Untangling Jenin's Tale

For both Israelis and Palestinians, a deadly battle in a West Bank refugee camp has become a potent symbol of their struggle. What really happened? A TIME investigation

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Masarweh eventually persuaded the women to step outside, waving white sheets. The men followed. They were ordered to strip and were then taken in armored personnel carriers to a camp, before being transferred to a jail inside Israel. On April 6, after three days of detention, Masarweh was bused back to the Jenin area. "Don't go back in the camp," the Israelis told him. He didn't need the advice; by then, the battle had become far too intense.

--BULLDOZERS AND BODIES Three days into the operation--by which time, according to Eitan's plans, the camp should have been in Israeli hands--the Palestinians were still dug in. The Israelis had already lost seven men, but as they advanced, the Palestinian defenders retreated to the Hawashin district at the camp's center, where their defenses were strongest. It was time to hit harder.

Cobra attack helicopters began to pound rooftop Palestinian positions. But the Israelis' most effective weapon was unconventional: the huge, armored D-9 bulldozer, 20 ft. tall and weighing more than 50 tons; its shovel can crush a car with a single blow. Eventually, a dozen of them went into action, clearing paths for the tanks and detonating booby traps; Palestinians say Israeli troops rode atop them, firing rocket-propelled grenades. Undoubtedly, the D-9s destroyed houses, but they certainly didn't bury as many people as Palestinian officials have alleged. It takes the D-9 at least half an hour to fully wreck a building. Israeli soldiers say they always called to residents to come out before the bulldozers went in. But even if the innocents were too frightened initially to leave, most would surely have done so as soon as the D-9 started its work. A senior Palestinian military officer tells TIME it was probably the gunmen's own booby traps that buried some civilians and fighters alive. There were bombs that were certainly big enough to wreck a cinder-block refugee house more devastatingly than a D-9 ever could.

But the increasing ferocity of the fighting led to tragic errors. On Day 6, Fatih Shalabe, 63, was hiding in his home with his family, including his son Waddah, 37. At 6 p.m., Shalabe says, soldiers entered his neighbor's home. Those residents, the Saadeh family, tried to flee into Shalabe's yard. Soldiers followed and ordered all 17 people out into an alley. Fatih and Waddah were ordered to stand against a wall with their neighbor's son, Abdel Karim Saadeh. The soldiers followed the procedure now widely used to guard against suicide attacks--they ordered the men to lift their shirtfronts to reveal whether they were wearing suicide belts packed with explosives. Abdel Karim had a bad back and wore a medical support; when he lifted his shirt, the soldiers saw his corset and thought it was a bomb belt. According to Shalabe, the officer then said, "Shoot, shoot." The Israelis gunned down Waddah and Abdel Karim. Waddah slammed back against the wall. Fatih went down too and lay covered in his son's blood, pretending to be dead until the Israelis moved on. "I would have been luckier if I had died," Fatih later told TIME.

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