Chivvis Moore

Walking Among Bodies in Jenin

Editor's Note: In the days before the Red Cross was allowed into the Jenin settlement, a Palestinian American university teacher gained entrance and saw body parts and houses in rubble, and took eyewitness accounts of atrocious acts at the hands of Israeli soldiers.

I am a teacher at Bir Zeit University. I have managed to stay here in Jenin camp for several days, bringing food to people. I was here before the Red Cross and other agencies were allowed in.

There are people living in houses of complete rubble, and others in the ruins of wrecked houses that still stand a little bit.

There are dead bodies and the smell of dead bodies throughout the camp. I've seen the bodies of people who were burned to death after their houses had missiles dropped on them or some kind of explosive thrown at them. Sometimes they are burned down to the skeleton.

Over the days it has become apparent to me that there are many people here under the rubble. That rubble is not simply the rubble of a house that fell down, but was created by Israeli bulldozers that came after the destruction and turned over the earth.

So now we find one foot in one place and one foot in another place six yards away -- a separation that would not have occurred from death caused by a falling house. People tell us that they have seen with their own eyes the bulldozers come and do this shifting and re-shifting of the earth, to bury the bodies after the destruction.

Some men in the camp who had guns began to resist when the bulldozers came and knocked down even more houses and began burying the bodies. I talked to one woman today who said she saw the bulldozers dig a hole, then fill it in again after bodies of men who were killed were put inside. When a water main broke, water rose to the top of the hole, so now it looks like a small lake.

It seems as though there was a slaughter here. Whole families are missing, and neighbors say they are buried under the houses. Neighbors talk about one man who sent out calls three days ago, trapped in the wreckage of his house. He had his mobile phone with him. His family was there, too. No one was able to go for help, because no one was able to move without being shot. There were snipers, soldiers, bulldozers and tanks, they said. They could not go to him.

I've talked to people about what happened at one house. The soldiers called through the bulldozer loudspeakers, "Come out of your house, we're going to bulldoze your house." Everybody ran out except a man who was mentally ill, who was also in a wheelchair. People instantly realized that he was still in the house. His mother ran to the Israeli soldiers with a picture of him and said, "He's mentally ill. I have to get him out of the house." But they bulldozed the house, they said, and that was the end of that person.

Most of the bodies are now being eaten by maggots. The smell of death is everywhere. It's becoming a health hazard, for many diseases can be carried by the bacteria that eat the bodies after death. The Red Cross and the U.N. personnel are beginning to come in, and they seem absolutely astounded by what they're seeing. I took them around the first day because I had already seen many bodies and knew where people were living. Some of them were just muttering to themselves, "I can't believe this," or "Sabra and Shatila." (Palestinian camps in Lebanon where massacres occurred under Israeli-supported militia in l982.)

Ariel Sharon is saying that maybe a couple dozen people were killed here in Jenin. From my own experience I would say that's an outrageous fabrication, just outrageous. Entire families are missing and people know where they were last seen when a missile fell or a bulldozer came.

People told me they saw a group of five men lined up with their faces toward a wall and with their hands tied, shot by soldiers from behind, and then bulldozed over. I heard stories like this, of executions, from other people, in other parts of the camp, too.

As far as how many people are here now, I would say thousands. Walking around, I find 50 in one house, 25 in another. They might have tiny little bits of water, which they share in very small amounts each day. They have absolutely no fresh food. I have the idea that they really have no food at all, because when I go they do not offer me any, and I have never before been in the house of an Arab who did not offer me food.

It's hard to know exactly how many are here, of course, because people are hiding. They are in the streets when I am walking around by myself. But as soon as the Red Cross comes, because they are accompanied by soldiers, they all vanish again.

Chivvis Moore has lived on the West Bank for 10 years and teaches English at Bir Zeit University. Journalist Dennis Bernstein interviewed her by telephone for the KPFA radio program Flashpoints, from which this account is taken.