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Excerpt from Naught for your comfort, The Economist, Aug. 8, 2002.

Kofi AnnanThere was no massacre in Jenin. But let the joy be confined.

By now it is a footnote, but Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, has at last published his report on last April’s battle at Jenin, the West Bank refugee camp where the Palestinians accused Israel of massacring up to 500 civilians. He concludes that although the Israelis and Palestinians alike were guilty of breaking some of the rules of war, there was no massacre. All the claims at the time about some 500 dead being buried beneath the rubble, or carted off for secret burial in refrigerated lorries, turn out to have been so much nonsense.

It now seems that the Palestinian death toll in Jenin was 52, of whom non-combatants numbered 14 (says Israel) or about 20 (say various human-rights organizations).


Israel is doing plenty of bad things in the occupied territories, about which more later. But this “we knew there was no massacre all along” line is mystifying. If the newspapers that leapt to compare Jenin to the depredations of the Nazis or to Cambodia’s killing fields (yes, really) have changed their minds, their retractions have passed us by. One reporter for Britain’s Independent has apologised for his vivid account of the massacre that wasn’t, pleading strangely in mitigation that he as feeling “furious” when he filed his erroneous despatch. But such honesty is rare. The Guardian has made a point of standing by its editorial which said that Israel’s Jenin battle was “every bit as repellent” as Osama bin Laden’s felling of New York’s twin towers. The French magazine which reported that all nine children of one Abu Ali were dead in Jenin failed to pass on the later detail that they were all in fact alive. And if A. N. Wilson, a British intellectual, has had second thoughts about saying in London’s Evening Standard that “we are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up, of genocide,” he has, so far as we know, kept them to himself.

In short, Israel is right to say it got a bum rap when it was accused of a massacre in Jenin. But, of course, so are those who say that this must not distract attention from the many hard things that Israel is indeed doing in the territories.

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