The Forward has resurrected long-disproved misinformation about a 2002 “massacre” in the West Bank — and that might not even be the most offensive part of the article.
The Feb. 1 piece, by Forward reporter Mira Fox, inexplicably gives credence to outlandish claims that 500 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in the Jenin refugee camp during pitched fighting in 2002.
Although that charge has been exposed, even by anti-Israel organizations and in a United Nations report, as a wild, irresponsible fabrication, Fox’s piece casts this as the true account of events, disputed only by Israel — or what she describes throughout the piece as Israel’s “narrative,” “the version from the Israeli government,” and its “official government statements” that serve to suppress “the stories of Palestinian people.”
This stunning callousness to the facts is matched by a callousness toward Jews murdered in Palestinian terror attacks. In Fox’s framing, these civilian targets — specifically the seven worshipers massacred outside a Jerusalem synagogue last month — are not substantively different from the seven Palestinian gunmen and two civilians killed during a shootout between Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers as the Israelis tried to arrest Palestinian militants.
Both should elicit the same reaction from the American press and government, she insists. And the reason people differentiate between the two isn’t the contextual or moral difference between attacks targeting civilians and counterterror operations targeting militants, in Fox’s telling. Rather, it’s the same reason people don’t accept Palestinian (mis)information out of Jenin in 2002: “Israel’s command of the narrative remains strong.”
Fox uses the dishonest documentary Jenin, Jenin as a stand in for the Palestinian narrative. Her piece opens by painting a story of two irreconcilable claims:
Two decades ago, during the Second Intifada, Israeli forces raided the Jenin refugee camp. In the aftermath of the 10-day battle, Israel blockaded the camp for days, forbidding medical teams, journalists and a U.N. fact-finding mission from entering. But Muhammad Bakri, an Arab-Israeli actor, snuck into the camp with a camera, interviewing numerous residents. The resulting film, Jenin, Jenin, which Bakri released shortly afterward, told the Palestinian side of what West Bank residents refer to as the Jenin massacre, painting a very different story — with a much higher civilian death toll — than the version from the Israeli government. (Emphasis added throughout)
But would be overly generous to read Fox as equating the two accounts. The reader, rather, is led to feel that the documentary represents the truth — hidden knowledge buried by Israeli power and exposed by the intrepid reporter.
Last Thursday, the Israeli military entered the Palestinian city of Jenin, in the West Bank, killing nine Palestinians in the shootout, including at least two civilians. … But this time, we don’t need a guerilla documentary to know about it.
Twenty years ago, Jenin, Jenin was one of the only ways to hear these sorts of stories. Otherwise, information about the battle was dominated by official government statements about death tolls and danger — Israel claimed they killed around 50 Palestinians, the majority of whom were responsible for bus bombings and terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis, while Palestinians alleged a death toll near 500 composed largely of civilians.
The theme of Israeli control over knowledge emerges later again, when she brings the Israeli terror victims into the conversation:
And at least institutionally, Israel’s command of the narrative remains strong; The New York Times, the U.S. newspaper of record, sent a push alert about the Israeli synagogue deaths but not about the Palestinian deaths in Jenin the day before. Numerous American politicians released statements mourning the Israeli deaths though they had been silent about the Palestinian ones.
But online — where many of us conduct large portions of our lives — we no longer need to rely on a film like Jenin, Jenin to hear civilians’ voices.
First, is Fox being forthright when she tells readers that the competing claims — of 50 versus 500 Palestinians killed in Jenin, 2002 — represent Israel’s “official” “version” versus Palestinian “stories,” and nothing more?
In fact, this framing is so incomplete that it is sure to egregiously mislead readers. The reporter neglects to share that, according to a United Nations assessment: “at least 52 Palestinians, of whom up to half may have been civilians, and 23 Israeli soldiers were dead.”
Does the wording “at least” mean the UN report entertains Palestinian claims? Hardly:
Fifty-two Palestinian deaths had been confirmed by the hospital in Jenin by the end of May 2002. IDF also place the death toll at approximately 52. A senior Palestinian Authority official alleged in mid-April that some 500 were killed, a figure that has not been substantiated in the light of the evidence that has emerged.
A European Union report submitted to the UN noted that
Palestinians had claimed that between 400 and 500 people had been killed, fighters and civilians together. … The number of Palestinian fatalities, on the basis of bodies recovered to date, in Jenin and the refugee camp in this military operation can be estimated at around 55.
NGOs hostile to Israel also weighed in, in line with Israel’s numbers on total fatalities. From Human Rights Watch:
Human Rights Watch has confirmed that at least fifty-two Palestinians were killed as a result of IDF operations in Jenin. This figure may rise as rescue and investigative work proceeds, and as family members detained by Israel are located or released. Due to the low number of people reported missing, Human Rights Watch does not expect this figure to increase substantially. At least twenty-two of those confirmed dead were civilians, including children, physically disabled, and elderly people. At least twenty-seven of those confirmed dead were suspected to have been armed Palestinians belonging to movements such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades. Some were members of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) National Security Forces or other branches of the PA police and security forces. Human Rights watch was unable to determine conclusively the status of the remaining three killed, among the cases documented.
(Recall that, per the UN report, the Israeli Defense Forces “also place the death toll at approximately 52.”)
And from Amnesty International:
According to hospital lists reviewed by Amnesty International there were 54 Palestinian deaths between 3 and 17 April 2002 in both Jenin refugee camp and Jenin city as a result of the incursion and subsequent fighting.
So much for this being dismissed as nothing more than an Israeli “claim.”
Neve Yaakov, 2023
Arguably more insulting is Fox’s criticism of the differing reactions to the murder of Israelis outside their synagogue and the deaths of Palestinians during in a gun battle between two sets of combatants, effectively equating deaths by terrorists with deaths of terrorists.
The New York Times sent a push alert about 7 Jewish civilians massacred in Jerusalem but not about 9 Palestinians, mostly gunmen, killed during an exchange of fire, Fox laments. American politicians mourned the former but not the latter.
The reporter doesn’t entertain, or doesn’t want her readers to entertain, that this might not be the result of Israel’s control over our minds, but rather the simple fact that terror attacks targeting worshipers are understood to be different — more alarming, more egregious, or to put it simple moral terms, worse — than arrest operations, even deadly ones, targeting members of internationally designated terror groups like Islamic Jihad.
Maybe, too, the ISIS terror attacks targeting civilians in Paris in 2015 impacted the news cycle and prompted mourning more than France’s retaliatory bombings in Raqqa, Syria in the days that immediately followed.
Maybe terrorism is more distressing to most than counterterrorism.
There are parallels between Jenin 2002 and Jenin 2023, but not the ones Fox wants readers to believe.
Israel’s operation in Jenin in 2002 followed a barrage of suicide attacks, perhaps most notably a deadly attack against elderly Jews celebrating Passover.
Israel’s operation in Jenin in 2023 was part of a serious of counter terror and arrest operations that followed a spate of terror attacks in the spring of 2022, including in Beersheva, Hadera, Bnei Brak, and Tel Aviv.
Israel’s operations in Jenin, in 2002 and in 2023, targeted militants, members of terror groups, and was meant to disrupt and prevent attacks on Israeli civilians.
And the media, then as now, too often tried to conceal the fact that one side targeted civilians and the other targeted militants, or to draw a false moral equivalence between those attacks on Israeli civilians and the counter-terror operations meant to stop them.