TOPICS > Politics


April 16, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


LINDSEY HILSUM: They were burning the garbage in Palatka Camp. All over Nablus, people defied the curfew and came out on the street to look at the debris of the battle. They’ve moved the bodies now, but the stench of uncleared rubbish is everywhere. Passing the watchful Israeli tanks, we drove cautiously to the hospital. This man, shot through the liver, has been on a respirator for a week. His chances of survival are slim. Another was having an operation to close a bullet wound in his hand. He’d been patched up in a field hospital in the old town before being brought here.

Two doctors took us to that field hospital, to the scene of greatest destruction, the historic Casbah at the center of Nablus. This is where the battle raged for nearly two weeks, where up to 100 Palestinians may have been killed, and dozens wounded. They still pray in this mosque, but for two weeks, under fire, the doctors saved lives here. They carried out major operations with rudimentary instruments, treating gunmen and civilians alike. Now they’ve come to see themselves as more than medical staff.

DR. ZAHRA ALWAWI, Palestinian Medical Relief: In my job, I’m a soldier. I must defend my people. I’m from the old city. All the people are my family.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Some did not survive. At one point, 35 bodies were stacked in the courtyard. We climbed to the garden of an old house where they buried 14 of them in shallow graves. Some of the dead still lie beneath the rubble. They were being pulled out by rescue workers. The Israeli defense forces say one of their soldiers lost his life in Nablus, despite the booby traps the Palestinians laid, pipe bombs planted under the paving stones, an explosive charge in a gas canister with a simple electrical fuse. Today the doctors are worried about the living. The water’s contaminated. There’s no electricity. We found this child scavenging in the rotting garbage.

BILL NEELY: Into Jenin with the Israeli army, scene of the bloodiest battle of this campaign so far — the place this army calls the ground zero of its war with terrorism. The Israeli army tore through this camp in a hunt for terrorists. Dozens of Palestinian gunmen fought back.

SPOKESMAN: You can see here there’s an explosive device.

BILL NEELY: The Israelis showed us booby traps, trip wires in the trees and in the houses. Nearly every house, they said, was a deadly trap. Their answer to this? Bulldoze the houses and anyone inside.

BILL NEELY: But it was necessary to bulldoze this whole area?

MAJ. RAFI LADERMAN, Israeli Army: It was necessary, eventually, to bulldoze because the fighting kept on going from house to house, from room to room.

BILL NEELY: One of the toughest battles Israeli troops have fought in a quarter of a century. In this street alone, 14 soldiers died. Hundreds of buildings are wrecked, some flattened. As we go in still further, it’s like a scene from an earthquake, except this destruction is wholly manmade.

The Israelis say this was no ordinary refugee camp; this was a terrorist camp. No one disputes that Jenin was, in effect, the suicide bombing capital of the West Bank, but the Palestinians here say the Israeli assault on the camp killed not dozens, but hundreds; that this was a massacre. Today we saw what the Israeli army wanted us to see. We saw no bodies, no evidence of atrocities, but civilians did certainly die here, a few bulldozed alive in their homes. Exactly what’s under all this rubble has yet to be discovered. Today the Israeli army was still attacking Palestinian targets in Jenin, and as we left, Israel was sending still more reinforcements in.

GWEN IFILL: Elizabeth Farnsworth takes the story from there.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For more, we turn now to Jessica Barry of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Swiss-based organization which monitors treatment of civilians in wartime and under occupation. She joins us by phone from Jerusalem. Thanks for being with us, Ms. Barry. We’ve seen pictures of the camp, but tell us what your objectives were there today and what you found.

JESSICA BARRY: We went in today with ambulances and our own vehicles for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Primarily, the first objective is to look for the wounded and the sick who might be in the houses and need treatment. Secondly, the important thing to focus on is assistance to the civilian population who are still there, and we found a lot of people there today. And then the third objective is to bring out the dead and to take them out and to give them a decent burial.

What was very striking today was that we went around… it was very quiet to begin with, signs of devastation are quite extraordinary. The camp itself is only one- square kilometer. And you have this enormous area with the destruction. And then if you walk a little bit further up the hill, you come across other parts of the camp, which are not damaged, and people are still there living a so-called normal life sitting outside in front of their houses. There are children playing. And the contrast between those areas and what you see down below with this massive destruction, that is very, very striking.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tell us more about the area down below. Did you find many dead bodies?

JESSICA BARRY: Well, no. This is also very important to say. We asked people whether they were sick and wounded. We found some people who were sick. We didn’t find any wounded people. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society put up a little first-aid post and a lot of women and children came for minor injuries, but no, we don’t find a lot. There are certainly dead bodies there. The smell is terrible when you walk around. Quite definitely there are dead people there. And this was also what the authorities there… the Israelis told us that there are bodies to be taken out. But the difficulty is that they are under the rubble or they are under collapsed buildings or half-collapsed buildings, and it’s extremely dangerous.

It’s a risk to be able to even try and pull them out. So what is very important to say is that the scale of this disaster is too big just for one organization. It has to be a coordinated effort. There will be the U.N. agencies, United Nations’ agencies, who will look after the food and the water and the blankets; the assistance for the civilians. There’s ourselves, the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, who will look after the medical side. And then the Israeli authorities themselves will look after getting out the dead bodies and taking them to the hospital, where we will also be present and assist to ensure that those bodies can have a decent burial, and that the families can mourn those bodies, those loved ones they’ve lost, in the appropriate way, and a decent way.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And are you able now… is the International Committee of the Red Cross able now to do that work?

JESSICA BARRY: Yes, indeed. I mean, it took us six days to get permission to go into the camp but we continually worked with the authorities, and this is the way we work anyway. We always work with the authorization of the authorities to go in. And just yesterday was the first day we got in. Today we got in, and what is very important to focus on is that the work can now continue.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are there other situations besides Jenin that you’re very concerned about now — Nablus, for example?

JESSICA BARRY: Yes, indeed. It’s very important to put it into the context. Jenin is a horror case, but Nablus also has been under curfew for a long time. Bethlehem as well — there’s an area around Manger Square where civilians… people are living under curfew for days at a time. And this is a tremendous burden on people.

To give you just one small story: There was in Jenin again, also under curfew, there was a man who was shot in the head and was taken to the hospital. The doctor in the hospital didn’t have the skills to operate on this man. The specialist who did, the surgeon who did, lived somewhere else, but because the curfew was on, the body… the patient couldn’t go to the specialist, and the specialist couldn’t come to help the man. So what happened was, we have a surgeon working with us on war surgery who happened to be in Jerusalem. The doctor where the patient was rang up our surgeon and said, “What do I do now?” And so our surgeon actually talked him through the operation over the telephone step by step. I mean, these are the sort of difficulties that not only the people are living under, but those surgeons, the doctors, everybody who is caught up in this terrible situation are living under these enormous pressures.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jessica Barry of the International Committee of the Red Cross, thanks for being with us.