April 23, 2002
JERUSALEM — A senior member of Islamic Jihad who surrendered to Israeli
forces in Jenin described the battle as “a very hard fight” in which both sides
took on casualties, but he said he didn’t see “tens of people” killed by the
Tabaat Mardawi spoke Monday to CNN from the Israeli prison where he was
taken after his surrender. His comments were some of the first from a
Palestinian fighter from the battle at the Jenin refugee camp, which was the
scene of Israel’s most fierce offensive during Operation Defensive Shield.
Palestinian officials claim hundreds died in what they are calling a massacre at
the camp during Israel’s military offensive. Israel vehemently denies the charge,
saying deaths – including 23 of their own soldiers – came during fierce fighting.
The United Nations has formed a fact-finding team to investigate the events at
the Jenin camp.
Mardawi said he and other Palestinian fighters had expected Israel to attack
with planes and tanks. He spoke enthusiastically about Israel’s decision to send
“It was like hunting … like being given a prize. I couldn’t believe it when
I saw the soldiers,” he said. “The Israelis knew that any soldier who went into
the camp like that was going to get killed.”
He added: “I’ve been waiting for a moment like that for years.”
Mardawi drew a map of the camp and talked about the course of the battle.
Their weapons were guns and crudely made bombs and booby traps — “big
ones” for tanks and “others the size of a water bottle.” He estimated 1,000 to
2,000 bombs and booby traps were spread through the camp.
“It was a very hard fight. We fought at close quarters,” he said,
“sometimes just a matter of a few meters between us, sometimes even in the
He said there were about 100 Palestinians in the battle – 60 to 70 fighters from
the camp and 20-30 members of the Palestinian security forces.
That figure is not so different from what Israel has said. The Israel
Defense Forces has said as many as 200 fighters were in the camp but that
about 100 surrendered during the fighting.
Asked about the allegations of a massacre, Mardawi said, “By my own
standard, what happened there was a massacre. But if you are asking, ‘Did I
see tens of people killed?’ Frankly, no. In my group, we were in an area with no
other people. Three fighters with me were killed. Later when we started to
move from place to place, we saw destroyed houses and could smell bodies.”
He eventually surrendered when infantry forces disappeared and armored
“The huge bulldozer came in, and we were in destroyed houses,” he
said. “There were no soldiers or tanks. … There was nothing I could do against
“What could I do? I either surrendered or stayed to be buried under the
Israel has said the use of bulldozers was a tactical necessity to end the fighting
and that the devastation of the camp was unfortunate collateral damage. The
question for U.N.-fact finders: Was such devastation necessary to deal with
100 to 200 fighters?
The team, headed by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, will report its
findings to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who will present them to the
Ahtisaari said the team should reach the Jenin camp later this week. No
timetable was given for its work.
“Our intention is to meet as soon as possible,” he said. “We will, of
course, go after all the necessary information” at the camp.
The Palestinian Authority applauded the decision to send the team: “The
Palestinian Authority and its leader welcome the appointment of
a fact-finding committee.”
In Washington, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the
U.N. investigative effort in Jenin “when we’ve had dozens of proven massacres
by Arafat when they didn’t lift a finger.”
“It’s irrelevant, unjust, unfair,” Netanyahu told the American-Israel Public
Affairs Committee in a speech Monday night. “We should discard , the United States and Israel together.”
Al-Ahram Weekly Cairo, Egypt, April 24, 2002
The following is a first-hand description given by an Islamic Jihad terrorist, as
relayed to an Egyptian journal, concerning what happened in Jenin. Does this
sound like a civilian massacre? You be the judge.
An engineer of the fiercest battle waged by the Palestinians during the invasion
of the West Bank spoke to Jonathan Cook about the days of defiance in Jenin
Omar sits restlessly on his chair in the safe-house. He is an “engineer” from
Jenin refugee camp: one of the revered bomb-makers from the City of the
Bombers. To the Israelis he is the most lethal, and wanted, of terrorists. The
poison from the Cobra’s head.
We meet late last Thursday, hours after he escaped from the camp as Israeli
soldiers took control of the area. We are still close enough to Jenin that we can
see the constant stream of illumination flares, three launched by the army at a
time, that light up the soldiers’ dark work in the city below.
But Omar will not be staying here long. He is going to ground deeper in the
West Bank before regrouping with his comrades from Jenin.
There may not be too many. Even according to Israeli army sources, at least a
hundred fighters were killed and hundreds more wounded and captured during
the eight days of savage fighting.
Omar will not give his name or age. He is slim, in his mid-20s, with a closely
cropped beard. He is a member of Islamic Jihad, but says in Jenin all the
factions were loyal to only one cause: liberation or death.
Visible beneath a blue bomber jacket is the tightly bandaged stump of his right
arm, the end of which he rubs distractedly.
How did he lose it? During the previous invasion of Jenin by the Israeli army
several weeks ago, he says. He was hiding with only his arm visible as he tried
to throw a ‘kwa’ – a home-made pipe bomb – at a tank. Shrapnel from a shell
severed it, he says.
But as a bomb-maker, one of the most highly respected positions in the
Palestinian resistance, he could equally have lost the arm in less glorious
circumstances: in one of the explosions that are a professional hazard of his
Omar admits he is one of only a few dozen fighters not to emerge either dead
or in plastic handcuffs from the fiercest battle waged by the Palestinians during
the Israeli army’s invasion of the West Bank.
Of his group of 30 gunmen, only four escaped from the camp on Wednesday,
after the Palestinian arsenal ran dry. Most of the others were shot dead.
“Of all the fighters in the West Bank we were the best prepared,” he says. “We
started working on our plan: to trap the invading soldiers and blow them up
from the moment the Israeli tanks pulled out of Jenin last month.”
Omar and other “engineers” made hundreds of explosive devices and carefully
chose their locations.
“We had more than 50 houses booby-trapped around the camp. We chose old
and empty buildings and the houses of men who were wanted by Israel
because we knew the soldiers would search for them,” he said.
“We cut off lengths of mains water pipes and packed them with explosives and
nails. Then we placed them about four metres apart throughout the houses — in
cupboards, under sinks, in sofas.”
The fighters hoped to disable the Israeli army’s tanks with much more powerful
bombs placed inside rubbish bins on the street. More explosives were hidden
inside the cars of Jenin’s most wanted men.
Connected by wires, the bombs were set off remotely, triggered by the current
from a car battery.
According to Omar, everyone in the camp, including the children, knew where
the explosives were located so that there was no danger of civilians being
injured. It was the one weakness in the plan.
“We were betrayed by the spies among us,” he says. The wires to more than a
third of the bombs were cut by soldiers accompanied by collaborators. “If it
hadn’t been for the spies, the soldiers would never have been able to enter the
camp. Once they penetrated the camp, it was much harder to defend.”
And what about the explosion and ambush last Tuesday which killed 13
“They were lured there,” he says. “We all stopped shooting and the women
went out to tell the soldiers that we had run out of bullets and were leaving.”
The women alerted the fighters as the soldiers reached the booby- trapped
“When the senior officers realised what had happened, they shouted through
megaphones that they wanted an immediate cease-fire. We let them approach
to retrieve the men and then opened fire.
“Some of the soldiers were so shocked and frightened that they mistakenly ran
On Wednesday, after the fighters ran out of ammunition, he says, armoured
vehicles roamed the streets calling out to them in Arabic: “You are finished and
can’t win against us. We are more powerful than you. Surrender.”
He saw one fighter who went down to the street with his hands in the air shot
dead by snipers. He chose to flee the camp, although he will not say how.
Using his left arm, Omar shot a revolver during the gun battles.
With a new intensity on his face, he leans forward to ask a question. Do I think
the doctors will be able to give him a strong new artificial arm with fingers he
can operate. I don’t know, I say. Why?
“Because I want to be able to hold a heavy rifle again. That way I can kill more
Israeli soldiers. It’s that or become a suicide bomber.”