rfidler at cyberus.ca
Thu Apr 11 06:36:51 MDT 2002
Outnumbered, poorly armed, Palestinians held out for days
Survivors tell, then retell story of the devastating ambush in Jenin
By STEPHANIE NOLEN
Toronto Globe and Mail,
Thursday, April 11, 2002 - Page A17
TAIBEH, WEST BANK -- They fought as long as they could in the Jenin refugee
camp, the young Palestinian man said. They hid in alleyways and fought with
rifles against attack helicopters and tanks.
Buildings collapsed on them. When they ran out of ammunition, and no one was
left alive to bring them supplies, a few dozen fighters dropped their guns,
donned civilian clothes and sought shelter with families in the camp.
Israeli soldiers moved in and arrested hundreds of civilians, and the
fighters also were captured and taken to jail, said the man, who gave his
name as Hussein.
Yesterday the several hundred civilians, including the small group of
disguised gunmen, were deposited in the tiny village of Taibeh.
Jenin refugee camp, just two kilometres square, has fallen. But it is
already the stuff of Palestinian legend, as the camp that held off the might
of the Israeli army for at least 10 days.
Israel said yesterday that it controlled all but a small corner of the camp,
now a heap of smouldering rubble. Several hundred fighters reportedly gave
themselves up yesterday, after running out of ammunition; others are
believed to have fought to the death.
The United Nations and relief agencies estimate 200 Palestinians are dead in
the camp, while Palestinian gunmen killed 23 Israelis.
The story of the ambush on Tuesday that felled 13 of those soldiers was
being told and retold yesterday. "One, dressed like a soldier, speaking
Hebrew, told them to come, come," one man recounted in the street of Taibeh
to approving nods from his listeners.
"And when they ran after him into a building, he exploded himself and then
the building fell in on them; it was wired to explosives, and then
[Palestinian gunmen] shot at them."
The refugee camp was home to 15,000 people, while the adjacent town of Jenin
houses about 25,000 more. Jenin is just a few kilometres from the border
with Israel, and much of its economy has depended on workers who crossed to
work in Israeli businesses, or on Arab Israelis who came to the town to
Israel has kept the camp strictly off limits to reporters. Taibeh is inside
the military cordon, accessible only after a hike of several kilometres
across the border and through almond orchards.
How did a small group of Palestinian fighters hold off the might of the
Israeli army? Their familiarity with the warren-like camp gave them an
advantage over the Israeli soldiers, but the fighters in Taibeh yesterday
offered other reasons.
The fighting, they said, was not led by any central command; the Palestinian
Authority led the fight against an earlier Israeli incursion, but this time,
much of the population took up weapons.
"They are a very strong people, who said, 'This is my home, my land, my
camp, and even though I have only primitive weapons, I am willing to die in
the camp,' " said a 26-year-old man named Mohammed, his head swathed in
Mohammed said the fighters at first used cellphones to communicate, but soon
ran out of charged batteries when the electricity was cut off, and fought on
Hussein, who said he was a farmer, also attributed the fighters' tenacity to
their motives: "The Israelis are not fighting with a very strong belief. We
are defending our beliefs and our honour and our land."
He said the fighting was not directed by the Palestinian Authority. In fact,
he said, the PA was the problem because "they gave bad orders. Their belief
is peace, and they are weak."
When it became apparent the PA could not lead the fight, Hussein said, the
people began to fight on their own.
"We learned from our parents and our grandparents who left their land [ahead
of the Jewish army] in 1948 and 1967," said a man who gave his name as
Ahmed. "We learned: Do not leave your land at any cost."
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