Monday, April 15

MCC Palestine Update #45

MCC Palestine Update #45

The US Secretary of State comes, the US Secretary of State departs, and the humanitarian crisis in the occupied territories only intensifies. As of today's writing, the Israeli military is withdrawing from Nablus and Jenin, even as it remains in Bethlehem, Ramallah and Tulkarem. The devastation has been widespread. MCC is participating in relief efforts to Jenin, Nablus and other West Bank cities through two means: first, through convoys organized jointly by the Association of International Development Agencies and the Palestinian NGO Network; second, through a Joint Humanitarian Emergency Response of Christian NGOs (MCC, Catholic Relief Services, Lutheran World Federation, Caritas, Pontifical Mission for Palestine). For more information on MCC's relief efforts, see MCC's website:

As MCC staff accompanies these relief convoys, we hear one refrain repeated over and over: this relief aid is good and appreciated, but what we want is our freedom. The mounting humanitarian crisis in the occupied territories and the devastation of the Palestinian infrastructure which will take years to rebuild are simply the byproduct of Israel's ongoing military occupation of the West Bank.

Below are reports from the Jenin refugee camp, scene of the greatest devastation of the past three weeks.

INSIDE THE CAMP OF THE DEAD - The Times,,3-268533,00.html


THE LUNAR LANDSCAPE THAT WAS CAMP JENIN - The Guardian,2763,685133,00.html

BLASTED TO RUBBLE BY THE ISRAELIS - The Telegraph;$sessionid$IWRB3RYAAF115QFIQMGSFF4AVCBQWIV0?xml=/news/2002/04/16/wmid16.xml&sSheet=/portal/2002/04/16/ixport.html


From Phil Reeves in Jenin

[The Independent - 16 April 2002]: 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 shoveled 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 tread marks.

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 under

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 neighborhood 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

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 armored 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 sanitized parts of the camp. We simply walked across the fields, flitted through an olive orchard overlooked by two Israeli tanks, and into the camp

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.

By Suzanne Goldenberg in Jenin

[The Guardian - Tuesday April 16, 2002] A fortnight ago, before Israeli forces invaded, this was a crowded, bustling place. The narrow alleys between the cinderblock homes - spanning barely the width of outstretched arms - were packed with children.

Yesterday, the Hart al-Hawashin neighborhood, the heart of the Jenin refugee camp, was a silent wasteland, permeated with the stench of rotting corpses and cordite. The evidence of lives interrupted was everywhere. Plates of food sat in refrigerators in houses sheared in half by Israeli bulldozers. Pages from children's exercise books fluttered in the breeze.

In a ruined house, the charred corpse of a gunman wearing the green bandana of Hamas lay where it fell, beside his ammunition belt. Electric cables snaked through the ruins. Alleys leading off the square deepened the image of wanton destruction: entire sides of buildings gouged out, stripped out to the kitchen tiles like discarded dolls' houses. The scale is almost beyond imagination: a vast expanse of rubble and mangled iron rods, surrounded by the gaping carcasses of shattered homes.

Yesterday the first definitive accounts of the battle of Jenin began to emerge as journalists broke through the Israeli cordon and gained access to the heart of the refugee camp. Palestinians describe a systematic campaign of destruction, with the Israeli army ploughing through occupied homes to broaden the alleys of the camp and make them accessible to tanks and vehicles.

But they also say the demolition campaign increased dramatically in the last two days of the battle for Jenin, with Israeli bulldozers exacting harsh retribution for the killing of 13 Israeli soldiers last Tuesday. "When the soldiers were killed, the Israelis became more aggressive," said Ali Damaj, who lives on the eastern edge of the camp."In one night, I counted 71 missiles from a helicopter."

For the Palestinians, the battle for the Jenin refugee camp has become a legend. Before the last of the militants surrendered last Wednesday, the camp saw the bloodiest fighting of Israel's offensive on West Bank towns. The brutal close-quarters combat claimed the lives of 23 Israeli soldiers, and an unknown number of Palestinians, civilians as well as fighters.

Palestinians accuse Israel of a massacre, and there are convincing accounts from local people of the occasional summary execution. However, there are no reliable figures for Palestinian dead and injured. The Red Cross carried away seven bodies yesterday, but the smell of rotting corpses remained.

"The soldiers had a map with them of the houses they wanted bulldozed, and outlined them with a blue marker," said Aisha Salah, whose house overlooks the field of destruction. "You could see the houses, you could see the trees. It was a very detailed map. I could even find my own home."

Ms Salah's home was occupied by Israeli soldiers who entered her living room by punching a hole through the neighbour's wall. Before they withdrew, one of the soldiers wrote a message on the wall in neat blue ink: "I don't have another land".

A week ago, one of the Israeli soldiers bedded down in Ms Salah's house was shot in the face by a Palestinian sniper as he stood at the window. Two days later, 13 Israeli soldiers were lured to their deaths in a nearby alley by a series of booby trap explosives, and then picked off by Palestinian gunmen.

"When there was resistance, especially after the 13 soldiers were killed, I could see a lot more squares on the map," said Ms Salah.

The systematic bulldozing of Palestinian homes began four days after Israeli forces blasted their way into the camp on the night of April 3, strafing houses from helicopter gunships, and pounding them with tank shells. Several civilians were killed in the initial assault, including Afif al-Dasuki. An elderly woman, who lived alone, she was evidently too slow when the Israeli soldiers pounded on her door and asked her to open up. Her neighbours discovered her body a week after her death, by the smell of decomposition, huddled behind the yellow-painted steel door, with the large hole in the middle.

Four days later, the army razed six houses in the Damaj neighbourhood on its eastern edges. They began with the house of Fatima Abu Tak, flattening homes on both sides of the street, "When I saw the house of Ahmed Goraj collapse, there was a tremendous amount of smoke and dust. I never expected that the bulldozers would continue moving. I was in a state of shock,"said Mr Damaj, who fled to a neighbour's when his own home became dangerously unstable.

A few hours later, soldiers entered the camp on foot, shooting their way between the cinderblock homes in groups of 15 or 20.Israeli soldiers injured in Jenin describe this as the most nerve-wracking part of the battle. "They booby trapped every centimeter. In one meter you would find 20 small booby traps or a big balloon attached with a wire. Every metre was very dangerous," said Dori Scheuer, who was shot in the stomach by a Palestinian gunman a week ago on Monday. "It was much more dangerous for us than it was for them because they knew the territory."

People in the camp say the capability of their fighters did not run much beyond pipe bombs packed with homemade explosives. However, the fighters were organised.

Palestinians admit the camp was liberally mined two or three days before the assault. But the strategy failed because Israel had no compunction about razing homes to make roads for its tanks.

"The thing we did not count on was the bulldozer. It was a catastrophe. If the Israelis had only gone one by one inside the camp, they would never have succeeded in entering," said Mr Damaj.

After the 13 soldiers were killed, Israel appears to have abandoned foot patrols. Instead, the army began knocking houses down indiscriminately, creating a vast plaza of rubble in the centre of the camp, a crossroads for the Israeli tanks.

"They just started demolishing with the people inside," said Hania al-Kabia, a mother of six whose flat is on the edge of the lunar landscape. "I used to hear them on the loudspeaker saying come out, come out. Then they stopped doing that, but they went on

Who Lives In Jenin Refugee Camp?
A Brief Statistical Profile
By Rita Giacaman and Penny Johnson

[Birzeit University - April 14, 2002]: The international media has begun to show some of the tragic human consequences of Israels assault on Jenin refugee camp: from one BBC report alone images flash of an old woman in a wheelchair abandoned in a field, dislocated families streaming towards neighboring villages, a woman weeping by the roadside for her husband shot while tending sheep, an injured man huddling in bed surrounded by his family who has called repeatedly for am ambulance.Yet Israeli officials persist in a rhetoric that brands Jenin refugee camp as a terrorist camp, with its all of its inhabitants, men, women and children of any age, thus also marked as terrorists and all actions taken against them thus justified.

Who are the people who live in Jenin Refugee Camp? Using data from the PCBS 1997 national census, UNRWA information and a 1999 community- based household survey by the Institute of Womens Studies at Birzeit University, in cooperation with the Institute of Community and Public Health, which included Jenin camp among the nineteen communities studied, we can glimpse a community of human beings living in want, and in very difficult circumstances, with particular vulnerabilities and with aspirations for a
better future for their children.

The 1997 national census recorded a population of 9104 in Jenin refugee camp, living in 1614 households. UNRWA reports a larger population of registered refugees at 13,055, suggesting that some households live outside formal camp boundaries which are quite restricted. Jenin camp lies within the municipal boundaries of Jenin, and was established in 1953 on 373 dunums of land, roughly a square kilometer. The dense population of the camp and the crowding of houses and facilities contributes to the dangers to innocent civilians, mostly women and children and older people, as those constitute roughly 67% of the population living there, particularly when Israeli airpower (F-16s and Apache helicopter gunships) and tank fire were used against the camp.

Almost half of camp children or elderly

Using PCBS figures, average household size is thus 5.6, slightly larger than the adjoining city of Jenin but lower than the national average of 6.1. 42.3% of the population of Jenin refugee camp is under fifteen years of age and 4.3% over sixty-five years of age; about 47% of the population are thus children and the elderly and particularly vulnerable in times of armed conflict and war. There are roughly equal numbers of males and females.

Both Jenin camp and city are refugee populations

Over 95% of the residents of the camp are registered refugees according to the national census. UNRWA reported that " Most of the camp's residents came from villages which can be seen from the camp and which lie today inside the Green Line in Israel'. Many of the refugees still maintain close ties with their relatives in those villages. Also of interest is that half (49.7%) of the population of Jenin city (population in 1997: 26,650) are also refugees. Israel's assault on Jenin is thus an attack on a largely refugee population.

One-third work as unskilled laborers; unemployment high even before intifada

In the 1997 national census, about 70% of Jenin refugee camp males 15 and over were economically active in the formal labor force and another 20% were students. About 14% of refugee camp women 15 years and over were economically active in the labor force, which is higher than the national average, while 21% were students and 53% were home-makers. For the male labor force, as UNRWA points out : " while many camp residents find employment in the agricultural sector, many are still dependent on work inside Israel".

Following the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the close proximity of Palestinian communities inside Israel to communities in the Jenin District, as well as social and cultural links, encouraged an increase in commercial activities across the borders. An increasing number of workers, formerly absorbed in local agriculture began working inside Israel and local agricultural activities declined with a consequential serious deterioration in agricultural productivity. More recently, conditions which emerged during the first and particularly the second uprising, the tightening of Israeli restrictions of movement, and the cutting off of relations between the town and even its villages led to serious economic strife. The inability of laborers to travel freely for employment led to very high levels of unemployment there, and a severe drop in family incomes.

Patterns of occupation and employment, as found in the IWS survey, also indicate chronic deprivation, with 48% of those living in the town being employers or self employed, in contrast to 25% in the camp. Almost a third of the camp labor force are unskilled workers, most of these are among the third of the labor force that works irregularly as day laborers. The IWS household survey revealed a relatively high unemployment rate in the camp, even before the beginning of this uprising. For those in the labor force, we found that only 64% of camp dwellers were working regularly, compared to a higher 81% in the town. We also found that the unemployment rate was
around 10% in the camp, compared to 4% in the city. Looking at unemployment by household, we found that 94% of households in towns have at least one member working, compared to only 85% in the camp. Even before the invasion, one can assume that the quarter of the camp labor force that worked outside the Jenin District was largely unable to reach their work

Home economy sustains families, but women under heavy burden

The home economy in Jenin camp seems to be an important means to sustain families, and indicative of under-development, deprivation and poverty. It appears to take up significant amounts of women’s labor. In this day and age, a high of 52% of Jenin camps women respondents reported baking bread on a daily basis, compared to 23% in Jenin town. Nine percent in the camp still process dairy products, 23% preserve foods, 15% raise poultry, 17% bake pastries and sweets always and 59% sometimes, and 4% sell poulty and livestock products for money. In contrast, these home production activities especially in the towns of the West Bank, are by now almost extinct. When asked about why they engage in these activities, 27% reported that this cuts down on family expenses.

Both in situations of chronic deprivation and vulnerability and in times of crisis, there are particularly heavy burdens on women. In the IWS survey, 14% of the married female population between 15-65 had married before the age of 15 and 28% under the age of sixteen. Drop-out rates in the Jenin district are also particularly high. Pressures for girls to leave school for marriage and boys for work arise from difficult economic circumstances in the family. These difficult circumstances also affect health: a large 48% of women in the 15-65 age group, for example, reported at least one miscarriage.

Chronic poverty in refugee camps

In available data for 1996-1998, residents of refugee camps are generally poorer than residents in villages and cities. In the West Bank, where camp residents make up about 6% of the population, 19% of refugee camp residents were under the poverty line in the relatively prosperous year of 1998, while 16.5% of villagers and 10.4% of urban residents were. Levels of deep poverty were also higher in camps. In addition, the Jenin and Hebron Districts are the poorest of the West Bank eight districts, with three times as many households under the poverty line in 1998 than households in the Ramallah/Bireh district, for example. Given PCBSs estimates of a 48% drop in median household income nationally after six months of closures and siege during the second Palestinian intifada, wecan only assume that Jenin camp households were already struggling to survive even before the Israeli assault on their homes, and must now suffer serious want.

The poorest of the poor: Special concern for those who depend on social assistance
Of special concern are those households already surviving on special hardship assistance from UNRWA or the Ministry of Social Affairs primarily female-headed households (mainly widows) or households whose head is elderly, disabled or chronically ill. In 1999, the Ministry of Social Affairs reported that 7.4% of households in Jenin camp (120 households) were receiving social assistance and UNRWA reports 307 households in Jenin camp receiving special hardship assistance, for a total of 877 beneficiaries. In the Jenin camp sample from the Institute of Women’s Studies (IWS) 1999 survey, 20% reported receiving formal social assistance from MSA, UNRWA’s or NGOs, compared to only about 2% in the city of Jenin, itself a relatively poor environment. Using the wealth index in this survey, 47% of Jenin camp residents were poor, while only 23% in Jenin city fell into this category (basically the lowest third of the population). Only 3% of camp residents owned any land. Tellingly, 70% of camp respondents in the IWS survey reported food as the biggest expense for their children, compared to only 24% in the city, an indication of lives where basic needs continue to be a struggle, even before the beginning of this Uprising. It is highly unlikely that the Ministry of Social Affairs is able to operate under current conditions and UNRWA also faces restrictions in reaching those poorest of the poor who are dependent on a monthly stipend for survival.

Jenin camp was also poorer than the adjoining city in census data, as measured by possession of durable goods. Only 36% of Jenin households had a phone line and 14% a private car, as opposed to 45% in Jenin city with a phone line and 33% with a private car. In times of war, these indicators of poverty are also indicators of increased vulnerability, blocking routes of escape and communication.

Education: Low Rates in Present; High Aspirations for Future

The national census reports that a third of women in Jenin camp over 12 (33.4%) are illiterate or have no formal schooling but some basic skills, while 20.9% of males are in the same category. As is true nationally, illiteracy is mostly among the older population. Still, only 22% of males and 18.9% of women have achieved secondary education or higher.

The Institute of Women’s Studies household survey of 1999 also investigated aspirations for male and female children. Despite the relatively low educational rates of the adult population in Jenin refugee camp or perhaps because of them mothers and fathers have high educational aspirations for their children. Almost 70% (69%) wanted their sons to achieve post-secondary education at a bachelors degree level and 67% wanted this same level of higher education for their daughters. The present times of war, dislocation and immiseration make these and other aspirations even harder to realize and at the same time more important in order for the people of Jenin refugee camp to survive, develop and realize their hopes for the future.


1- BBC World Service, 11 April 2002, Report by Olga Guerin.
2- PCBS , Population, Housing and Establishment Census 1997, unpublished data on Jenin and Jenin refugee camp provided to the Institute of Womens Studies.
3- Giacaman and Johnson, ed. 2002. Inside Palestinian Households: Initial Analysis of a Community Based Household Survey, Volume 1. Birzeit University
4- See
5- PCBS 2000. Poverty in Palestine(January-December 1998), table
6- PCBS April 2001, Impact of Israeli Measures on the Economic Conditions of Palestinian Households. Also see UNSCO reports on the Palestinian economy during this period.

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