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Jewish World Review April 23, 2002/12 Iyar, 5762

Mark Steyn

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It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land |
Don't get me wrong. I like the British papers, if only when compared with the unreadable US broadsheets. But it has to be said that, since September 11, Fleet Street hasn't done its reputation any favours, stampeding herd-like toward one mirage after another - "the mighty Pashtun warrior, humbler of empires"; "the fast-approaching brutal Afghan winter", due to arrive any day now; the "living hell of Guantanamo," where the medical staff outnumber the detainees, etc.

All very entertaining. But sooner or later I think readers have the right to expect their newspapers to get something right. Aside from "Sven And Ulrika's 3am Tryst," I mean.

Instead, we have the alleged Israeli massacre of civilians at Jenin. In Friday's London Telegraph, Terje Roed-Larsen, the "UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process," described the devastation at the refugee camp as "horrific beyond belief". It may yet prove the worst human-rights atrocity since, oh, the Dutch took charge at Srebrenica, but so far one can't help noticing a curious sameness about this week's fevered dispatches. All rely on the same couple of eyewitnesses - "Kamal Anis, a labourer" (Times), "Kamal Anis, 28" (Telegraph), "A quiet, sad-looking young man called Kamal Anis" (Independent) - and the same handful of victims - "A man named only as Bashar" (Telegraph), "the burned remains of a man, Bashar" (Evening Standard), "Bashir died in agony" (Times). You'd think with so many thousands massacred there'd be a bigger selection of victims and distraught loved ones, wouldn't you? But apparently not. I do hope my friends in the British press aren't being led up the humanitarian garden path one mo' time.

For a more nuanced view, one turns to the Egyptian papers. Al- Ahram this week contains a fascinating interview with "Omar", a top bomb-maker who managed to escape from Jenin on Wednesday. "Of all the fighters in the West Bank we were the best prepared," he says. "We started working on our plan: to trap the invading soldiers and blow them up." So Omar and his pals booby-trapped more than 50 houses in the camp. "We cut off lengths of mains water pipes and packed them with explosives and nails. Then we placed them about four metres apart throughout the houses - in cupboards, under sinks, in sofas."

That was just the interior decor. Outside, they placed more powerful bombs in garbage cans and cars. But don't worry about all those "innocent" civilians. As Al-Ahram reported, "According to Omar, everyone in the camp, including the children, knew where the explosives were located so there was no danger of civilians being injured." Thank goodness for that.

Omar's account is confirmed by the state of the corpses ("What appeared to be pipe bombs were partially hidden under a coat"). So you can understand why the UN's head man, Mr Roed-Larsen, would rather talk about "unacceptable" Israeli conduct than why his "refugee" camp (funded by British taxpayers) is, in fact, a bomb factory with on-site demonstration facilities. Mr Roed-Larsen's operation is a large part of the problem in the region. It's possible he himself hasn't a clue what's going on: that appeared to be the case 18 months ago, when Hizbollah guerrillas crossed over from Lebanon in UN-marked cars, abducted three IDF soldiers and murdered them, and Mr Roed-Larsen's subordinates embarked on a nine-month cover-up of relevant video evidence. The intemperate grandee might once again merely be out of the loop. But it beggars belief that officials on the ground in the UN-managed camp weren't aware of the scale of terrorist activities: there are only so many blind eyes you can turn. That's what's "horrific beyond belief": that the UN is complicit in terrorism.

Which raises the one question that matters: Why is the Jenin refugee camp still there? The Palestinians are the only people on earth with their own permanent UN agency - the Union Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, established shortly after the Arabs lost their first dumb war against Israel in 1948. It was assumed UNRWA would be a temporary effort, as they usually are, and that the Arab nations would soon take over responsibility. But the Arabs shrewdly calculated that the Palestinians were more use to them in UN hands. So here we are in Jenin, a "refugee camp" about to celebrate its golden jubilee. Founded in 1953, it's been a refugee camp under Jordan, under Israel, under the Palestinian Authority. It's a refugee camp older than most African, Caribbean or Pacific states. But the UNRWA still launches its "emergency" appeals, for an emergency from 54 years ago, when the IDF halted the Iraqis at Jenin.

Go back to the other great refugee tides of that time: imagine if the millions of displaced persons in Europe at the end of the war or in the Indian sub-continent after partition were today maintained in camps, along with their children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren - three generations none of whom had ever lived in the places they're supposed to be refugees from. In whose interest would that be?

In Jenin, it's the UN that breeds "hopelessness" and "frustration", and enables and shelters terrorism. There was no massacre, just the natural consequence of the UN's foetid administration: if you let your charges build a bomb factory, don't be surprised if it blows up.

JWR contributor Mark Steyn is Senior Contributing Editor of The National Post. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Mark Steyn