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What Massacre?

Foreign Affairs

By Nader R. Hasan

How does a massacre in the most-watched part of the world go unnoticed? Amazing what you can do when you have White House spin-masters, the New York Times and CNN on your side.

The Jenin Massacre—as it will one day be known—was perpetrated from April 3-April 19. When the tanks finally departed and Jenin’s terrified residents began to slowly emerge from their homes (if those homes had not already been destroyed by bulldozers), they were greeted with the stench of rotting human corpses and a scene that United Nations Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen has described as “horrifying beyond belief.”

That the Jenin Massacre happened is a human tragedy; that it has gone virtually unreported in the U.S. media is blotch on our conscience.

The Israeli government acknowledges that 23 Israeli soldiers and approximately 50 Palestinians died during the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) incursion into the Jenin refugee camp, but it claims that most of the dead Palestinians were armed fighters. Residents of Jenin disagree; they say that Israeli soldiers shot anything that moved and that most of the dead civilians lie underneath the rubble of their bulldozed homes. However, it has been difficult to confirm reports of a massacre because during the invasion the IDF sealed off the camp from the media, aid organizations and even the Red Cross.

Now that some human rights investigators have made their way into what is left of the camp, a budding mountain of evidence suggests that that most of the casualties—perhaps numbering in the hundreds—were civilians. They were civilians like Fadwa Jamma, a nurse in uniform who was shot in the heart as she tried to help a wounded man; Faris Zeben, a 14-year-old boy who was killed as he tried to buy groceries when a curfew was lifted; Jamal Feyed, one of many who were buried alive in bulldozed homes; and Kemal Zughayer, a man in a wheelchair who was shot as he tried to wheel himself up the street and then was crushed under a tank.

The eyewitness testimonies of Jenin’s residents, along with clues that international investigators are gradually unearthing, show that Jenin was clearly more than a mere gun-battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters. Professor Derrick Pounder, a British forensics expert working with Amnesty International in Jenin, harbors no doubt about the eventual outcome of the investigations: “The truth will come out, as it has come out in Bosnia and Kosovo, as it has in other places where we’ve had these kinds of allegations.”

The truth is coming out—just not in U.S. newspapers.

While Britain’s BBC and France’s Le Monde were running stories on the massacre, the U.S. media dusted reports about Jenin under the carpet. Some U.S. publications responded to news of a massacre by momentarily cooling their anti-Palestinian rhetoric. For a brief time, the New York Times’ good cop/bad cop duo of Thomas Friedman and William Safire relented in their onslaught against Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Safire took a break from the Middle East and wrote on cosmetic surgery, while Friedman urged his readers to watch the Golf Channel instead of listening to news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Other publications did not exercise such restraint. This esteemed paper did not ease the flow of virulently anti-Palestinian articles and images in its editorial pages: while Israeli soldiers were besieging Ramallah, Qaluilya, Nablus, Tulkarm, Bethlehem and Jenin, The Crimson published a cartoon of a vicious serpent besieging a Herculean Israel (April 15, 2002).

Perhaps the nation’s media were simply reacting to our government’s assurances. Secretary of State Colin Powell testified before a Congressional committee that he had no evidence that a massacre had occurred. And although President Bush requested that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon end the military campaign in the West Bank, Washington did not even mildly rebuke its Middle Eastern ally.

How many Palestinian women and children must die at the hands of an Israeli gun, bulldozer or U.S.-supplied Apache helicopter-gunship before Americans begin to take Israel to task? Israel is, of course, a friend and ally to America, but there ought to be limits on what our friendship must endure.

I realize that information bias exists on both sides of this conflict. I was disturbed to learn that the Saudi and Egyptian press covered the Passover Massacre of 28 Israelis with the same callousness that the Wall Street Journal reports Palestinian casualties. Yet the recklessness of the Arab press does not absolve us from our responsibility to learn and tell the truth. We are, after all, a democratic society. And our nation is the only nation in the world with the ability to act as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Efforts to hide the truth from the American public only undermine our position in playing this vital role.

It is time for our leaders and our media to stop blaming Arafat for everything that is wrong in the Middle East and to accept the bitter truth, as difficult as that may be for some of us. By refusing to acknowledge the realities of Ariel Sharon’s gruesome colonial war, we are complicit in these crimes. Our nation must stop turning the other way every time our friends in the Middle East dehumanize, maim, or murder their Palestinian neighbors. Even friends need to know when to draw the line.

Nader R. Hasan ’02 is a government concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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