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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Not all the Palestinians who died were so innocent. The man the Israelis most wanted to find in Jenin, Mahmoud Tawalbe, took a quick break from the fighting on Day 7 to visit his mother Tuffahah and his brother Ahmed. Ahmed told TIME Mahmoud looked pleased with his work: camp lore holds that Mahmoud killed 13 Israelis in the fighting. He and his crew of about 50 Islamic Jihad fighters were hitting the Israelis hard. On Day 6, two more Israeli soldiers had been slain. "Don't worry about me," Mahmoud told his mother. "I feel strong."

A day later, he was dead. TIME visited the rubble of the house where Tawalbe died. The three-story structure shows signs of attack from two directions. One wall was charred by fire; the wall on the other side had collapsed. David Holley, a British military expert working in the camp for Amnesty International, deduces from the bomb craters and tank tracks that Tawalbe and the two fighters who accompanied him went into the house to get close enough to a tank or D-9 to plant explosives on it; the Palestinians' bombs, says Holley, were useless unless they were placed directly on the armor of a vehicle. Holley surmises that the bulldozer driver saw the Palestinians and rammed the wall down on top of Tawalbe. A week later--by which time Tawalbe's name was known throughout the Arab world--his family dug out his body and that of another fighter who died with him. The bodies had been so badly mangled by the falling masonry that the burial party could not distinguish one from the other; they were interred together in Jenin's Martyrs' Cemetery. A few days later, posters of Tawalbe labeled GENERAL OF THE MARTYRS appeared all over the camp, and children marched along the alleys chanting his name.

But it was not just the Palestinians who watched their men die in the alleys of Jenin. On Day 7, Sergeant Major Dror Harazi, 34, with 14 years of service in the reserves, was ordered into a house overlooking an alley where a platoon of the 5th Brigade had been ambushed. Gunmen were firing at the Israelis from a building above the alley. With Lieut. Eyal Yoel, an officer from a kibbutz outside Jerusalem, Harazi went into a half-built house to provide covering fire for the injured. Yoel crossed the room and tripped the wire of a booby trap; the explosion knocked him unconscious and set him on fire. Harazi, who had been protected from the blast by a pillar, was unhurt and ran to Yoel just as another bomb was thrown through a window. Shrapnel wounded Harazi in the legs and face, but he got out and ran 50 yds. back to the medic unit. "Eyal is lying in there burning!" he shouted to the medics. "There are a lot of others you need to rescue." But nine men caught in the initial ambush died, as did Yoel and three others of their would-be rescuers. A few hours later, a Golani Brigade soldier was shot on the edge of the camp. With 14 dead, Day 7 became the Israeli army's worst day of combat casualties since the Lebanon war ended in 1985.

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