Note to Correspondents
Note No 204
REPORT OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON RECENT EVENTS IN JENIN AND OTHER PALESTINIAN CITIES
The United Nations today released the Secretary-General’s report on recent events in Jenin and other Palestinian cities. This report was requested by the General Assembly in May (Resolution ES- 10/10 adopted on 7 May 2002), after the disbandment of the team which the Secretary-General, supported by the Security Council (Resolution 1405 of 19 April 2002), had proposed to send to Jenin to establish the facts on the ground.
The report was therefore written without a visit to Jenin or to the other Palestinian cities. It relies, as the Assembly requested, on "available resources and information", including submissions from six United Nations Member States and Observer Missions, documents in the public domain, and papers submitted by non-governmental organisations from a range of perspectives. The Palestinian Authority did submit information, while the Government of Israel did not. In an effort to present as complete a picture as possible, the report makes use of publicly available information from the Israeli Government.
The report covers a period running from approximately the beginning of March to 7 May 2002. It sets out the context and background of the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. It also describes the security, humanitarian and human rights responsibilities of both parties. It briefly charts the rising violence since September 2000, which had by 7 May 2002 caused the deaths of 441 Israelis and 1539 Palestinians.
It was against this backdrop that the most extensive Israeli military incursions in a decade, Operation Defensive Shield, took place – the proximate cause being the terrorist attack on 27 March in Netanya, in which 28 people were killed and 140 injured. The operation began on 29 March with an incursion into Ramallah, followed by entry into Tulkarm and Qalqilya on 1 April, Bethlehem on 2 April, and Jenin and Nablus on 3 April. By 3 April, six of the largest cities in the West Bank, and their surrounding towns, villages and refugee camps, were occupied by the Israeli military.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) announced the official end of Operation Defensive Shield on 21 April but its consequences lasted far longer. Much of the fighting that occurred during the operation took place in areas heavily populated by civilians – in large part because the armed Palestinian groups sought by the IDF during the incursions placed their combatants and installations among civilians – and in many cases heavy weaponry was used. As a result, the populations of the cities suffered severe hardships.
The report highlights some key aspects of the events in Jenin and other Palestinian cities:
Terrorist attacks from Palestinian cities
The report describes the concerns of the Government of Israel that a number of the cities served as bases for armed Palestinian groups engaged in terrorist acts against Israel. For example, Israel has charged that, from October 2000 to April 2002, twenty-eight suicide attacks were planned and launched from the Jenin camp. After their incursion into the camp, the IDF publicised the materials found there, including documents, arms caches and explosives laboratories
Conduct of the Palestinian militants during the incursions
The report notes that armed Palestinian groups are alleged to have widely booby-trapped civilian homes – acts which targeted IDF personnel, but also placed civilians in danger. It also quotes the Palestinian Authority as acknowledging that a number of Palestinian fighters resisted the Israeli military assault.
Conduct of the IDF during the incursions
The report refers to allegations from the Palestinian Authority and human rights organizations that in the course of its operations the IDF engaged in unlawful killings, the use of human shields, disproportionate use of force, arbitrary arrests and torture, and denial of medical treatment and access. Among the examples and descriptions given in the report are the following:
Death Toll: 497 Palestinians were killed and 1,447 wounded in the course of the IDF reoccupation of Palestinian areas from 1 March through 7 May 2002 and in the immediate aftermath. Most accounts estimate that between 70 and 80 Palestinians, including approximately 50 civilians, were killed in Nablus. The IDF lost four soldiers there. In Jenin camp, by the time of the IDF’s withdrawal and the lifting of the curfew on 18 April, at least fifty-two Palestinians, of whom up to half may have been civilians, and twenty-three Israeli soldiers were dead. Allegations by Palestinian Authority officials in mid-April that 500 or more persons were killed in Jenin camp were not substantiated by the evidence that subsequently emerged.
Arbitrary Arrests and Detention: By 6 May an alleged 7,000 Palestinians had been arrested under Operation Defensive Shield, many of them held for long periods with little or no outside contact. In many instances the IDF followed a pattern of using loudspeakers to summon males between the ages of 15 and 45. According to human rights reports, significant numbers of the men arrested were blindfolded and handcuffed, not allowed to use a lavatory, and deprived of food or blankets during their first day in detention.
Human Shields: There were numerous reports of the IDF compelling Palestinian civilians to accompany them during house searches, check suspicious subjects, stand in the line of fire, and in other ways protect soldiers from danger. Witnesses claim that this was done in the Jenin camp and other Palestinian cities. The Government of Israel has denied that its military personnel systematically engage in this practice, but on 5 May issued "an unequivocal order … that forces in the field are absolutely forbidden to use civilians as a means of ‘living shield’".
Disproportionate and Indiscriminate Destruction: Operation Defensive Shield resulted in the widespread destruction of Palestinian private and public property. The IDF is reported to have used bulldozers, tank shelling and rocket firing, at times from helicopters, in populated areas. The report points to the fact that over 2,800 refugee housing units were damaged and 878 homes were demolished or destroyed during the period covered, leaving more than 17,000 people homeless or in need of shelter rehabilitation. Nablus was especially hard hit in terms of physical destruction, notably in its Old City, which contained many buildings of cultural, religious and historic significance.
Destruction of Palestinian Authority Civilian Property: United Nations agencies and other international agencies, when allowed into Ramallah and other Palestinian cities, documented extensive physical damage to Palestinian Authority civilian property. That damage included the destruction of office equipment, such as computers and photocopying machines, that did not appear to be related to military objectives. While denying that such destruction was systematic, the IDF has admitted that its personnel engaged in some acts of vandalism, and is carrying out some related prosecutions.
Curfews and closures: Round-the-clock curfews were imposed in cities, refugee camps, towns and villages affecting an estimated 1 million people. 220,000 urban residents lived under curfew regimes for over a week, without vital supplies and access to first aid. In Nablus, for example, the IDF imposed a curfew on 3 April and completely lifted it only on 22 April.
Denial of Humanitarian Access: During and immediately after the incursions, the report finds that Palestinian civilians suffered from prolonged delays in medical attention for the wounded and sick. In Jenin, especially, from 11-15 April, United Nations and other humanitarian agencies petitioned and negotiated with the IDF for access to the camp, and made many attempts to send in convoys, to no avail. Many of the reports of human rights groups contain accounts of wounded civilians waiting days to reach medical assistance, and being refused medical treatment by IDF soldiers. In some cases, people died as a result of these delays.
Attacks on Ambulances: The report cites three instances where Israeli forces attacked ambulances. On 4 March (before the Jenin incursion), the head of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society Emergency Medical Service in Jenin was killed by a shell fired from an Israeli tank while he was travelling in a clearly marked ambulance. On 7 March, an employee of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was shot and killed while riding in an UNRWA ambulance near Tulkarm in the West Bank. And on 8 April an UNRWA ambulance was fired on as it tried to reach a wounded man in Jenin. The Government of Israel has asserted that ambulances were used to transport terrorists and their weapons.
Israeli death toll during the period 1 March – 7 May
According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the IDF lost thirty soldiers during Operation Defensive Shield. Israel also endured approximately 16 terrorist bombings, the large majority of which were suicide attacks, between the beginning of March and 7 May. More than 100 persons were killed and scores more wounded in those attacks.
The civilian population in the occupied Palestinian territory continues to suffer severe hardships, many of which have sharply intensified since the events covered in the report. There has been a near complete cessation of all productive activity in the main West Bank centres of manufacturing, construction, commerce and private and public services, exacerbating the severe decline in living standards over the last 18 months. The United Nations does not have a mandate to monitor and report on conditions in Israel, as it does in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and therefore does not have detailed information about the broader impact on Israel’s society and economy. But it is clear that during this period the Israeli people, too, have experienced great suffering, as a result of terrorism, and that Israel’s economy has been badly damaged.
In conclusion, the report stresses that a full and comprehensive account of the events in Jenin and other Palestinian cities could not be given without the full cooperation of both parties and a visit to the area. However, the Secretary-General expresses his confidence that "the picture painted in this report is a fair representation of a complex reality", as well as his belief that the events described show how urgent it is that the parties return to the peace process.
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