There is full agreement between all those who were in the Jenin refugee camp on only one thing. A week after the end of the fighting, foreign journalists and IDF soldiers, UN representatives and hired hacks in the Israeli media, members of the welfare organizations and government propagandists all report that a terrible stench of decomposing bodies lingers everywhere.
Apart from that there is no agreement on anything. The Palestinians speak about a massacre amounting to a second Sabra and Shatila. The IDF speak about hard fighting, in which "the most humane army in the world" did not intentionally hurt even one single civilian. The Palestinians speak about hundreds of dead, the Minister of Defense asserts categorically that exactly 43 were killed.
So what is the truth? The simple answer is: nobody knows. Nobody can possibly know.
The truth lies buried under the debris, and it smells atrociously.
But some facts are uncontestable. They are sufficient for drawing conclusions.
First: During two weeks of fighting, the IDF did not allow any journalist, Israeli or foreign, into the camp. Even after the fighting had died down, no journalist was let in. The pretext was that the life of the journalists would be endangered. But they did not ask the army to save them. They were quite ready to risk their lives, as journalists and photographers do in every war.
Simple common sense would hold that if one forcibly denies access to journalists, one has something to hide.
Second: During the fighting and afterwards, ambulances and rescue teams were not allowed to get close. Those that tried to approach were shot at. The result was that the wounded bled to death in the streets, even if they had relatively light injuries. This is a war crime, a "manifestly illegal order", over which "the black flag of illegality" flies. Under Israeli law, and even more so under international law and conventions to which Israel is a party, soldiers are forbidden to obey such an order.
It makes no difference whether civilians or "armed men", one person or a hundred, died in these circumstances. As a method of warfare it is inhuman.
Some journalists justified this method in advance when they alleged that they had seen "with their own eyes" Palestinian ambulances carrying arms. Even if there was such an incident, it would not justify the use of such methods in any circumstances. (Until now, only one instance has been proven: this week Israeli journalists reported proudly that undercover soldiers used an ambulance in order to approach a house in which a "wanted person" was hiding).
Third: Even after the end of the fighting, and until now, heavy equipment and rescue teams have not been allowed in to remove the debris and corpses, or, perhaps, save people still alive under the ruins.
The pretext was again that the corpses could be mined. So what? If foreign and local teams want to risk their lives for this noble purpose, why should the army prevent them from doing so?
Fourth: During all the days of fighting, no one was allowed to bring in medications, water and food. I myself took part in a mass march of Israeli peace activists who tried, after the fighting was over, to accompany a convoy of trucks carrying such supplies to the camp. The trucks were allowed, so it seemed, to pass the road-block which stopped us - but it later became apparent that the supplies were unloaded in an army camp and only four could reach their destination.
What does all this indicate? An objective person could only draw the conclusion that the army wanted to prevent the entrance of eye-witnesses into the camp at any price. The army knew that this would give rise to rumors about a terrible massacre, but preferred this to the disclosure of the truth. If one takes such extreme measures to hide something, one cannot complain about the rumors.
What is the height of cynicism? When one blocks free access to a place, and then argues that no one has the right to say what happened there, because he has not seen it with his own eyes.
The most damning evidence about what happened is the fact that immediately after the end of the fighting, top government and army officials started to discuss ways of preventing a shock reaction in Israel and abroad once the facts became known. This was no secret discussion, it was held in public, in the media talk shows. All of us heard.
The decisions made were extremely effective in Israel, and extremely ineffective abroad. I happened to be in England when the news finally broke. They filled the first page of every important British newspaper. The front-page headline in the Times was "Inside the Camp of Death". Underneath was a giant photo and a report by a star war correspondent, who wrote that in all the wars she had covered, such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya and others, she had never seen such a terrible sight as this. In almost all European countries the reaction was the same.
In Israel, however, the government propaganda machine, in which all the media are now voluntarily integrated, did everything possible to prepare the public in advance. It was said beforehand that the Palestinians were about to spread a horrible lie, that they were ready to heap dead bodies (from where?) in the streets. It got almost to the point of saying that the Palestinians had blown up their houses over their families in order to create a blood libel.
The IDF did "clean" part of the camp, removing the bodies and ordering the ruins somewhat, and that is where compliant journalists and innocent foreign visitors were brought. There they met humane officers who assured them that there had not been any massacre. After all, only a tiny part of the camp had been destroyed, so-and-so many yards by so-and-so many yards, nothing really. It all reminds one of the methods of certain regimes.
The result is that again a huge gap was created between Israelis and the rest of the world. Around the world, many were horrified that Jews, of all people, were capable of doing such things. Jews were again confirmed in their belief that all Goyim are anti-Semites.
I hope that there will be a serious international inquiry, and that the truth - whatever it may be - will emerge. But if even a part of the rumored atrocity is confirmed, a question will be asked: What was the intention? Why did the civilian and military leadership decide to deal with the Jenin camp like this?
The only answer I can come up with is: in Jenin the Palestinians decided to stand up and fight. The rape of Jenin was intended to send a message to the Palestinians: This will be the lot of everyone who resists the IDF. Also, it could cause a Deir Yassin-style mass flight.
Only a fool would believe that this will end the resistance to the occupation.
Uri Avnery is an Israeli journalist, peace activist and a former member of the Knesset