- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

JENIN, West Bank Fifty years ago, Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of Israel settled here in temporary tents supplied by the United Nations.
Over time, tiny homes of concrete and cinder blocks replaced the tents.
In the next week, thousands of their children and grandchildren will be returning to tents as the first step in clearing and rebuilding the camp.
This was the site of the heaviest fighting during Israel's three-week-old Operation Defensive Wall.
Jenin's narrow alleys, walled courtyards and densely packed apartments created a dangerous battleground in a war fought with Palestinian booby traps and armored Israeli bulldozers both unconventional weapons whose greatest toll was inflicted on the families who lived here.
Israeli intelligence officers say the Jenin camp was an incubator for suicide bombers, with 23 recent attacks initiated from within these few acres.
There will be no reliable accounting of Jenin's dead for several weeks.
But the demolition of the central portion of the camp is both eerie and real.
In the days since the Israeli army pulled back, the people who lived here have been digging with hands and buckets to reclaim buried evidence of their lives: family photographs, identity cards and clothing all lay beneath a landslide of detritus.
So does an unknown number of bodies, which give off a stench so foul that even aid workers' cigarettes and perfumed masks cannot hide it.
Emergency excavation units arrived earlier this week to begin cutting paths and clearing the vast field of concrete rubble.
Jenin was never a garden spot, despite scenic hills and the improbably rich soil that yields abundant tomatoes, eggplants, cauliflower, peppers and lemons.
Its 14,000 residents worked in agriculture or took low-paying jobs in Israel, mostly in construction, according to Talal Jarrar, who ruefully refers to himself as the "former" manager for economic development in the Jenin Chamber of Commerce.
"There is no more commerce here," he said sadly. "We once had small industry, agriculture and trade with Israel. But there has been no contact with Israel for a year and a half, until we suffered this."
Even then, he acknowledges, the refugee camp really more of an impacted city with permanent homes and a growing population was never well-off.
Today, some Jeninites scavenge; others just stand near their former homes, gazing at the panorama of ruin in shock and hopelessness.
A fact-finding mission dispatched by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is scheduled to arrive here this weekend to try to determine exactly what happened.


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