- A monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover
up for a fortnight has finally been exposed. Its troops have caused devastation
in the centre of the Jenin refugee camp, reached yesterday by The Independent,
where thousands of people are still living amid the ruins.
- A residential area roughly 160,000 square yards about
a third of a mile wide has been reduced to dust. Rubble has been shovelled
by bulldozers into 30ft piles. The sweet and ghastly reek of rotting human
bodies is everywhere, evidence that it is a human tomb. The people, who
spent days hiding in basements crowded into single rooms as the rockets
pounded in, say there are hundreds of corpses, entombed beneath the dust,
under a field of debris, criss-crossed with tank and bulldozer treadmarks.
- In one nearby half-wrecked building, gutted by fire,
lies the fly-blown corpse of a man covered by a tartan rug. In another
we found the remains of 23-year-old Ashraf Abu Hejar beneath the ruins
of a fire-blackened room that collapsed on him after being hit by a rocket.
His head is shrunken and blackened. In a third, five long-dead men lay
- A quiet. sad-looking young man called Kamal Anis led
us across the wasteland, littered now with detritus of what were once households,
foam rubber, torn clothes, shoes, tin cans, children's toys. He suddenly
stopped. This was a mass grave, he said, pointing.
- We stared at a mound of debris. Here, he said, he saw
the Israeli soldiers pile 30 bodies beneath a half-wrecked house. When
the pile was complete, they bulldozed the building, bringing its ruins
down on the corpses. Then they flattened the area with a tank. We could
not see the bodies. But we could smell them.
- A few days ago, we might not have believed Kamal Anis.
But the descriptions given by the many other refugees who escaped from
Jenin camp were understated, not, as many feared and Israel encouraged
us to believe, exaggerations. Their stories had not prepared me for what
I saw yesterday. I believe them now.
- Until two weeks ago, there were several hundred tightly-packed
homes in this neighbourhood called Hanat al-Hawashim. They no longer exist.
- Around the central ruins, there are many hundreds of
half-wrecked homes. Much of the camp - once home to 15,000 Palestinian
refugees from the 1948 war - is falling down. Every wall is speckled and
torn with bullet holes and shrapnel, testimony of the awesome, random firepower
of Cobra and Apache helicopters that hovered over the camp.
- Building after building has been torn apart, their contents
of cheap fake furnishings, mattresses, white plastic chairs spewed out
into the road. Every other building bears the giant, charred, impact mark
of a helicopter missile. Last night there were still many families and
weeping children still living amid the ruins, cut off from the humanitarian
aid. Ominously, we found no wounded, although there was a report of a man
being rescued from beneath ruins only an hour before we arrived.
- Those who did not flee the camp, or not detained by the
army, have spent the bombardment in basements, enduring day after day of
terror. Some were forced into rooms by the soldiers, who smashed their
way into houses through the walls. The UN says half of the camp's 15,000
residents were under 18. As the evening hush fell over these killing fields,
we could suddenly hear the children chattering. The mosques, once so noisy
at prayer time, were silent.
- Israel was still trying to conceal these scenes yesterday.
It had refused entry to Red Cross ambulances for nearly a week, in violation
of the Geneva Convention. Yesterday it continued to try to keep us out.
- Jenin, in the northern end of the occupied West Bank,
remained "a closed military zone", was ringed Merkava tanks,
army Jeep patrols, and armoured personnel carriers. Reporters caught trying
to get in were escorted out. A day earlier the Israeli armed forces took
in a few selected journalists to see sanitised parts of the camp. We simply
walked across the fields, flitted through an olive orchard overlooked by
two Israeli tanks, and into the camp itself.
- We were led in by hands gesturing at windows. Hidden,
whispering people directed us through narrow alleys they thought were clear.
When there were soldiers about, a finger would raise in warning, or a hand
waved us back. We were welcomed by people desperate to tell what had occurred.
They spoke of executions, and bulldozers wrecking homes with people inside.
"This is mass murder committed by Ariel Sharon," Jamel Saleh,
43, said. "We feel more hate for Israel now than ever. Look at this
boy." He placed his hand on the tousled head of a little boy, Mohammed,
the eight-year-old son of a friend. "He saw all this evil. He will
remember it all." So will everyone else who saw the horror of Jenin
refugee camp. Palestinians who entered the camp yesterday were almost speechless.
- Rajib Ahmed, from the Palestinian Energy Authority, came
to try to repair the power lines. He was trembling with fury and shock.
"This is mass murder. I have come here to help by I have found nothing
but devastation. Just look for yourself." All had the same message:
tell the world.