What I saw in Jenin doesn't match the media reports

Several scenes cast doubt on recent reporting of the IDF’s two-day incursion into West Bank city


It was just the first of several scenes that called into question recent reporting of the IDF’s two-day incursion into the West Bank city of Jenin.

At the government hospital outside the Jenin Camp, medical staff told me that no Israeli soldiers had entered, even though they had the power to arrest any of the 100 or more people being treated.

Nor, apparently contrary to extensive reports, was there any visible damage to the hospital courtyard. Reporters had, it seemed, ignored videos on social media showing that only smoke bombs had landed — hardly an attack on a hospital.

The staff members in the emergency ward also told me most of the injured were young men who appeared to have been fighters. Just a small handful, they said, were civilians, who had not been shot but had suffered injuries from falling masonry or possibly from shrapnel.

Twelve fighters were killed in the raid earlier this month and an IDF soldier also died, possibly as a result of friendly fire.

Inside the hospital, staff told me that only three casualties were there, in the orthopaedic ward. A 17-year-old allowed me to photograph his metal-encased injured leg but not his face, while the other two, each aged 23, were willing to have their faces appear.

They confirmed they had fought the Israelis but declined to say how their injuries were sustained. Claims of a massive injury toll, distributed by local propaganda outlets and reported by much of the world’s media, appear to have been questionable.

The Jenin Camp is a hilly conglomeration of adequate if cramped houses, rather than anything resembling the conventional image of a refugee camp.

Movement is unrestricted in the main city areas of Jenin, where most people lead what appear to be comfortable lives amid modern facilities, including three large shopping malls.

Inside the camp, four young men in black T-shirts rode up on their brand-new Chinese-made two-seater Joyrider 125cc motorcycles. Each front windscreen had at least one photo of a recently-killed shaheed (martyr).

They were, they said proudly, from the Jenin Battalion, a militant group assembled under the loose command of more senior veterans of the conflict. Another Joyrider drew up.“We didn’t know if you were still alive,” the young men exclaimed, hugging their comrade.

We sheltered from the midday sun alongside the United Nations health centre — which, contrary to widespread media reports, looked unscathed by the Israeli incursion.

It did not appear to be operating. Under the UN’s blue lettering, a large billboard emblazoned with a gun-brandishing photo of a new “martyr” had been erected.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrived for a fleeting visit to the camp, his first in nearly 18 years. Abbas, 81 years old and in the 18th year of his supposedly four-year period of rule, engaged in a brief walkabout at the entrance and was then driven to the Graveyard of the Martyrs, the burial-place for those killed in and around Jenin during more than two decades of sporadic clashes with Israeli forces.

He laid a wreath at one of the freshly dug graves before boarding a helicopter to fly back to his stronghold, Ramallah.

With the PA soldiers accompanying him gone, the young men on the motor-bikes and their commanders were left to rule the roost again.

Islamic Jihad is the biggest of the three “official” militant movements in the camp, and on its social media it listed one “heroic Islamic Jihad commander”, seven “Islamic Jihad heroic fighters”, and four other “heroes” killed in the recent fighting.

The media or propaganda war continued undiminished and, apparently, irrespective of the facts. The dead were simply described as “Palestinians”, usually without referring to their status as fighters or members of militant groups.

Fellow journalists seemed to absorb unquestioningly the tales spun by local activists. Some colourfully described what they said was Israeli damage to buildings that I had already been in. They were undamaged and did not appear even to have been attacked.

UNRWA workers and clipboard brigades from the Palestinian Engineering Union were earnestly assessing “damage”, even where none was visible.
Some burned-out buildings or shopfronts were visible, but they were few and far between and hardly affected the next-door building.

It appeared the Israeli forces had targeted specific objectives rather than engaging in random destruction.

The streets were almost entirely functioning normally, though there was evidence of some tar ripped up by Israeli army bulldozers — they had preceded the troops’ entry to sweep up booby-traps and mines.
Shopkeepers on the fringes of the camp were tight-lipped about the upsurge in violence.

However, one man, who said he should be known only as Ahmed, was willing to share his concerns. “From one year ago, because of these problems, we haven’t had good sales. It was very good before things got like this.

People are afraid to come from the city to this area,” he complained.
More worrying, though, he said, was the damage the youths were doing to themselves by joining militant groups.

“I have told them: it’s very expensive for you. You will die without price, without a reason. You should work, be taught to be mechanics for cars, or other jobs, get married and enjoy your life. ‘No guns, no problems,’ I tell them.”

He said they were tempted by the generous wages being paid by Iran for joining militant groups.

“Iran wants to make trouble so that it weakens the Palestinian Authority and eventually allows Iranian proxies to take over the West Bank, like has happened in Gaza.

“When they get offered 500 to 1,000 dollars a month from Iran, many youngsters think: ‘Oh, I will enjoy myself now and if I die, so be it.’”

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