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The Jenin Probe Ends

The United Nations, unhappy about the prospect of seeing Israel exonerated, decides not to investigate Jenin.

12:00 AM, May 1, 2002 • By DAVID TELL
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UN SECRETARY GENERAL Kofi Annan's plan to send a high-level commission of inquiry to the West Bank Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin--where local UN officials and spokesman for a variety of terrorist organizations allege Israel has recently conducted a "massacre" of unarmed civilians--appears on the verge of collapse. During business hours yesterday, UN political affairs director Kieran Prendergast briefed the Security Council on the status of discussions with the Israeli government about the circumstances under which such a fact-finding body might be admitted to the site. Prendergast then told reporters that Annan was "minded to disband the team" rather than further modify its mission in order to satisfy Israeli concerns about fairness. A serious report on the fighting in Jenin "would not be possible without the cooperation of the government of Israel," Prendergast announced--inadvertently confirming Israeli fears about where the UN's instincts lie. As of late last night, no sign of increased Israeli "cooperation" was forthcoming.

That's a relief. For reasons The Weekly Standard outlines in its current editorial, Annan's fact-finding proposal for Jenin has always been horrible in its very essence. If it does wind up falling apart, no honest observer should mourn the damn thing.

Honest observers do have call to regret, however, the extent to which Western media outlets have proved . . . incurious, shall we say, about what actually did happen in Jenin. There's never been any reason to wait for the UN to figure it out. Or, more likely, fail to figure it out. Or, more likely still, to lie about it--as UN Relief and Works Agency head Peter Hansen has been doing since the fighting stopped. Interesting, relevant facts are flying around all over the place. But somehow very few of them have found their way into the newspapers.

For instance: For a week now, the invaluable Middle East Media Research Institute has had posted on its website an extensive collection of translations from Arab-language news accounts of the Jenin incident. They quote an impressive number of leading terrorist commandos speaking, during and immediately after the fighting, about what exactly went on. Oddly enough, at the time, it occurred to none of these gentlemen to alert their Arabic-speaking audience that the Israelis were busy mowing down women and children.

Several of them did, however, suggest that Palestinians themselves were eagerly placing such "civilians" in harm's way.

"Believe me, there are children stationed in the houses with explosive belts at their sides," Abu Jandal, a Jenin-based Islamic Jihad lieutenant, told Al Jazeera television on April 4, while the fighting was still underway. After the fact, Sheikh Abu Al-Hija, Abu Jandal's Hammas counterpart in Jenin, proudly confirmed that the camp's children had "filled their school bags with explosive devices." And Jamal Huweil, chief of Jenin's Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, boasted to London's Al-Hayat newspaper that at least four such children had rushed Israeli tanks and blown themselves up.

In a lengthy interview with the official Egyptian government publication Al-Ahram Weekly, a one-armed Islamic Jihad operative named "Omar" has described how he and his colleagues rigged more than fifty houses in central Jenin (not all of them vacant--and some of them, presumably, now featured in news photos of "Israeli destruction") with "powerful bombs." Omar has also explained how the ambush and killing of 13 Israeli soldiers on foot patrol through Jenin was accomplished: The mujahedeen sent women out to tell the Israelis that they had run out of ammunition and wanted to surrender. These women then walked the Israelis into a section of street booby-trapped with mines.

On April 10, Islamic Jihad's website announced that its top man in Jenin, Muhammad Tawalbeh, before blowing himself up inside his own home as Israeli commandos moved to arrest him, had acted to prevent Palestinian civilians from fleeing the camp for their own safety. Tawalbeh, jihadonline.org was pleased to report, "had thwarted all attempts by the occupation to evacuate the camp residents to make it easier for the Israelis to destroy [the camp] on the heads of the fighters."

In the past few days, the Israeli Defense Forces have released intelligence reports indicating that a "special public affairs committee" of Palestinians in Jenin has organized extensive preparations for Kofi Annan's fact-finding committee. Specifically, the Palestinians appear to be inventing those facts they wish to be found. According to the Israelis, camp residents "have begun moving bodies buried in the cemetery next to the government hospital prior to operation 'Defensive Shield' into a 'mass grave' of casualties of the operation." Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority has ordered a stop to searches through demolished buildings "so that they will be found only in the presence of the UN committee." The PA has rented houses in the town of Jenin for persons displaced from the UN camp, but has asked them to "arrive back in the refugee camp during daytime (the UN committee operating hours) and sit inside tents."

Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat's operatives are busy hiding evidence of Palestinian military activity in Jenin--and attempting to conceal the fact that at least 21 Palestinian locals have been wounded by unexploded terrorist ordinance since the Israelis withdrew from the scene.

Israel has made six specific requests to the United Nations during the latest, apparently fruitless negotiations over a Jenin fact-finding mission. One of them is that Kofi Annan guarantee his team will look into reports like these, as well. Annan would rather forget the whole thing than provide such an assurance of balance.

Just as well.

David Tell is opinion editor of The Weekly Standard.