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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The Israelis, however, were winning; the sheer force of their assault was beginning to tell on the Palestinian fighters. The D-9s rumbled farther into the heart of the camp, flattening an area 200 yds. square; Human Rights Watch reports that 140 buildings were leveled, and more than 200 were severely damaged. On Day 9, 37 gunmen surrendered in Hawashin, the center of the camp. A D-9 had sliced the wall off a house; dazed fighters came out with their hands in the air. They were told to strip to the waist and were taken to a building on the edge of the camp for processing. One man took off his blindfold; on an Israeli army videotape viewed by TIME, he was haggard and pale, his hair tousled and his shoulders slumped toward the grizzled gray hair on his chest. "Who are you?" asked an Israeli officer. "Ali Suleiman al-Saadi," the man mumbled. "Safouri? You're Safouri?" The prisoner nodded and grunted, "Yeah." With Thabet Mardawi--the third of the Israelis' top targets--captured in the same incident, the end was in sight.

Then came the counting of casualties--and arguments about the count. Throughout the operation, Palestinian officials had said that as many as 800 had been killed. As is the case in the Middle East, the figure was inflated to fit local beliefs of Israeli depravity and Palestinian victimization: last week an Iranian waiter in Rome told an Israeli visitor of 16,000 people slaughtered in Jenin.

The reality was different, though body counts and estimates of civilian casualties vary. Charles Kapes, the deputy chief of the U.N. office in the camp, says 54 dead have been pulled from the wreckage and 49 Palestinians are missing, of whom 18 are residents of the camp. Human Rights Watch says 52 were killed, of whom only 27 were thought to be armed Palestinians. The Israelis say they found 46 dead in the rubble, including a pile of five bodies that had been booby-trapped. Of these 46, say the Israelis, all but three were "fighters," men ages 18 to 40. The Jenin Hospital, meanwhile, says 52 camp residents died, including five women and four children under the age of 15. Of the 43 dead men, eight were 55 or older and therefore probably not involved in the fighting. No matter whose figures one accepts, "there was no massacre," concludes Amnesty's Holley.

That said, Jenin was awful; all wars are. The Israelis themselves lost 23 men, and an additional 75 were wounded. Dr. Mohammed Abu Ghali, director of the Jenin Hospital, said he counted 220 injured, a number that doesn't include those who received treatment at home. On April 17, more than two weeks after the battle began, Abu Ghali was allowed by Israeli soldiers to make his third foray into the camp to tend to victims. Abu Ghali saw the body of a man crushed by a bulldozer or tank track, his intestines spilling out. "We could see what he had eaten," the doctor said.

He will remember Jenin. So will countless others, both Israeli and Palestinian. And in the Middle East, memory is the fuel that nourishes violence, revenge and unending hate. --With reporting by Aparisim Ghosh and Jamil Hamad/Jenin and Aharon Klein/Tel Aviv

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