"Arafat and Jenin - What Sort of Deal Did Bush Strike?" asks an editorial published yesterday in the US press (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 20 April 2002). The same question is asked here in the Jenin refugee camp and by all those in Palestine and elsewhere who know that justice and respect for human rights and international law are the key to the solution of the 54 year- old conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people.
Two days ago the Israeli government surrendered to pressure exerted by US president Bush and accepted to relinquish its request for extradition of the six prisoners allegedly involved in the killing of Israeli Minister of Tourism Rehavam Ze'evi and in an arms smuggle for the Palestinian Authority. The six will be transferred from President Arafat's Ramallah compound to a Palestinian prison in Jericho and guarded by US and British troupes dispatched for this purpose. Thus, Palestinian president Arafat is finally free to leave the Ramallah compound where he has been held since 29 March by the Israeli occupation army. The movement of the UN Fact Finding Mission into the events at the Jenin refugee camp, however, remains blocked. 11 days after its approval by the UN Security Council (UNSC Resolution 1405, 19 April 2002) and following two consecutive official Israeli refusals to cooperate, the Fact- Finding Team has remained in Geneva. Officials and analysts in Israel and the United States hod that in return for freeing Arafat, the United States agreed to stand by Israel in its confrontation with the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan over the Fact Finding Mission. Another session of the Security Council is scheduled later today, evidence of Israeli war crimes in Jenin is being erased day after day and rumors hold that Kofi Annan is considering to drop the Mission completely. International scrutiny and investigation into Israel's war crimes - and justice for the victims - a mission impossible?
An Earlier Case Revisited: The 1996 UN Investigation into Israel's War Crime at Qana, South Lebanon
On 18 April 1996, during a massive Israeli military offensive on Lebanon code-named "Operation Grapes of Wrath," approximately 800 civilians were sheltering in a United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) base in the village of Qana, South Lebanon. They had assumed - incorrectly - that since international law strictly prohibits the targeting of civilian structures and UN facilities they would be safe under UNIFIL's protection. Just after 2 PM on April 18, a barrage of proximity-fuse shells crashed directly into the pre-fabricated building. Minutes later 106 people lay dead, many burned and dismembered beyond recognition.
On 25 April 1996 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (UNGA Res. A/RES/50/22 C) characterizing Israel's actions in the "Grapes of Wrath" offensive as "grave violations of international laws relating to the protection of civilians during war." Then UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali appointed a team to investigate Israel's bombing of the UNIFIL compound. The team was composed of military experts and headed by the Dutch General Franklin Van Kappen. It conducted an official on-site investigation of the Qana incident, interviewed all available witnesses, including UNIFIL staff and Israeli officials, and obtained maps and ballistic evidence. According to experts familiar with this UN investigation, the initial report concluded that the shelling and killing of 106 civilians inside the UNIFIL compound by Israel was deliberate and that there was no possibility of an accident. When former UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali wanted to publish the report, he was threatened that this would cost him his job and forced to publish a revised report. This report concluded that "while the possibility cannot be ruled out completely, it is unlikely that the shelling of the UNIFIL compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural error." The Van Knappen report also indicated that IDF officials of "some seniority" were involved in orders to fire upon the base, which they knew was sheltering hundreds of civilians. International human rights organizations also conducted investigations and concluded that the shelling of the UNIFIL compound was most likely deliberate, not mistaken.
The United States and Israel vigorously contended that the attack had been an unfortunate mistake. No further action was taken by the United Nations. Moreover, the United Nations has yet to act upon a petition filed by families of the victims of Qana with the UN Human Rights Commission. The families' petition requests the UN to re-open its investigation.
* For more on the case of Qana and investigations conducted by the UN and independent human rights organizations see: MERIP, http://www.merip.org (see Press Information Notes PIN, No. 11) http://www.amnesty.org/news/1996/51504996.htm and http://www.hrw.org/hrw/summaries/s.israel-lebanon979.html
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