Jenin's [Palestinian] War Criminals
By JEROME MARCUS The Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2002
The United Nations is intent on investigating charges that Israeli forces
violated the human rights of Palestinians during this month's raid on the
Jenin refugee camp. Because noncombatants were killed there, the word
"massacre" is being bandied about in the press. Many in the "human rights
community," however, have already reached a verdict. "When we are confronted
with the extent of destruction of the Jenin refugee camp," says Rene
Kosirnik of the International Committee of the Red Cross, "it is difficult
to accept that international humanitarian law has been respected." Amnesty
International claims it too has evidence of human-rights abuses in Jenin.
Mr. Kosirnik and friends are right about one thing: International law was
violated in Jenin, and the violations should be investigated. But the law
was not broken by Israel, which has responded carefully and proportionately
to the daily murder of its citizens. Under international law, the people
violating the human rights of Palestinian noncombatants are Palestinian
terrorists, who have hidden themselves and their weapons -- without uniforms
or other identifying insignia required by the laws of war -- among the
civilian population of the West Bank.
In Article 58 of its Protocol relating to the Protection of Victims of
International Armed Conflicts, the Geneva Convention says those in control
of territory must "endeavor to remove the civilian population, individual
civilians and civilian objects under their control from the vicinity of
military objectives; Avoid locating military objectives within or near
densely populated areas; Take the other necessary precautions to protect the
civilian population, individual civilians and civilian objects under their
control against the dangers resulting from military operations."
George H. Aldrich, the chief American negotiator of this treaty, has
explained that under it, "a party in control of territory" -- as the
Palestinians were in each West Bank town until the Israelis defeated them --
"is instructed to take all feasible measures to protect civilians and
civilian objects from the effects of combat, largely by trying to separate
them to the extent possible from military objectives." Such a party must
therefore "avoid unnecessarily siting military objectives near civilian
The Palestinian terrorists did the exact opposite. Rather than "avoid
unnecessarily siting military objectives near civilian dwellings," they hid
such "objectives" almost exclusively in dwellings and other civilian
buildings: The bomb factories Israel found throughout the West Bank were
located in homes, schools and other civilian sites. And rather than "trying
to separate, to the extent possible, from military objectives," the
Palestinians went out of their way to hide military objectives behind, in,
around and under civilian (and even humanitarian) objectives. The ambulance
containing the bomb belt; the pregnant young woman in "labor" who turns out
to be about to give birth to a bomb -- these are the most explicit possible
violations of the international human rights of the population in whose
midst these military objectives are hidden.
In a post-battle interview with the Cairo weekly Al-Ahram, an Arab bomb
maker named "Omar" proudly laid out the Palestinians' strategy of
militarizing homes: "We had more than 50 houses booby-trapped around the
camp," he said. Unarmed women lured Israeli soldiers to their deaths.
The Palestinians used the civilian population like this, we know, because
that is part of their strategy: make victims and then cry about victims.
Plus, knowing they cannot face the IDF in the field, the Palestinians tried
to cripple the Israeli army by hiding among civilians, thereby forcing the
real soldiers to hold back. The Palestinians knew that the Israelis -- a
disciplined army of husbands and fathers -- would restrain themselves to
avoid killing noncombatants.
Even Arab fighters have admitted the Israelis did exactly that. Captured
Jenin-based terrorist Thabet Mardawi told CNN last week that he "and other
Palestinian fighters had expected Israel to attack with planes and tanks."
"I couldn't believe it when I saw the soldiers," he said. "The Israelis knew
that any soldier who went into the camp like that was going to get killed."
Shooting at these men as they walked cautiously down the street "was like
hunting . . . like being given a prize. . . I've been waiting for a moment
like that for years."
Can it be any clearer? The 13 Israeli soldiers killed in that Jenin
deathtrap died precisely because they were trying to discriminate between
military and nonmilitary "objectives" the way a Daisy Cutter can't. In other
words, they were trying to undo the effect of the human-rights violations
inflicted on the population of Jenin by the terrorist army that made its
Eventually, of course -- as was certain to happen so long as they were not
pulled out too soon -- the Israelis were successful in their mission. But
the Palestinian terrorists, having planted themselves among civilians, have
harvested a fresh crop of victims, which they are now using for
public-relations purposes. The U.N. investigation in Jenin is the fruit of
that PR campaign. What the Palestinians did to harvest that fruit, however
is the real violation of the West Bank residents' human rights.
The only proper question for the U.N. to ask about Israel's conduct, by
contrast, is whether it was a proportionate response to this provocation and
to these methods of fighting. If the U.N. wants to investigate that question
again, it should be free to do so. But it cannot even pose the question
properly without an accurate understanding of the unceasing human-rights
violations that Israel confronted as its soldiers walked slowly down the
booby-trapped streets of Jenin, trying to tell the difference between
innocent victims of war and the terrorists hiding among them, using them as
That fraud is the real human-rights violation in Jenin, and throughout the
Mr. Marcus, an attorney with the State Department in 1987-88, is a lawyer in