyed. The refugee camp is where the terrorists have mainly operated and harboured factories and storage facilities for weapons, explosive belts etc. Many of the recent suicide bombers have strapped themselves up in this refugee camp. What is also very fascinating is that UNWRA United Nations Work and Relief Agency - part of the UN) has been responsible for the refugee camps over the last 50 years and has allowed terrorist infrastructure to flourish under its nose.
In the fighting that took place in the refugee camp, children were used as human shields by the terrorists. One of the brigade commanders told us this last Saturday night that they were shot at in the small alleys of the camp. They returned fire only to hear the cries of young children to which they immediately stopped shooting and prayed that they had not killed any children. They hadn't.
The armies respect and consideration for the lives of innocent civilians is of a high standard. For this reason, 23 of our own boys were killed in the Jenin fighting. If we had no regard for the lives of innocent civilians, 23 sons, husbands and fathers would be at home with their families now. They were the price we paid for the high moral and ethical standards upheld during the fighting.
During the week of the incursion into Jenin the area was a closed military zone. However contrary to what was reported, humanitarian aid was allowed in and I myself personally checked many of the hundreds of trucks that were allowed in to deliver supplies to the Palestinians. This was carefully coordinated with the army to ensure that innocent civilians would receive the supplies and to minimise the risks of those entering the areas.
For a few days after the fighting had stopped, the area was closed off to the press. This is when the rumours of the massacre began despite the army press giving detailed briefing sessions to the media on the situation. So why was the area closed to the press and what did we seemingly have something to hide? Simply, the refugee camp had been booby trapped by the terrorists and minefields awaited those that entered. Soldiers inside the refugee camp told me of not being able to move 5 meters at a time without having to diffuse another pipe bomb or mine. Many of the houses destroyed were done so by bombs planted by the very residents of the camp. Some of the dead bodies were also booby trapped with grenades and mines awaiting the Israeli soldiers.
(The Palestinian death toll stands at below 40 with maybe another 20 or so buried in the rubble of which most has been cleared up. This was also told to us by embarrassed reporters who entered the area eagerly waiting to report an Israeli massacre of Palestinians only to be disappointed to find minimal destruction.)
The media. Last Sunday while myself and my good friend Ben were on duty at the roadblock at the time when no press were allowed to enter Jenin, we spotted a jeep trying to evade the roadblock through an adjacent field. We managed to stop the jeep and discovered a group of French Journalists who had managed to enter Jenin and were now trying to leave. We followed the normal procedure of questioning them, checking their vehicle and identification. This process sometimes takes a while because we have to phone another army base that then checks the identities with the Israeli authorities which includes the intelligence operations. Anyway, it turned out that one of the supposed French journalists is actually a Palestinian terrorist on Israel's wanted list. He was taken away by the police together with the other real French journalists. Bet you never heard about that one on TV.
Last Thursday, friends of mine on duty at another outpost a few kilometers away from me spotted two young kids walking in the middle of the day with black backpacks on their backs. The two kids entered an abandoned structure about 800 meters away from the outpost and left without the bags. The kids thought they had gone unnoticed. It was later discovered that the bags contained weapons, explosives, and an Israeli army uniform with a red paratrooper beret. The plan was for a terrorist to pickup the loot at night, dress up as an Israeli soldier and attack the outpost. We had already received intelligence reports 5 days earlier warning of a terrorist dressing up as a soldier and entering one of the outposts.
Avi, a good friend of mine studying together with me at Bar Ilan was stationed in Nablus (Shchem) during this operation and told me the following: They took over a house in Nablus as a stronghold in order for the operation to clear out the terrorist infrastructure there. While in the house, they did not use the electricity to charge their cell phones. They did not touch or eat any food left in the house. They made a concerted effort not to use any furniture in the house. When they left the house a few days ago during the pullout of Nablus, they cleaned the house and left money on the table. I have heard this reported from soldiers that were also in Beit Lechem, Tulkarm, Kalkilya and Jenin.
On Monday morning this week, a UN bus entered Jenin carrying a UN rescue team from Britain. The team included doctors and other rescue personnel who get dispatched around the world to help with rescue operations. Four hours later the bus returned through our roadblock and they stopped and we had a chance to chat a little. The first thing they said is that this was the biggest waste of time for them and they would be catching the next flight out of Israel. One of the doctors told us that one of the "massacred" bodies he examined was that of a man that had been dead for ~ years. What a shame &~ 'he Palestinians dug him up to add to the death toll.
As my friends and I packed up yesterday ready to head for home we joked at how the whole world considers us to be monsters and how one day we might all be charged for war crimes. We felt good for having served our country once again and we hope that something was achieved in this operation. What lies ahead is still uncertain.
What became so clear to me is the importance of seeing things in the right context and perspective. If all that happened these last 3 weeks was an Israeli incursion into the Palestinian areas, then yes, maybe we don't look so good in the worlds eyes. But looking in the context of the history of Israel and our longing to live peacefully side by side with our Arab neighbours, we cannot let terror to exist and destroy our dream. I pray and hope that new Palestinian leadership emerges that will want to make this world a better place for its people.
Saul Kramer 25/04/02