Destruction of the Civilian Infrastructure
Particularly in the initial stages of the incursion, witnesses described how the IDF's armored bulldozers began destroying their homes while they were still inside, endangering the lives of civilians. Bulldozers initially entered the al-Damaj area of the camp on the east hill of the camp. Bulldozers were able to enter the area below Hawashin area on April 6 and 7, and the Hawashin district on April 9 and 10.
Ahmad Jalamna, aged thirty-seven, lived on the southeast outskirts of the Jenin refugee camp, where bulldozers first entered the camp at the beginning of the incursion. He recalled how IDF bulldozers began destroying his home while his family was still inside on the second day of the attack, April 4, and then shot at his elderly mother when she tried to go outside and stop the bulldozers:
Then they brought the bulldozers. In ten minutes, they had destroyed the shop [in front of the house] and some of the rooms [of my house]. I was in the basement and came inside with the others. I told my mother to go out. When the soldiers saw her, they started shooting at her and I pulled her back inside. Then, they threw a sound bomb inside.133
Human Rights Watch documented one case in which a civilian was buried alive when IDF bulldozers collapsed his home. Jamal Fayid was a thirty-seven-year-old paralyzed man living in the Jurrat al-Dahab area of the camp, and his family could not evacuate him in time. Despite the pleas of the family, the IDF bulldozer refused to stop the demolition of the home on April 6. Jamal Fayid was killed in the collapsed building (see below for more details). It is difficult to see what military goal could have been furthered or what legitimate consideration of military necessity could be put forward to justify the crushing to death of Jamal Fayid without giving his family the opportunity to remove him from his home. The remains of a number of Palestinian militants have been recovered from collapsed buildings, as well as those of civilians who were known to have died but whose remains could not be evacuated prior to the bulldozing. At this writing, recovery efforts continue at the Jenin refugee camp, and it is possible that more remains of civilians or armed Palestinians killed during the bulldozing will be recovered. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any cases of missing people who are believed to be buried under the rubble at the time of this report.
On April 9 in the Hashawin area, Samia Abu Sha`ab described how his father was shot dead by IDF soldiers after trying to get bulldozers to stop destroying their home while they were inside: "The bulldozers started destroying the outside half of our house. Half of the house was very destroyed. My father went out to see what had happened. He spoke to the driver of the bulldozer and explained that his family was inside. The bulldozer stopped."134 Shortly afterwards, Samia's father, Muhammad Abu Sha`ab, was shot dead by an Israeli sniper as he stood inside his half-destroyed home (see below). The family was forced to flee the home and had to abandon the corpse of their father inside. When they returned after the offensive, their home had been bulldozed and they had to use a bulldozer to recover their father's remains.
The most significant damage occurred in Hawashin district after the April 9 ambush and killing of Israeli soldiers by Palestinian militants. Because most residents had fled the area by the time it was leveled by bulldozers, Human Rights Watch has been unable to establish precisely when the damage occurred. It is thus difficult to compile an accurate picture of when and how the razing took place. However, it is clear from the wholesale damage, the only area of Jenin camp to be completely leveled, that the destruction was deliberately comprehensive.
Based on detailed maps in which individual buildings can be identified, Human Rights Watch counted a total of 140 completely destroyed buildings in the camp-many multi-family dwellings-of which more than one hundred were located in the completely razed area of the Hawashin district. While there is no doubt that Palestinian fighters in the Hawashin district had set up obstacles and risks to IDF soldiers, the wholesale leveling of the entire district extended well beyond any conceivable purpose of gaining access to fighters, and was vastly disproportionate to the military objectives pursued.
The wholesale leveling of more than one hundred buildings in Hawashin district, most of them multi-family dwellings, was clearly an act of extensive destruction. Hawashin district-the location of the ambush in which Israeli forces suffered their greatest casualties-was the only area of the campaign to be targeted for such complete destruction. Those who argue that the IDF's actions there were justified point to the many explosive devices found in the district, and speculate that many of the houses may have been booby-trapped. The last Palestinian fighters to surrender were holed up in Hawashin district. Important in this context is also the fact that Israeli forces at the time were under considerable political and diplomatic pressure to conclude the operation quickly. While it may be the case that the wholesale leveling of the district fulfilled a military objective, speculation concerning the extent of improvised explosive devices in the area and reasons of expediency were not sufficient grounds to meet the "absolutely necessary" standard required by international humanitarian law. The extraordinary degree of destruction in this particular area raises serious questions about the military rationale that could have justified such actions. This is a case that fully justifies the need for a U.N. fact-finding team to give its utmost priority to the situation in the Hawashin district.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which promotes adherence to the Geneva Conventions, took the unusual step of speaking out publicly about the extent of destruction of the civilian infrastructure in Jenin camp and the inadequate safeguards taken by the IDF to protect civilian life and property in the camp. Rene Kosirnik, the head of the ICRC delegation, stated:
When we are confronted with the extent of destruction in an area of civilian concentration, it is difficult to accept that international humanitarian law has been fully respected.... If you suspect your [military] operation will cause disproportionate damage to civilians or civilian property, then you have to stop the operation.136
Human Rights Watch concludes that the Israeli military actions in the Jenin refugee camp included both indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. Some attacks were indiscriminate because Israeli forces, particularly the IDF helicopters, did not focus their firepower only towards legitimate military targets, but rather fired into the camp at random. This indiscriminate use of firepower added significantly to the civilian casualty toll of the fighting and the destruction of civilian homes in the camp. The Israeli offensive in Jenin refugee camp was also disproportionate, because the incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects was excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
Inability of Civilians to Flee
Many of the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch described being unable to flee the camp, initially because of the fighting, and later because they had been confined to their houses by IDF soldiers. Fifteen-year old Rhim Salem was kept by IDF soldiers in a house at the edge of Hawashin district until April 15 with twenty-four other people; soldiers also occupied the house, which borders the area completely reduced to rubble.138 Many residents ran from house to house inside the camp as the houses they were sheltering in were progressively targeted by IDF fire.
Many civilians were also trapped by the fighting, unable to leave their homes and flee to safety. Lina Sa`adiya, in her late forties, lived with her brother's family and mother in a home near the government hospital. Lina's elderly mother, Farida, was paralyzed and often confused. On April 3, the first day of the incursion, the family was eating lunch when a helicopter-fired missile hit the kitchen, and the second floor began to burn. At first the family called for help, but realizing that no one would be able to come to them, they fled to a neighbor's house, two doors away.
The next day, April 4, the fighting raged around the home where Sa`adiya and her family were staying. Armed Palestinians in nearby houses exchanged fire with IDF snipers. IDF helicopters sprayed the area with gunfire and missiles. The owner of the house and Lina's brother's family fled. For six days, Lina and her mother stayed in the home, unable to run, surrounded by broken glass, dust, and continuous shooting. They had no food. They drank from the water tank but it was shot in the fighting and the water eventually drained away.
My mother was screaming from pain and distress. I tried to carry her, but I couldn't, I was too weak. I tried to go back to my house, but it had been destroyed by the bulldozer. The camp was empty and all the people had gone away. I dragged my mother through the road, full of glass and rubble and heavy shooting. I saw someone's leg, blown off, on the street. I dragged her for an hour. Her feet were bleeding and she was screaming. I went into a house but it was half gone and there was a dead body in there.140
Lina and her mother eventually found shelter in another house in the same area. They found a packet of dry biscuits and two bottles of water, which sustained them for the four nights they stayed there. Lina and her mother were still in the house when, on April 14, she heard the sound of a bulldozer and the house began to shake. She ran outside, shouted at the driver, and ran in again to drag her mother out. The second floor of the house caved in as they left. Lina eventually found another house, badly damaged and with a corpse under the rubble. She and her mother stayed there another four days before they were discovered and taken to hospital by foreign journalists on April 18-fifteen days after they had first come under fire.
Nidal Abu Khurj explained how he and his family had been forced to move from house to house in the refugee camp as the houses in which they were taking shelter came under attack from IDF helicopters and tanks. They were first forced to flee their father's house when a neighboring house caught on fire from helicopter shelling, and then spent one night in a brother's house where they came under constant IDF fire. They then fled to a second brother's house, where they again came under attack from helicopters and were forced to remain in the bathroom with twenty-four people to avoid the shelling.141
On April 7, Khadwa Ahmad Hassan Samara, aged thirty-five, was sheltering with her three children and twelve others in the ground floor of her house in the al-Damaj area of the camp. Fighting raged around the area, with armed Palestinians present some thirty meters away. A missile hit the third floor of the house around noon, destroying an exterior wall and a water tank. At 11:30 p.m. the family was startled by the sound of a bulldozer approaching.
Samara told Human Rights Watch:
The first thing they destroyed was the main door. No one could open it. We were trying to sleep in the bedroom. That is, kids were asleep but the adults were awake, worrying. When the bulldozer came I had a mobile. I rang my husband and screamed, "Help! Call the Red Cross! The Red Crescent! Do anything!"142
She and the others shouted and placed three lanterns to try and signal that the house was inhabited. They could not leave the house because the only door had become blocked with rubble from the bulldozing. The bulldozer left after demolishing the front stairwell, only to return at 5:00 a.m. Samara and her family were fortunate: the bulldozer stopped after demolishing the bathroom and the children's bedroom. She and the others broke a window and ran to a neighbor's house. There they had fifteen minutes of rest before the bulldozer approached again:
We smashed a hole in the exterior wall, using anything we could find-hammers, old bits of pipe, whatever. One by one we climbed out of the hole and went to the house of the brother of Muhammad, my neighbor. We arrived there circa 6:30 a.m.143
On April 9, Samara and her family were sheltering in a third house, along with more than twenty-five other civilians. Samara did not hear any IDF warning to evacuate. It was a telephone call from a relative in Jordan, who was watching the al-Jazeera television station, that convinced Samara and the others to leave. Samara called her husband, trapped at his workplace outside the camp, to check. He confirmed that the IDF had told the inhabitants to leave the camp. Samara and the others made white flags, and left the house at 4:00 p.m.144 She and her family were stopped by an IDF tank some fifty meters away, and were told repeatedly to return to their houses. After waiting for several hours in the street, Samara and her family were allowed to walk to al-Razi hospital, outside the camp, and arrived safely at 7:00 p.m.
Indiscriminate Helicopter Fire
Kamal Tawalba, a forty-three-year-old father of fourteen children, offered one of many compelling accounts that showed how IDF tanks and helicopters made little distinction between legitimate military targets and civilian homes. He told Human Rights Watch that he was alone with his family at his home on the morning of Saturday, April 6, and had harbored no Palestinian militants in his home: "There were no fighters in my house. I have fourteen children and would never have taken such a risk." The family was asleep on the bottom floor of their home when a tank shell hit the floor above them, setting the house on fire. He and his family tried to leave, but were prevented from doing so when IDF soldiers shot at them: "I went to the gate and started calling to the IDF soldiers to allow us to go out. I tried to ask for help-I held two children in my arms-but they started shooting at the windows."145 A few minutes later, two TOW-missiles hit the top floor of his home, causing more destruction: "After two minutes, two more missiles came to the house from an Apache helicopter. I can tell the difference [with the tank shells] because we could see the wires from the Apache helicopter [guiding the missile]. I took my small baby-there was so much dust-and I went outside without caring about the soldiers. A soldier started shooting at me and told me to put the children down. He took me in the street and told me to take off my clothes."146
Thirty-one-year-old Samira Shalabi was with twelve civilians, including six children, who had gathered together for safety in Samira's mother's house on Matahin street above the UNRWA school. She says there were no fighters in the nearby area.
We were sleeping there; there were twelve of us. First, they fired a rocket and some of it fell down into this room. The windows fell in on us and because we couldn't breathe, we left the room and went into the hallway. But the helicopters didn't stop, they kept firing rockets continuously. People tried to help us get out, because the rocket blast had sealed the door shut, we had to go out the kitchen window.147
A four-year-old girl, Sara Shalabi, was injured by shrapnel in that attack; while her injuries were light enough to be initially treated with first-aid, she now needs an operation to remove shrapnel.
Many other buildings fired upon in that attack housed only civilians, for example Yusra Abu Khurj, a mentally disabled woman who lived in the district below Hawashin near the entrance to the camp. She was killed by a missile from an Apache helicopter fired directly into her top-floor room in a building at approximately 6:00 a.m.; the building was occupied only by civilians (see below for more details).
Indiscriminate attacks were most intense on April 6, but they did not entirely abate afterwards. Khadija al-Ruzi, aged fifty-four, described how her family had to flee their home in the Hawashin area camp after fire from an Apache helicopter set the house alight. She said that beginning on April 6, the area of the camp they were staying in came under heavy helicopter fire.148 There were no Palestinian militants in her three-story building, but the next day an Apache helicopter strike set the building on fire, forcing its evacuation:
The fourth day [April 7] we had to leave our house because [the IDF] had hit it with a missile and it was burning. It was a three-story building. We were in one corner in the bathroom [because it had no windows] and stayed there with twenty-eight people, men, women, and children. We were all civilians. When the house was burning, we had to move.149
The family ran to a neighboring house: "We left the first house when it was first light [in the morning]. The houses are close to each other so we could move quickly, but the shelling continued."150 They had to leave the second home that same evening at 9:00 p.m. when it, too, came under intense tank fire. They went out with white cloths, and the women and children were allowed to leave the camp by the IDF soldiers in the area, while the men were stripped of their clothes and arrested.
Some of the helicopter missile fire was so indiscriminate that it nearly killed IDF soldiers. Seventy-two-year-old Raja Tawafshi recalled how an IDF missile fired from a helicopter hit the top floor of his home in the Saha area of the camp on April 3 as he was accompanying IDF soldiers who were searching his home: "During their inspection, a bomb hit the house from the IDF [helicopter] and damaged that floor."151
On Wednesday, April 10, Karima Baklizia, in her sixties, was taking shelter in her house in the Hawashin area with another woman and three children. Although this was a time when fighting had been concentrated in the Hawashin neighborhood, there were no Palestinian fighters present in the house. An ambush and the deaths of Israeli soldiers the previous day in the neighborhood had led to particularly intense attacks on that neighborhood-according to confidential sources, the IDF fired at least thirty-five TOW missiles into the camp immediately following the April 9 ambush.152 Baklizia and the others were hiding in a small bathroom on the second floor. Three missiles hit the first floor of the house, and the first floor began to burn. Baklizia and her companions tried to run to the house next door, only to find that it, too, had been hit. They ran to a second house, and stayed the night. In the early morning of the next day, Baklizia and the others returned.
I returned to my house to check the damage. As I went to check there was another missile strike. I was in the bathroom and all the house came down. It collapsed and I felt it shake, but the bathroom is at the beginning of the house and it was still standing. Nobody can believe that I am still alive.153
The women eventually climbed down and walked down to the health clinic. Baklizia's companion took off her headscarf to use as a white flag. Both eventually found shelter with an acquaintance near the health clinic.
Insufficient Warnings Issued by IDF
Issa Wishahi, who lived near the entrance to the refugee camp and saw his son and wife killed during the IDF offensive (see below), recalled hearing the IDF loudspeaker messages:
On Monday [April 8] the soldiers were saying that everyone going out of their homes would be safe, just to carry a white flag, that everyone who remained inside would be bulldozed. They said this in Arabic on the loudspeakers. After that, everyone [in my neighborhood] came out into the street.... The soldiers made that announcement from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Monday.155
Fathiya Sa`adi vividly remembered the Arabic-language warning that came blaring from IDF loudspeakers on Wednesday, April 10, at about 9:30 a.m., ordering civilians to evacuate their homes. She repeated the message verbatim to Human Rights Watch:
Inhabitants of the refugee camp of Jenin! We want to inform you that the Israeli soldiers have occupied the camp and it is completely under Israeli control now. We have destroyed your resistance. Now, you must immediately leave your houses, or we will destroy the whole camp over your heads by plane and by tanks.156
Fathiya and her family left their home, pushing their wheelchair-bound mother in front of them. "The [Israeli] snipers were shooting in the air to make us afraid," she recounted.157
Some of the civilian residents were too fearful to come out of their homes when the IDF ordered them to leave. Sa`id Abu `Anas, a thirty-four-year-old resident of the Hawashim neighborhood, recalled how on the evening of Tuesday, April 9, he heard an announcement on the loudspeakers but was too afraid to go outside: "The soldiers started talking on the loudspeakers, saying we must come out and they would treat us with humanity. No one came out because we thought we would be killed. Then they asked for the women and children to come out-they let the children, women, and old men go out."158 Said, afraid for his life, stayed inside until Saturday, April 13, when IDF soldiers arrested him and the other remaining men.
Many other residents did not hear the warning directly from the IDF soldiers, but were informed by their neighbors. Samia Abu al-Saba`a, aged forty-three, recalled: "We saw some people coming with white kafiyas [head scarves], they said the bulldozers were destroying the Hawashin area. They said we should leave our houses, because anyone inside will be killed. The people told us this, not the soldiers."159 Hala' Abu Rumaila, who lived on the outskirts of the camp and whose stepson and husband died in the IDF attack, also recalled hearing about the evacuation order from neighbors who had heard the IDF message. In some cases, this may have been because soldiers did not want to expose themselves to the risk of entering Palestinian houses. Rim Salem recalled how soldiers occupying the house where she and twenty-four other civilians were sheltering tried to make her mother go to the neighboring houses in Hawashin district. "They told her they were going to destroy the house, and wanted my mother to go to the neighbor's house to tell them to leave. My mother was afraid to do it because of the soldiers, and the IDF was afraid of the fighters."160
Most warnings seem to have preceded imminent destruction by bulldozers. Human Rights Watch did not receive information that similar warnings were issued in advance of air or artillery attacks.
137 Human Rights Watch interview with Susanna N`uaman `Abd al-Hamid al-Ghada', aged twenty-one, Jenin, April 27, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with Yusuf Yassin Muhammad Kamil, aged seventy, Jenin April 20, 2002.