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Al-Ahram Weekly: In the Shadow of the WTC

by Graham Usher Saturday, Sep. 29, 2001 at 12:45 AM

A View From An Egyptian Weekly Online: There were no "celebrations" in the West Bank town of Jenin after the strikes on America. Nor were there mass outpourings of grief. At best there was a kind of empathy. Jenin too has been burying its dead.... Out of such destruction -- human and material -- suicide bombers hardly need to be "dispatched". They are bred. But it is Israel that has sown the seed and will reap the harvest. And if George Bush does to Afghanistan what Israel has done to Jenin, so will America.

There were no "celebrations" in the West Bank town of Jenin after the strikes on America. Nor were there mass outpourings of grief. At best there was a kind of empathy. Jenin too has been burying its dead.

Palestinians are still reeling from a week's worth of Israeli assaults on the town: the most sustained incursion of any Palestinian Authority controlled area in the year old Intifada.

It began on 11 September, when Israeli tanks, armour and helicopters invaded the green hills girdling Jenin and gouged out craters on every road to it. The next day the tanks entered the town proper, blasting every PA barracks and checkpoint that stood in their way. Then they shelled Jenin camp, home to 13,600 Palestinian refugees. Finally -- on 14 September -- they ripped out new trenches before "withdrawing" to the hills.

There the tanks still rest under a canopy of cypress trees and between red-tiled Palestinian houses, lobbing the occasional shell at anything that moves. The army gave notice should anyone approach the tanks he or she risks breaching the "kill zone": a 50-metre buffer where Israeli soldiers have orders to shoot on sight. None of the 14 displaced Palestinian families have so far returned.

Detritus is everywhere. The PA Governor House is a felled slag of pulverised concrete and disgorged filing cabinets, covered in a film of dust. A school has a rash of bullet marks across one of its walls. A car is sliced in two, "run over by a tank," say Palestinians. They point to thick tracks that plough up black earth on fields and impress mud on roads.

Israelis call these incursions "surgical strikes" intended to wrinkle out "terrorists" and those who dispatch and give them haven. But there was nothing clinical about the deaths of six Palestinians and injury to 70 others in Jenin camp this week.

One of the slain was 24-year old Mohamed Abu Haija, a "wanted" Hamas activist. A missile fired from a helicopter struck him on 12 September, a hit so precise "collaborators" must have supplied his location, Palestinians in Jenin camp say. No doubt the location of the collaborators is being determined in the same place right now.

Two more Hamas men -- Iyad Al- Masri, 18, and Ibrahim Al-Fayed, 23 -- were shot dead while trying to rescue a third during a ferocious gun battle around a girls' school. Fakhri Sleet, 32, and his sister in law, Raja Feihat, died when a tank shell plunged into their home. Palestinians shrug their shoulders why they were hit.

"There were a lot of people around their neighbourhood when the fighting started," says one. "But they were not firing. They were running".

The sixth Palestinian dead was 33 year old Khatab Jabareen. Wired up with explosives, he apparently threw himself before a 60-tonne M60 Israeli tank. The US- made leviathan crushed him with the same ease as it ploughed through the thin barricades of rock, tyres and rubbish containers Palestinians had thrown up around the town.

But what was the purpose? Clutching cups of sweet coffee Palestinians in the camp have different views. All agree Israel is using the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks as "cover" for upping the military ante against the uprising.

"Sharon wants us to give up the Intifada," says one. "But that's not going to happen. We're not afraid of a reoccupation of Jenin. We're occupied already".

Another detects a military design. "There's not a PA security office left in Jenin," he says. "They've all been destroyed. Sharon wants to drain us of ammunition. That's why the army is digging trenches everywhere. Once we're totally disarmed the army will move into the camp." Another says it reminds him of the war in Lebanon.

It certainly looks and smells like the siege of Beirut. On street corners women purify buckets of water in the midday sun. Windows are being sandbagged in every shelter. In the camp's single clinic, frantic phone calls are being made to check that staples of flour, oil and milk will soon be delivered. After a week of total siege stocks are running low. Everywhere there is a sense of vacancy, of hunkering down, waiting. There are few people on the streets. Jenin is a town of 40,000.

Above all, Beirut is invoked by the dozens of young militiamen, from all Palestinian factions and none, who now effectively run Jenin. ("The PA doesn't really function here anymore. So someone has to take control," says one camp resident).

During the day, they doze in garages, exhausted by the night's fighting. At dusk they trawl the town in cars without plates to check if the Israelis have moved locations. At night they take up combat positions on the edge of the camp, some just 50 metres from the nearest tank.

Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, some fighters are no more than 17. But they are old enough to know there is nothing to be had from the occupation and nothing to lose except their lives.

Out of such destruction -- human and material -- suicide bombers hardly need to be "dispatched". They are bred. But it is Israel that has sown the seed and will reap the harvest. And if George Bush does to Afghanistan what Israel has done to Jenin, so will America.

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