Jeff Guntzel of Voices in the Wilderness was one of the first American activists to enter Jenin refugee camp and witness the atrocities committed by the Israeli army first hand. One of a team of eight internationals who managed to evade Israeli army attempts to keep witnesses and humanitarian workers out, Guntzel gave the following account to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now on April 15, 2002, speaking on a cell phone. A transcript is below.
Account of the scene at Jenin refugee camp, April 15, 2002
Jeff Guntzel reports from Jenin:
‘I’m at the edge of the camp right now; we’re hemmed in by two APCs and a lot of soldiers. We were trying to help just a handful of people take a gurney loaded with food and water across a destroyed road to get to people who need it. The soldiers have stopped us and they’re not giving us permission to pass. Behind me, in the other direction, I saw a little pushcart that somebody, I can’t tell who from here, had loaded up with the same types of supplies. They were also turned back in a different direction. That’s where we are now. Earlier today we were actually walking around, through the camp, standing on top the rubble of what was once many, many, many homes. Walking over, you know, children’s toys, shoes, clothing, beds, pieces of household furniture, pieces of cars, just outrageous destruction. It was post-apocalyptic. I can’t wrap my mind around what I’ve seen today. Upon entry to the camp, the soldiers told us they had done nothing wrong, there was nothing to see here, come back in a couple days when “our project is finished.” I told them that what we see already is evidence of a massive war crime, and they didn’t like that language, and we pushed on and ultimately they let us go around a corner into the camp from a place where they were not, and that’s when we walked up on top of the rubble.
As soon as we started seeing signs of life, some cries from an old woman came from a house kind of partly buried in the rubble, and myself and a Swedish member of the team went down to the house to help carry the woman out and then to walk her to the hospital. She was terrified, rightly so, because you could hear the tanks and the APCs moving around the area. But we had to carry her down in the streets, by some of the APCs, just to get her to a hospital. At one point we had to actually take a rest, because it was just the two of us carrying her and it was very awkward. We sat down with her in the road, and we had to yell to the soldiers around us that we were an American and a Swedish citizen, that we were trying to get this woman to the hospital, that we’d be gone in a few minutes, please don’t shoot. While we were sitting there, we looked up to our right and saw in a third floor apartment building, soldiers ransacking a home. They were throwing crystal out the window, in our direction, not necessarily at us, I don’t know, but it was further terrifying this old woman. They were clearly destroying the inside of the home. We’re hearing reports of golds being looted, valuables being looted, possessions being destroyed. What we’re hearing and what we’re seeing is that anything that wasn’t destroyed from the outside was most certainly destroyed from the inside. We told one of our members, Kathy Kelly, to go along and get a stretcher. She went to the hospital, which was just a block away, and she was running. The soldiers started running with their guns pointed, and she had to convince them that we meant no harm, which we tried to tell them many times, and that she was simply going to get a stretcher, pointed to us where we sat with the old woman. The soldiers would not help, and the hospital workers were afraid to come out, because they know that people have been shot in the streets. Tanks are driving around broadcasting the message, “Do not come out of your homes.” So Kathy ran back to us with a stretcher, we put the old woman on it, and we got on our way and got into the hospital to the doctors who were too afraid to go outside, passing, by the way, an ambulance that had been shot up, the days previous, at some point in the invasion.
[In response to a question from Amy Goodman regarding numbers of Palestinians presumed dead in Jenin refugee camp]
We can say that there were fifteen thousand people in this camp and now it is estimated that now there are two to three thousand that remain. The rest are scattered around in neighboring villages which we’ve visited to interview the refugees. Some are being detained still, others, obviously, are dead. A doctor we asked from Jenin, last night, now the only doctor working with eight hundred refugees in Jenin City - and he’s a general practitioner and he’s working overtime and he’s not sleeping - we asked him that same question, what kind of numbers we could put this at. He said, and I think this is an answer of integrity, “We can’t say. We don’t know.” And we don’t know, people are buried under the rubble, people are missing, people are in villages, people are in prison, it’s going to be a long time before we can say what the count is. He just repeated what he’s heard, some have said a hundred, some have said a dozen, some have said over a thousand, and the sad reality is, you don’t know. I can tell you, walking on top of dozens and dozens of what once were homes, that I can’t imagine that we’re talking about a dozen, and I certainly can’t imagine that we’re simply talking about a dozen fighters. Clearly there was resistance in this town, we know that this is an area where some of the heaviest resistance has been, where the Israelis lost some of the largest numbers of their soldiers. That’s clear, but what we’re doing here, what they’re doing here, is not unlike what we did to Afghanistan to get after a few “terrorists.”
I’ve visited the village of Ramani, the village of Taybey [ph], and also Jenin City, there are eight hundred in Jenin City, approximately two hundred in Ramani, and then there are a couple hundred in Taybey. They are also scattered in Burqin and other villages in the area, some of which have now, since the invasion of Jenin, also been occupied, so they are going through this terror a second time. We know they’re going around. What is happening, the reason a lot of these people are ending up there, is that they’re rounding up the young men, and in some cases, stripping them down to their underwear, in the early days of the invasion, and hogtying them in their underwear on the ground, taking them for interrogation, and then dropping them at a petrol station, on the West Bank side of the Salem [ph] checkpoint, basically at the Green Line. From there, where they’re dropped blindfolded, handcuffed, and naked, essentially, villages have been picking them up, buying them clothes, and taking them to various refugee camps. We visited a petrol station and saw hundreds of blindfolds, hundreds of clipped handcuffs ourselves, which confirmed the stories we were hearing. We’re also hearing from refugees that some of the men are having the word terrorist written in Hebrew, stamped on the cover of their IDs. Young men under sixteen who don’t have an ID are getting Polaroids taken and they’re supposed to present those as their IDs if they run into the Israelis again. It has their name, it says they’ve been processed. We have been going around to where those people are, to try to talk to them, because it was very difficult to get into Jenin.
We set out on the main road to Jenin, five of us, three women and two men. We were quite quickly stopped, and the three women sat down and refused to move. They arrested the two men. The thing is, they have to get the police to you when they arrest you, the army can’t do it, and they have to get women to lift the other women off the ground, so it was much easier for them to take us. They took us to the police station at the Salem [ph] Checkpoint, where we saw three of these men blindfolded and cuffed, but clothed, being led around, and they interrogated us a bit, and drove us out into Israel, on the other side of the checkpoint. The women, in a very strange twist, were given food, water, and sunblock, and told to be careful and get on their way. So the two of us who were arrested actually snuck back around through the mountains into the West Bank, and amazingly made our way back to our group where we pressed on towards Jenin. When we got to the checkpoint, it was actually a military camp, tents and soldiers everywhere, and we were met by many soldiers who asked us what we were doing. We told them we were going to Jenin; we wanted to see with our very eyes what our tax money was doing to the people of Jenin camp, that we had a responsibility, that we were not journalists, that we were unarmed. They said, “No, it’s very dangerous for you.” We said, “Listen, we’ve considered the dangers, don’t worry about us,” and this went on back and forth for quite a while, and the general came out and it went on with him. Finally, after the general had left, there were four of five soldiers, and the highest ranking of all of them, who we had been talking to quite a bit—and he seemed to be somewhat sympathetic to what we were trying to do, I have no idea if that’s true - he said to us, “Well, listen. We can’t say no to you, if you cut up one hundred yards, about one hundred meters, and go through that field, and go through the outskirts of Jenin City, we can’t say no….”
[Telephone cuts out, end of interview]