HAMID’S last image of Jenin Refugee Camp was a city of the dead. The 14-year old student, who surrendered to Israeli forces on Saturday night after witnessing 30 hours of bombardment, shakes slightly as he describes the apocalyptic scene. Piles of corpses were moved aside by bulldozers. Houses lay in smoldering ruins. Children screamed for water, some were forced to drink sewage.
Hamid is wearing new trainers, bought by sympathetic Palestinians, because he was stripped to his underpants by Israeli soldiers after he had surrendered to them. He gave himself up because he could take no more of the bombardment. Three people were killed by rockets inside the house where he was taking refuge.
“But the most terrible thing was seeing Israeli soldiers take eight men and line them up and kill them,” he said, describing in detail the procedure and the injuries the men sustained. After that, Hamid, his twin Ahmed and his older brother Khadir made a white flag and waved it from a window. They had no other way out.
The brothers were stripped, handcuffed tightly behind their backs and blindfolded. They were then taken with a group of about 100 Palestinian men to Salem Military Barracks inside Israel, where they say they were beaten and offered money to act as Israeli spies.
Smoke rises over the Palestinian controlled city of Jenin after the Israeli army entered April 8, 2002. (Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters)
After 48 hours of interrogation by Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service, the men were taken to a village near by without shoes and told to walk back to the West Bank. They stumbled through an olive grove that separates Israel from the Occupied Territories and arrived in Rummana, where they are living with families who have taken them in. But they cannot go home again. They can only watch the bombardment from Cobras from this village, a few kilometers from their destroyed houses. Ahmed was kicked badly in his back and kidneys and lies on a mattress writhing in pain. Khadir has a black eye and some bruises, but the brothers will live.
Others, however, were not so lucky. Inside the mosque some of the men who surrendered on Saturday talk of being used as human shields by the soldiers, of being forced to strip and stand in front of the tanks for several hours as a humiliation exercise before they were taken to the Salem Military Base.
Others who did not “respond” well to Israeli questioning, were badly beaten, including Khalid Mustafa Mohammed, who lies on a bloody mattress face down, his back wrapped in bandages.
Khalid has two broken ribs and has internal bleeding and lies semi-comatose, muttering in pain. The only health care worker in town, an exhausted dentist, Dr Farouk al Ahmed, has tried to tend to him using sedatives, but he fears that the boy’s internal injuries, the result of being beaten with the butt of a rifle, are so extensive that he will die within three days if he is not treated.
“I gave him something to calm him down and I bound his ribs but there is not much more I can do. I am a dentist,” he said wearily. The Red Cross said last night that they were not allowed inside Jenin refugee camp, and after hours of negotiating only managed to get three Palestinian ambulances to take out three patients.
All day yesterday, the destruction of Jenin, which is known by the Israelis as “City of Bombers”, continued. Shortly after lunch, the Cobra helicopters positioned themselves neatly in the azure blue sky. They circled, dropped their noses and then one dropped the deadly missile.
A terrible crackle in the sky, the crash, the aftershock and then plumes of smoke rose over Jenin, whose residents fear that it will be punished severely as so many suicide bombers come from the city. “We fear there will be a massacre,” Dr Farouk said. One witness noted that “the women and children were being separated from the men, and being taken away to a near by forest”.
Most of the Palestinian men who are not safe for the moment in Rummana are in anguish about the state of their families who they left behind, where there is no information.
Telephone lines have been cut and electricity is down. Israelis are citing 70 Palestinians and nine of their own soldiers dead; but the witnesses say there are many more. “The streets are full of the dead,” said Mohammed, who worked as a shopkeeper in Jenin camp. “From night until morning, all I heard were rockets. “ He says his exile from Jenin — the second time he has effectively become a refugee — is painful and humiliating. “It is the end of life,” he says simply As night fell, the fighting continued.
Palestinian villagers from Salem, which lies inside the Israeli Green Line near by, began preparing cartloads of food and blankets for the refugees.
The real fear is not for the refugees who have escaped, but those left behind. The memories of Sabra and Shatila refugee camps being leveled are still not so distant. One Salem villager trying to gather blankets, fruit and shoes for refugees, said: “By morning, so many more will be dead.”
Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd