Pounder in Palestine

photo of Derrick Pounder

Professor Derrick Pounder, had of the department of forensic medicine was part of Amnesty International's delegation to visit Jenin on a fact finding mission during the recent Israeli assault on the city. These are some of his observations delivered at a press conference in the University on his return.

"We don't appreciate how lucky we are in Scotland until you go and see some other countries - somewhere like Jenin on the West Bank.

Amnesty International sent a delegation to Jenin, three people - myself, a very senior member of the International Secretariat in London and a human rights lawyer from Gaul University in Ireland. We went there because of very serious allegations about what was happening in Jenin -what the IDF Israeli defence forces were doing in the city.

It was quite difficult to get to Jenin. I would say there was a culture of obstruction on the part of the Israeli authorities, the IDF, in terms of access. It took us one day to travel three miles from a road block to the city of Jenin. We were delayed at the road block for three or four hours and then we were allowed in, but our taxi was not, so we walked for three miles along the road.

The next day we tried to gain access to the hospital and the refugee camp, which forms a suburb of the city. We were refused access. Amnesty International's lawyers together with lawyers from human rights organisations in Israel and Palestine obtained an order from the courts, and the attorney general issued an instruction that we were to be allowed in. The next day, after a short delay, I was allowed in but the rest of the delegation were still refused entry. They did not gain entry to the hospital or the refugee camp until the Israeli forces had lifted their check entirely.

When we gained access to the camp it was also the first time that the people of Jenin were allowed in. We went in with the people who were coming back to their homes and searching for their loved ones.

The camp itself is about one square kilometre, but it is long and thin and lies on the side of some hills that are steep in places. In the centre of this area there is an extensive area of devastation where two, three and four storey buildings have been completely flattened. As you walk across that area, you can smell the corpses underneath the decomposed bodies, which have been there about two weeks. A man, perhaps in his 50s or 60s called us over to indicate that there were bodies where he was standing. We thought he meant there were bodies lying on the surface, but it was later apparent that we were standing on the roof of what were the remains of his home and beneath he was telling us was his family. Not only combatants but civilians had been killed.

In the hospital the doctors were deeply upset by the fact that for 13 days it had been impossible to gain access to the injured in the camp and treat them. The hospital lies immediately adjacent to the camp. All the fighting was within in one kilometre of the hospital. The severely injured could have been very quickly evacuated to the hospital and lives saved. The international committee of the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society were denied access to the camp to evacuate the wounded for 13 days.

This was clearly a breach of international humanitarian law and is deeply disturbing because medical and paramedic personnel are always perceived as neutral and the wounded are non combatants even if they were combatants at the outset.

Most of the bodies were identified and couldn't be examined because we couldn't get consent from the families. In the Muslim tradition there was opposition to the conduct of autopsy. We were only able to examine the unidentified. Of the 21 bodies in the hospital, there were five that were unidentified. I examined two men who had been shot. One man was 52. He was dressed in ordinary clothes and he was wearing sandals. His age and his footwear indicated that he was not a fighter.

The other man who had been shot, was 38 years old and dressed in ordinary clothes. I think a poor man, judging by the condition of his clothes. Wearing ordinary soft footwear, he was carrying in his wallet a photo of his wife and four young children. He had been shot in the back.

This is not to say there weren't fighters in the camp. Everyone agrees that there were 100 Palestinian fighters there and some of the bodies I examined were clearly of fighters. One young man had a helmet on and another had military webbing. These individuals appeared to have died in an explosion - almost certainly a rocket attack from the Apache helicopters which were targeting the building where the fighters were.

Those same buildings contained civilians who couldn't escape. It was a tragic sight of devastation and loss of human life, but more than that it was a scene of serious breaches of international law. It is for that reason Amnesty International has called for an international enquiry to investigate fully what happened and to hold the Israeli defence forces accountable for their actions.

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