Battle of Jenin 2002

From Academic Kids

Jenin's refugee camp was the place of one of the most controversial battles of Operation Defensive Shield (April 2002). The battle itself drew enormous international attention and is still a painful issue for Israelis and Palestinians alike. The facts surrounding the battle continue to be disputed in the media.


The battle

Jenin was entered by Israeli forces in early April 2002, as part of Israel's Operation Defensive Shield. A battle took place there, about which conflicting reports were relayed. According to the Israeli Defence Forces, Israel chose not to bomb the spots of resistance using aircraft as it entered, in order to minimize civilian losses, but rather to take hold of the city using infantry. Some early sources however, have claimed to have seen helicopters firing into the town apparently causing much of the civilian death[1] (,11581,684251,00.html).

A total of 23 Israeli soldiers were killed in the street fighting, 14 of them in a single day (April 9) either from a charge carried by a suicide bomber that triggered the collapse of a building or by being shot by the bombers' accomplices. During the battle, 52 Palestinains died, of which estimates from 7 (IDF) to "at least 22" (Human Rights Watch) of whom were unarmed civilians. An areas of around 200 square meters within the refugee camp was flattened.

Change in Israeli tactics

After the April 9 ambush, the Israeli Defence Forces changed tactics in order to continue the operation without risking more Israeli deaths and started to massively operate the heavily-armored IDF Caterpillar D9 bulldozers. Until then, the heavy bulldozers were mainly used to clear booby traps and open routes to armored fighting vehicles. After April 9 the bulldozers demolished each house that was used by the militants attacks on Israeli soldiers. The Israelis maintain a warning was given over a loud speaker before each of the houses were destroyed. By counter, the Palestinians claim that in some cases the Israelis bulldozed houses while there were still people inside. During that phase of the battle senior Palestinian militants (which Israel considers as terrorists due to their involvement in dozens of suicide attacks against Israeli civilians) were killed (such as Mahmoud Tawallbe) and arrested (Ali Sefuri and Thabet Mardawi).

After the conflict Israeli reports claim that 8-9% of the houses within the refugee camp were destroyed. This was largely within an area of intense fighting within an area of approximately 200mē [2] (

Most of the demolition occurred in the Hawashin neighborhood, where most of the militants and explosive remained. Israel say it had to demolish those house because they were densely rigged with explosives.

This represents much of the criticism that was laid on Israel after all the details of the conflict were discovered. In Israel's defense however, the Palestinians were jointly responsible for most of the accusations (such as endangering civilian life) and Israel felt there was little other choice.

After the battle

Due to the destruction and their inability to damage and stop the armored bulldozers, even with RPGs [3] ( [4] (, the Palestinian Militants surrendered. On April 11 and April 12, after a consultation with Hizbullah and various Arab leaders [5] (, most of the militants in Jenin surrendered to IDF forces, and were taken to investigation. Later, IDF forces withdrew gradually from the refugee camp under international pressure.

Overall, Israel said that its forces had killed 47 militants and 7 civilians. Others reports initially estimated a huge variety of numbers but settled on 22 civilians amongst the 54 fatalities. The walls of many buildings were covered with posters hailing the suicide bombers as martyrs.

In October 2002, according to the Walla news agency, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas websites reported that their forces in Jenin before the Israeli entry included 250 armed militants. The official Kol Yisrael radio station reported that 15,000 explosive charges were at the militants' disposal, as well as a large number of handguns. The militants were well organized and had an extensive system of communications. Walla also mentioned sources who claimed that Palestinians youngsters contributed to the fighting, sometimes even carrying explosive charges in their schoolbags.

Time Magazine also wrote about the heavily wired refugee camp. It stated, for example, that on the outskirts of Jenin, an IDF armoured Caterpillar D9 detonated 124 explosive charges. Time also quoted an unnamed Palestinian who admitted that the gunmen's own booby traps caused some of the civilian deaths.

According to Israeli authorities, numerous buildings, passages and even bodies were booby-trapped, often prompting Israelis to use armored bulldozers to level sections of the city. The Israelis also claimed to have found more than a dozen explosives-making labs, as well as the bodies of foreign citizens, most of whom were operatives of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement who had been brought over from Jordan.

Allegations of a Massacre

Rumors of massacres in Jenin swirled through Palestinian communities which were then echoed in the world press for several weeks, pitting world public opinion against Israel. This was not helped as Israeli authorities prevented the international press from entering the refugee camp for two weeks.

The allegations were later found to be unfounded, as later inquiries by human rights groups and the UN commission did not find evidence of widespread massacres by Israeli forces in Jenin.

Inflated body counts

Both sides had inflated, or overly cautious estimates of the number of dead in the the refugee camp at the time. The Palestinian authorities did not provide an official count until around two weeks after fighting ended. Analysing the news reports finds a timeline of the inflated estimates which explain the reason for the hysteria caused in much of the world media (note that the following numbers include both civilians and armed combatants unless specifically stated otherwise):

  • April 3
  • Fighting begins
  • April 6
  • The Arab League hears in a speach where Nabil Shaath compares "Israeli actions in the West Bank towns of Jenin and Nablus to the 1982 massacres of hundreds of Palestinans"[6] (, probably refering to Israel's part in the Sabra and Shatila Massacre where up to 3500 Palestinian refugees were killed
  • April 7
  • Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian minister for Local Government is quoted in the Washington Post making the first mention of a massacre [7] (
  • NBC news hears from Abdel Rahman that "over 250 Palestinians killed" [8] (
  • April 10
  • Israel estimates 150 dead[9] (
  • Saeb Erekat estimates 500 or more dead[10] (
  • April 12
  • Fighting ends
  • IDF spokesman Brigadier-General Ron Kitrey reports on Israeli Army Radio that there are apparently hundreds killed, the IDF quickly "clarify" he meant hundreds of casualties (killed or injured).[11] (
  • An IDF source reportedly puts the number of dead at 250[12] ([13] (
  • Palestinian Information Minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, accuses Israel of digging mass graves for 900 Palestinians in the camp, whilst Secretary-General of the Palestinian Authority, Ahmed Abdel Rahman claimed that "thousands" had died; the most serious accusations of the episode
  • April 14
  • After the IDF reportedly estimate 250[14] (, and 188[15] ( a final figure of 45 is given[16] (
  • April 30

Further investigation by the United Nations and international reporters found that only 52 Palestinians where killed in the operation, 22 of whom were civilians. [17] (


Massacres refer not only to the numbers killed, but also to the method used.

In an article about the battle in Jenin, Time Magazine ruled out Palestinian allegations of massacre, writing that:

A Time investigation concludes that there was no wanton massacre in Jenin, no deliberate slaughter of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers. But the 12 days of fighting took a severe toll on the camp. [18] (

As of 2005, this view is widely supported by the international community although there are reports of "one or two civilians who were shot and executed". [19] (

Human Rights Reports

In late April and on May 3, 2002, the United Nations (UN), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released reports about the Israeli military incursions into Jenin. The reports documented that 32 Palestinian militants, 22 Palestinian civilians, and 23 Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting and thus felt no evidence that a massacre took place, however it was likely both sides were guilty of war crimes.

UN report

Fifty-two Palestinian deaths had been confirmed by the hospital in Jenin by the end of May 2002. IDF also places the death toll at approximately 52. A senior Palestinian Authority official alleged in mid-April that some 500 were killed, a figure that has not been substantiated in the light of the evidence that has emerged. Article (56) (

Human Rights Watch report

The HRW report found "no evidence to sustain claims of massacres or large-scale extrajudicial executions by the IDF". The report agreed with the total casualty figures provided by the IDF but documented a higher proportion of civilian casualties. However, the HRW report also stated that "Israeli forces committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, some amounting prima facie to war crimes". Amnesty International concurred.

The report concluded:

Israeli forces committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, some amounting prima facie to war crimes. Human Rights Watch found no evidence to sustain claims of massacres or large-scale extrajudicial executions by the IDF in Jenin refugee camp. However, many of the civilian deaths documented by Human Rights Watch amounted to unlawful or willful killings by the IDF. Many others could have been avoided if the IDF had taken proper precautions to protect civilian life during its military operation, as required by international humanitarian law. ... Some of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch amounted to summary executions, a clear war crime. ... Throughout the incursion, IDF soldiers used Palestinian civilians to protect them from danger, deploying them as "human shields" and forcing them to perform dangerous work ... the IDF prevented humanitarian organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, from gaining access to the camp and its civilian inhabitants-despite the great humanitarian need. [20] (

While focusing mainly on the actions of the IDF, it adds that:

Palestinian gunmen did endanger Palestinian civilians in the camp by using it as a base for planning and launching attacks, using indiscriminate tactics such as planting improvised explosive devices within the camp, and intermingling with the civilian population during armed conflict, and, in some cases, to avoid apprehension by Israeli forces.

The report notes that:

The presence of armed Palestinian militants inside Jenin refugee camp, and the preparations made by those armed Palestinian militants in anticipation of the IDF incursion, does not detract from the IDF's obligation under international humanitarian law to take all feasible precautions to avoid harm to civilians ... Unfortunately, these obligations were not met.

Amnesty International report

Unlawful killings violate the "right to life" laid down in Article 6 of the ICCPR. Amnesty International considers that some of these abuses of the right to life would amount to "willful killings" and "willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health" within the meaning of Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention dealing with grave breaches of the Convention; "grave breaches" of the Geneva Convention are war crimes. -[21] (

Notes on the independent reports

Israeli critics pointed out that the inquiries included no urban or counter-terrorist warfare specialists and therefore they believe that the investigators were unable to assess the justifiability of the IDF actions. Israel claimed that humanitarian organizations were rash to jump to conclusions about Israeli conduct without investigating thoroughly the conduct of the Palestinian guerrilla forces in the area. Moreover, Israel complained that although terrorists are civilians by definition, they are still combatants, which made their status different from that of the unarmed civilians. Finally, the human rights groups had not investigated the incidents in which ambulances of the Palestinian Red Crescent and equipment of other aid agencies were allegedly being used by Palestinian militants to transport weapons and combatants, thus voiding their nonbelligerent status as defined in the Geneva Convention.

UN fact finding mission

To settle the contradictory claims, a fact finding mission was proposed by the United Nations on April 19 2002. Israel initially agreed to co-operate with the inquiry, but demanded a set of conditions to do so. Among the conditions, Israel demanded that the mission should include anti-terrorism experts (this was supported by one Amnesty International advisor[22] (, that the UN agree not to prosecute Israeli soldiers for potential violations of international law, and that it limit its scope exclusively to events in Jenin.

The UN refused to accept the last two conditions and were forced to ultimately disband their mission. Israel argued that the conditions under which the UN proposed the mission were unfair, as the UN never agreed to give the anti-terrorism expert full membership, did not give the mission a strict mandate, and did not declare the mission solely investigatory (as opposed to having a judicial purpose). According to Israel, all three positions violate of the UN's own principles (as stated in the "Declaration on Fact-finding by the United Nations", A/RES/46/59 of December 9, 1991).

See also

External links

Reports by Human Rights groups, the UN, the IDF and the PA

Press reports, opinions and articles about Jenin battle

Whilst considering these press and news reports, it is important to consider the date. At first, many international newspapers reported the possibility of a massacre, whereas 3-4 weeks on, they often describe the massacre as particularly unlikely.

Articles from UPI

Articles from The Observer and The Guardian

Articles from the BBC

Related issues to Jenin battle


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