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|Jenin probe 'anti-Semitic'|
|04/27/02 at 21:25:10|
Israelis dub Jenin probe 'anti-Semitic'
Support for Sharon soars as government refuses green light for UN mission
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Sunday April 28, 2002
The United Nations team investigating the Israeli assault on the Jenin refugee camp is expected to fly to Tel Aviv this evening, after two delays and threats by Ariel Sharon's government to block the investigation.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan agreed to postpone the mission's arrival until after an Israeli Cabinet meeting today to approve the probe into what the Palestinians allege was the massacre of hundreds of civilians - and what the Israelis say was a legitimate assault on the 'centre of the suicide bombers'. But Prime Minister Sharon was still not giving any assurances that the investigation will go ahead.
Even before the UN mission arrives, Israeli politicians have attempted to discredit the investigation by claiming it is part of a rising tide of global anti-Semitism. Israeli public opinion agrees. Backing for the Israeli military's actions on the West Bank has sharply increased Sharon's approval ratings, while domestic critics of the assault on Palestinian areas are increasingly shunned.
The United States persuaded Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, that the best way to discredit accusations of a massacre was to be open about what occurred in Jenin. But the Cabinet began to backtrack on Tuesday after a memorandum by a British expert in international law, Daniel Bethlehem, warned that the investigation could be a first step to laying the ground for a war-crimes indictment.
Bethlehem, a legal expert at Cambridge University and an adviser to the Israeli government, said that he was dismayed to discover that the administration had agreed to the UN panel.
Annan further alarmed the Israelis when he said he did not know where the investigation would lead, but that it would 'focus on Jenin to begin with' - reinforcing the perception that the Israeli government was opening the door to a wider investigation.
After the Cabinet meeting, an Israeli delegation hurriedly flew to New York in an attempt to rein in the investigation. It demanded a number of concessions, among them the inclusion of military and terrorism experts on the panel. The Israelis also demanded that its soldiers and politicians who gave evidence would not find it used against them in an international court, and that the final report should present only facts and not come to conclusions about the information it uncovers.
Above all, the Israelis insisted that the investigation must be limited to Jenin.
Annan agreed to some of the demands, including adding an American military officer to the panel, General William Nash, and a senior Irish policeman, Peter Fitzgerald. But this has not been enough for some Israelis, who continue to view the probe with extreme suspicion.
The UN is widely portrayed as a co-conspirator in an anti-Semitic international plot. The UN's special co-ordinator for the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, confirmed the view when he implied that Israel had committed war crimes in Jenin and said: 'Israel has lost all moral ground in the conflict.'
Israel wanted Cornelio Sommaruga, a former president of the International Red Cross, off the panel because it alleged he is anti-Semitic. The Israeli right-wing press claimed he had equated the Star of David to the swastika. More moderate voices pointed out that he had opposed the International Red Cross giving the Star of David equal recognition to the Red Cross and Red Crescent on the ground that many other countries would then demand similar recognition for their national symbols, which in its day would have included the Nazis.
A survey by the Jerusalem Post of its readers revealed that 89 per cent believe that the UN team 'will not be fair to Israel'.
Attention has also turned to home-grown critics. Opinion polls show a surge in public support for Sharon and his hardline military policies.
Yaffa Yarkoni, the celebrated singer who has entertained every generation of Israeli soldiers, has been cold-shouldered for questioning the military's actions in the West Bank. The elite of Israeli show business had arranged a special concert to honour her tomorrow, but it was shelved after Yarkoni aired her views on the army's radio station.
The same poll showed public support for Sharon has risen to 65 per cent from 39 per cent in the previous survey. And if an election were held tomorrow, the Prime Minister would command four times the support of his Labour Party opponent.
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