JENIN, West Bank – Despite Israeli government success in blocking a United Nations fact-finding team, eyewitness reports from international religious groups and other observers tell of massive destruction at the Jenin refugee camp. Fifty bodies have been recovered but many remain unaccounted for.

On April 25, an international delegation of religious leaders and journalists arriving in Jenin heard Palestinian Legislative Council member Jamal Shatil detail the destruction: around 300 houses have been completely destroyed, 60 houses were burned by Apache missiles and an additional 500 houses were partly destroyed.

As a result, Shatil said, “1,300 families [estimated at 4,000 people] are living without any shelter over their heads.”

The World Bank has estimated it will take $50 million to repair the damage, with the bulk going towards replacement of housing that was bulldozed without warning.

“We wanted very much to welcome you with flowers, not with the destruction you have seen here,” Shatil said. “Here you are witness to Israeli war crimes and Sharon crimes.”

The international visitors saw residents digging through rubble with hands, shovels and a tractor. They saw families living in half-destroyed buildings. One man stood amidst the rubble that once was his home.

“They destroyed everything here. We don’t go out. We felt we were going to be dead. There were six killed in the street near my house. They shot at me when I went to rescue my neighbor. I don’t know if he died or where he is now,” he said.

“We are human like everyone in the world. Why won’t they leave us alone? We are not army. There was no army here.”

The delegation was accompanied by a convoy bringing food and medical supplies to the refugee camp. Nabril Handal, of Catholic Relief Services of the U.S. Catholic Conference, told the World the purpose of the convoy, organized by international church and religious groups, was “to draw the attention of the world to what is happening here and the intentional destruction of people’s lives.”

He said, “The streets [were] bulldozed, water networks destroyed, electrification poles knocked down and buildings destroyed.”

After helping to unload food and medicines, and viewing the refugee camp, National Council of Churches (NCC) General Secretary Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar told the World, “The human tragedy is beyond belief. If [President Bush] thinks that Sharon is a man of peace then Gandhi was a man of war. This is very tragic.”

Edgar led an NCC delegation that had traveled to the region at the invitation of the Middle East Council of Churches.

As families in Jenin continue to search for their relatives, not sure if they were killed or taken prisoner by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), U.N. relief agencies continue to report “obstruction and delays” by the Israeli government and IDF hampering delivery of humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Defying the Geneva Conventions, the IDF refused entrance to Jenin to Red Cross and Red Crescent ambulances for an entire week in April, preventing residents from obtaining food, water and medical assistance.

The IDF also barred access by U.N. relief workers, humantarian organizations and journalists for 12 days.

Amnesty International reported that there have been wide-scale human rights violations in Jenin, including extra-judicial executions.

In the initial Jenin firefight, Israeli press reported the IDF fired 200 missiles into a one square kilometer area and followed with the bulldozing of 1,100 homes.

The Economist called the Israeli action in Jenin a war crime and said, “Evidence of the Israeli army’s absolute negligence in trying to protect civilian life is everywhere.”

While the Sharon government conducted a public relatons campaign to cover up the human rights violations, the Israeli Supreme Court stopped the burial of Palestinians without Palistinian families and relief organizations present.

This week’s military incursions into Hebron and the Gaza Strip in response to terrorist acts have left both Israeli and Palestinian soldiers and civilians, including children, dead.

Thousands have marched in Haifa and Tel Aviv in the last three weeks calling for an end to the occupation. Four more army reservists have refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and have been put in jail, bringing the total number of “refusniks” to 92 in the last 19 months.

Despite the high approval ratings that Sharon has received on his military incursions into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, polls have shown that 80 percent of Israelis feel an independent Palestinian state is inevitable. About 40 percent are prepared for an international intervention.

Gila Svirsky, an organizer of the Israeli women’s peace group, Women in Black, told the World, “The military occupation is killing us all. … All are suffering and we must end it.”

Many in the Israeli peace movement speak of the role the U.S. must play to end the occupation, due to the billions of dollars given in foreign aid.

Svirsky said there is a great need “for George Bush to stand up and say, ‘get out,’ and stop backtracking … Half the struggle to make peace is what we do on this side of the world; the other half is squarely in the laps of America.”

Edgar said, “I think people of faith of all traditions – Muslim, Christian and Jewish – need to work together and find ways to educate [their] elected officials … I think we need to talk to Colin Powell because I don’t think he saw what needed to be seen in his trip. I think he needs to come back and stay until we find a way to get the Israelis to go home and the Palestinians to have a state.”

As the possiblity of a United Nations investigation wanes, the Latin Catholic Patriarch in Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, told the World, “The Palestinians aren’t terrorists – they want life. They want their dignity. They want their freedom. They want their land and the Israelis are attacking them, depriving them of their freedom and their land. And once the world knows this truth it should help the Palestinians [gain] their freedom and life.”

The interviews done in Jenin can be heard on the web at

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