Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky,
Battalion Commander Colonel Hilik Sofer,
Lt. Colonel Itai Landsberg,
Major Rafi Laderman
National Media Center, Jerusalem,
April 19, 2002
Spokesperson: Good afternoon. We will start our briefing of today. We have with us Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky. We also have three soldiers whom we thought it a good idea for you to talk with. The first is Battalion Commander Colonel Hilik Sofer. Next to him we have Lt. Col. Itai Landsberg, who is a reservist. He’s a journalist by profession and happened to be in the battalion, which was stationed in Ramallah. And we have Major Rafi Laderman. He is from the battalion which was stationed in Jenin. I am sure that all of you will have questions for them. We will start with a statement from each. The first will be Deputy Prime Minister Sharansky.
Deputy PM Natan Sharansky: Good afternoon. As you know, yesterday there was a cabinet meeting. A decision was made to finish the active phase of Operation Defense Shield, active phase, meaning that by Sunday or during Sunday we will stop practically all our military activities in the towns of Judea and Samaria, the Palestinian towns, except for some very limited activities in Bethlehem and Ramallah because of the two problems which exist there. It’s clear that we are not going to permit the situation that within two or three months the infrastructure of terror will be restored. So we are going to continue taking preventive measures in the future to that extent to which it will be needed.
One of the points of attention is Bethlehem. It’s absolutely clear now that Yasser Arafat prefers to use it as a political tool. I think he will even be ready to turn it into a military provocation and massacre in the Church of Nativity, with the hope that it can be an outstanding public relations campaign in the Christian world. I have to say that the fact is that there were already a number of moments in the negotiations when this problem could have been solved and only direct orders of Yasser Arafat at the last moment prevented it from being solved. I just came back from Washington where I participated in a massive rally for solidarity with Israel. I also met there with a number of people in the Pentagon, the White House and Capitol Hill. I was just meeting with Condoleeza Rice and other assistants of President Bush, when the news came that Arafat pulled back from the Bethlehem deal and that the expected solution which was already agreed upon and was to take place on Monday night was canceled at the last moment. It was clear that there was full agreement between us and the Americans and preliminary agreement with the Palestinians, but at the last moment Yasser Arafat canceled it.
Since then, we are getting more and more information about what is happening inside the Church of Nativity. From the information which we are getting we know that at least 50 youngsters are being kept by force in the basement. Some of them, of course, are Christians. We know that the windows are booby-trapped, that the terrorists are moving freely in different parts of the church and preventing them [from moving freely, they are] shooting from the windows. I think it’s the first time in history of Christianity, the modern history of Christianity, that we have armed Muslim terrorists walking freely inside the church and shooting from there. From information that we are getting, charity boxes are being opened and in fact robbed inside the church. And again, each time there are some requests, or initiative to negotiate about some humanitarian operation, the fact is that at last moment, they get the order from Yasser Arafat from Ramallah not to do anything that can be looked at positively.
As to Ramallah, our position is very clear. We have no interest in touching Yasser Arafat. In fact we have no interest in touching most of the people who are there. We are taking care of all their humanitarian needs at this moment. But there are five people who are directly involved in the killing of our Minister [of Tourism]. I don’t know of any country in the world that would be ready to release them and not to do everything that it has to do to bring them to justice. And we are going to do it.
And my last point, is about Jenin. It’s absolutely shocking with what easiness the world is repeating the words "massacre in Jenin". Jenin is maybe one of the clearest examples of two different approaches, or different roles or criteria, with which these two worlds treat human life.
One, Jenin and the refugee camp of Jenin were the heart of the terror activities. Dozens of suicide bombers were sent from that relatively small place. It had more explosive materials, this small area of the Jenin refugee camp, than most of the big cities of Judea and Samaria. Definitely, it had the highest concentration of explosive materials in this area, if not in the world.
When we came to this refugee camp, to the place where for years no army and no soldier had entered, it became clear that practically every house, and almost every window, was booby-trapped, that the struggle would be very hard.
We had to make a decision. The army had to make a decision and the politicians had to make a decision whether to use airplanes, artillery, tanks or to fight from house-to-house. It was clear that if we fight from house-to-house a lot of soldiers will risk their lives but hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of women and children who were prepared to leave but could not leave, their lives will be saved. And we decided to fight house-to-house. I want to remind you that 23 soldiers, 23 young boys and those who came from the reserves with families and children, from among our 29 losses in this Operation Defense Shield fell in this camp because of our decision to fight house-to-house and not to use artillery and airplanes. And when two days after this, hundreds of children and women left, surrendered – we released them of course. They were saved also because of our decision not to use artillery and tanks and airplanes but to risk the lives of our soldiers.
The estimated number of losses, nobody knows exactly, we are sure will not exceed 90. Overwhelmingly, almost everybody who was discovered until now was a soldier with arms, with weapons in their hands and some with explosive materials, suicide bombers.
One more fact: there are 1100 houses in the refugee camp; 95 were destroyed. Yet the concentration of those houses which are destroyed are on four streets, because there was the heart of terror.
The overwhelmingly majority of the population was saved, and that is not a massacre. If any of you went to the Dolphinarium discotheque or to the hotel in Netanya, you saw what "massacre" means. Secretary of State Powell saw the pictures that our police took after these massacres. We are not publishing them because of the awful inhuman views in them. But those are real massacres, and that’s the difference between those for whom human life is the highest value and those for whom human life is, at best, a shield to protect terrorists.
Have no doubt that it’s a big challenge for us to make sure and to give all the possible humanitarian help, which can be given. You probably know that even at the time of the battles we made sure that we delivered generators to the hospital in Jenin in order to make sure that it would be working all the time. We offered blood donations to the Palestinians because we knew that there was a problem. Palestinians said "no, we don’t want Jewish blood". The organizers only permitted Jordanians to bring blood from Jordan because they were not ready to use blood from Jews. We offered a number of ambulances because some of their ambulances were damaged – and they were damaged because, as you know, because some of the ambulances were used for taking explosive materials or even terrorists. So we offered to give our ambulances. We were refused. Nevertheless, I believe we will continue and, not only continue but, increase humanitarian aid.
I also think that after the time of the military part of our struggle against terror and in view of discussions of future development in the Middle East, this is the time to think big. When I was in Washington I was relating to the question that the time has come to start dismantling refugee camps. Yasser Arafat was interested in keeping three generations of Palestinians in refugee camps and he is interested in continuing to keep them in these difficult conditions.
There were hundreds of millions of refugees in the world in the twentieth century. There are no refugees who were kept in refugee camps for three generations. Such a thing simply hasn’t existed. We are interested in dismantling them. No doubt, that’s a very big operation which can be led by the world community, by the United States of America and others. But at least the monies which were given by the free world, including Israel, to the Palestinian Authority, and which were used to a great extent for corruption and some of which went directly to the private account of Arafat, would be better used for making a big effort to improve the situation of the Palestinians. As a pilot project, it could be good to start from the refugee camp of Jenin, dismantle it and create normal living conditions for those who live there.
Spokesperson: I will ask each of our guests to give a brief statement saying in what operations his unit was involved. Then we will take questions right after that.
Colonel Hilik Sofer: Husam Badran is the leader of a wing of Hamas in Nablus. The terror attacks for which he is held responsible include our Dolphinarium discotheque last year, Sbarro Restaurant, Emmanuel shopping center, Moshav Hamra, the Park Hotel in Netanya, and the Matza restaurant in Haifa. Ninety-nine innocent people, most of them civilians, and children, were massacred in cold blood. Yesterday we received intelligence information about his location. Badran and his terror group were located in a field close to Horvat Hassan, near Nablus. We quickly planned a military operation to catch him. Two combat helicopters fired at the target. This entire area is a field. Nobody lives here. The fire was accurate. Immediately the ground forces (special forces and other infantry units) started to search the area. We found two bodies of terrorists. Two other terrorists were injured and two other terrorists surrendered immediately. One of them was Badran. This was the end of the operation. We gave medical treatment to the injured and took them to a hospital in Jerusalem.
I would like to emphasize two points. Again and again, the leaders of terror organizations who send their men to commit suicide missions surrender easily and quickly in order to save their lives. The phenomenon of sending people to commit murders (suicide missions) is very dangerous to the free world because it has the ability to spread to everywhere in the world.
Lt. Col. Itai Landsberg: I serve in an army reserve unit. We were called up on the night of Passover after the explosive bomb in Netanya. Two days later we went to Ramallah. We were responsible for the south of Ramallah from Manara square, Betunia, Pisagot on the other side to the airport of Atarot. During the last three weeks, we searched about 400 buildings. In about 50-60% of them, we found ammunition, weapons, explosive laboratories and a lot of ‘educational’ materials, proof of the connection between the Palestinian Authority and the terrorists. We found many of the main terrorists in Ramallah.
What were some of the places we were in, just for example? Three days ago we went to the UNRWA College in southern Ramallah. This is a place that the United Nations is responsible for. We found six wanted terrorists inside the United Nations institution. We went to a seminar [college] for teachers, a place that is supposed to educate people – we found ammunition, weapons, and pictures of shahids [martyrs]. We went to the supply office of the Palestinian Authority, a place which is supposed to supply food and materials. We found an explosives laboratory inside, a lot of nails and explosive material on the fourth floor. I can give many examples. I have one of the commanders here with me. He can tell you what happened in the last weeks.
I think it is very amazing to find a civilian city which, in most of its houses, there is military equipment, explosive bombs, ammunition and weapons. It is not an army base. Also we went to the base of Jabril Rajoub. This is an army base, but we also found a lot of costumes for people that are going to make suicide bombings – fake hair and kippas [skullcaps] for people who are going to put them on so they can get into Israeli streets and make suicide bombings. We have some of the pictures if you want to see them later.
Major Rafi Laderman: Good afternoon, my name is Rafi Laderman. I am a major in the reserves. I am the chief-of-staff of the infantry brigade that operated in the refugee camp in Jenin. I will give a few words about my unit. This infantry brigade consists of all reserve soldiers and officers. They are from all parts of the Israeli society, people from major towns, major cities, kibbutzim, people with left-wing opinions, right-wing opinions. Basically the mixture of the complexity of the Israeli society exists in my unit.
We were called to this operation on the day of Passover following the terrible terrorist attack on the Netanya hotel, and all the events, all the bombings, the suicide bombings that came before that. We suffered, as I may remind you, about a dozen, and sometimes even more, killings of Israelis, deaths of Jews and other Israelis, on a daily basis.
We were assigned to the refugee camp in Jenin. Why Jenin? Jenin was the base of most of these terrorist attacks. We know that over 50% of the suicide bombers grew up in Jenin, were educated in Jenin or were trained or equipped in the Jenin refugee camp. We know that the remainder of the bombers went to the Jenin refugee camp to receive blessings to go ahead and do the terrible acts. We also knew that almost all the leadership of Hamas and Jihad, at least in north Samaria, operated from the Jenin refugee camp, and eventually put our hands on them. We have apprehended almost all of them or we know they have been killed in the fighting. Our mission was to defend our homes.
We, as a unit – even though people came from different backgrounds – were totally unified in our belief in the objectives of this mission and its purpose to bring safety to our families. Because we felt the fear of letting our children go to places of entertainment, shopping malls, because we thought that we were paralyzed in our homes, therefore we thought that this was the time and this was the act to be done: to go to the head of the terrorist organization, to the Jenin refugee camp, uncover what is there and neutralize whatever we can.
Our Intelligence told us that we are not approaching a civilian environment. We related to the refugee camp, as we found it to be after we entered it, as a fortress of terror. We knew of the three-and-a-half tons of explosives that were prepared as a welcoming gift to us. According to the Palestinian plan, they intended to blow themselves up and we knew of dozens of suicide bombers who intended, during the course of fighting, to blow themselves up on us. They fortified the camp, or the buildings with many, many explosive devices.
I myself, walked through the camp, and I took several groups of reporters over the past week. I pointed out huge garbage bags which contained 10 kilograms, 15 kilograms of explosives, in the garbage bags, in the garbage cans. Refrigerators left on the street seemed quite innocent, but were very strong explosive devices. Holes that were built in the pavement itself, explosives were put inside to serve as land mines and this is on many, many of the street corners at the entrance to the camp and inside the refugee camp as well.
These explosive devices were activated electronically mostly. You had wires all over the camp that led to a scout. It could be even a small boy. We found even little children looking around, seeing where these wires lead to, and we saw little children in the area holding these wires. All you need to operate these devices is to connect the two ends of the wires to a small battery source and that could explode on a group of soldiers walking in that alley. This was done in the camp, all over the camp, in the entrances and inside the camp as well. Some of the activating was done by cellular phones as well.
In addition to that we found machine gun positions fortified by sandbags in the houses. There were sniper positions through the windows and also through little cracks that were dug through the holes. Inside a sniper sat and worked from a very good position in terms of the sniper, but in a very difficult position in terms of approaching the camp for our troops.
Now to give you [a picture of the] size, in terms of what the camp
is. I am sure you heard a lot about the refugee camp. I don’t know how many of you have been there. The camp in total is 600 meters by 550 meters. It is a very small refugee camp. Here is an aerial photo. What you see here is the western area of the town of Jenin and, in the center, where the crowded houses are, this is the area of the refugee camp. Its size is 600 meters east to west, more or less, and 500 meters north to south. This is the whole size of the camp.
As I said, there were explosives on every street corner and in every door entrance, entrances and the central area of the camp were equipped with these explosive devices. Windows, passageways, alleys, alley entrances all were full of booby-traps. We know also of dozens of suicide bombers, as I said beforehand.
This is the area of the center of the camp in which we eventually worked with bulldozers. I will explain to you why it looks like this. Just to give you a measure of what is being talked about, about the so-called ‘station’ in Jenin, this is a very small segment of this small refugee camp. In the TV camera, maybe it looks very big, but it is a very, very small area.
As Minister Sharansky said, we decided to restrict ourselves to certain military actions and not to use others for moral reasons. We did not use air bombings, we did not use airplane fighters. We did not use artillery at all and, throughout, we used only very precise ammunition and precise weapons in order to minimize the damage to civilians and to people who did not participate actively in the fighting against us.
The fighting itself was extremely slow. It took us about nine days from when we started moving into the camp until we reached the center. We attacked the camp from all sides, moving towards the center of the camp and it took us about nine days to do so. The reason why it took us so long to get control of such a small camp was because we worked very slowly, stopping the fighting on a constant basis every so often, I can’t say how often, but working very slowly, stopping, calling in loud speakers to the people, to the civilians to come out, to the terrorists to surrender. Only after realizing that their fighting is continuing, we moved on to the next stage, to the next segment of the house, to the next part of the alley and moving towards the center of the camp.
All the fighting on the terrorist side was from the houses themselves and we moved from house to house in our fighting as well.
Nearly all the houses in the camp were deserted. Once we entered there were no civilians in the camp. In some of the houses, we did find civilians. We escorted the civilians who surrendered and came out of the houses during the fighting to the exit of the camp. We asked them to leave the area of the camp and not to return until the fighting will over or until they would be allowed to do so.
The fighting of the terrorists was very fierce. There was constant gunfighting from machine guns. They kept on fighting, even at soldiers who were wounded or attempting to rescue soldiers from the battle zones. It took sometimes up to 2-3 hours to get wounded soldiers out. Some soldiers died during their [evacuation] from the camp.
The fighting moved toward the central area of the camp. We have an estimate of 200 terrorists who fought against us and eventually concentrated themselves in the central area of the camp.
This whole area of the camp, which was about 95 or 100 houses, was surrounded by explosives that were connected one to another. At the beginning, we tried to cautiously enter the sector. We activated one of these bombing devices, causing the collapse of about 3-4 houses from the explosion itself. At that stage, we decided not to try to enter the area of these houses with infantry troops but by using bulldozers and directing the bulldozers to specific houses from which we had very fierce fighting. The bulldozer stripped the house after calling out to the civilians and terrorists to surrender, moving very slowly with this constant loud speaker calling for surrender, stopping only when the resistance kept on, then moving ahead. Eventually this whole area of houses either exploded from the explosives in the houses or around the houses or was [stripped] by the bulldozers. This whole area, which was one big military, highly explosive area, eventually was leveled by our forces in combat. Everything was done in a combat and fighting environment.
I would like to say a few words about humanitarian aid. We invited medical teams of Palestinians and the Red Cross to enter the camp from the first day that we started working there. We had only one condition: that we would show them where to go and that we would check them when they came out of the camp to make sure what they were taking out. The Palestinians did not want to agree to this condition. Eventually they did go inside; personally I saw teams go in. In other cases, we discovered two terrorists who were healthy and had no injury at all, but they were disguised as wounded and these medical teams tried to smuggle them out of the camp.
The water supply: I as chief-of-staff was approached several times by the liaison during the week of the combat to provide fuel for the well that supplied the water to the refugee camp in Jenin. Eventually we fueled this pump at Israeli expense in order to maintain water supply to the camp and not to have a water shortage in the camp.
The hospital, as Minister Sharansky mentioned, was given two electrical generators to let it operate with its own electric power although there was a blackout in the camp itself. Also, other medical supplies were given to the hospital according to any demand or request that was made by the manager, the chief general of the hospital to our troops.
As I said, we used loud speakers calling out the people to surrender during the week of the fighting. Over 500 people, men, surrendered themselves to us. We took them to detention areas outside the camp. Of those 500 people, we could identify 150 as people who participated in the fighting. These were people who had uniforms or who we caught with ammunition or with their weapons or we had other documentation to show that they were active terrorists fighting in the combat.
As for the bodies: During the week of fighting, we gave 11 bodies to the hospital and they were kept in the hospital. Eventually I think they were buried by Palestinians. After the fighting ended, in the past few days, we searched in the camp and found another 14 bodies. I was told by our liaison that an additional 13 bodies were discovered by the Palestinians. The total count we know of is 38 bodies, of which there were several women. The bodies of several of these women were found with weapons on them. I know of a body of a child that was also among the bodies.
I would like to close with one personal note. As I said, I am a reserve officer. I am 36 years old. I have my own private marketing consulting business and I have a 5-year-old daughter. All the members of my unit are like me. We know what damage, horrendous harming of a family or home, can feel like. Some of us felt it ourselves, or our relatives or friends did, during these months of terrorist attacks on Israel, the pain, civilian damage. We could not do [such things] or live our lives, or go back to our civilian lives with our families, knowing [we did such damage] or having any type of thought of harming women and children. We feel that we did our utmost efforts to minimize any damage to civilian lives.
We know that civilians were kept in the camp, even during the fighting, against their free will by the terrorists in order to help them with supplies or to use them as human shields. We know of soldiers who were injured by terrorists, [soldiers] who were approached by a group of civilians, women and children and eventually terrorists leaped from this group of civilians and injured the soldiers. Thank you.
Questions & Answers
Q: Minister, could you tell us some detail of the negotiations of the Bethlehem story you mentioned before. You said on Monday you were very close to this solution. Can you tell us about this project of sending them to Gaza or both? Can you tell us more?
Deputy PM Sharansky: We practically reached an agreement. The one who cemented this agreement was the American side and the Secretary of State was involved himself. The agreement was that they would surrender. After this, all the people would be taken for a very quick checking. There is a substantial number of people who are innocent and being kept there by force – they will be released immediately. Those who are involved in terrorist activity and are wanted by our forces will be given a choice: to be sent to trial in Israel or be exiled and have the opportunity to leave for any Arab or Muslim or Western country, wherever they want, but they will not be able to come back. That was the preliminary agreement. In fact, it was expected to be implemented. When I left for Washington there was high expectation that in the hours to come it would be implemented. [At the last moment, the Palestinians backed down.]
Q: [Would you be willing at some stage in the negotiations to consider allowing them to return?]
Deputy PM Sharansky: I will not go into the details of the next stages of negotiations. I only want to say that it is absolutely unacceptable for us that these people will able to return to active terrorist activity. I don’t have to tell you now that in Gaza practically every day there are new attempts at terrorist activity. We are not going to let those who are already responsible for killing many Israeli citizens to continue doing this.
Q: Under the Oslo Agreements, the Palestinian Authority is not obliged to extradite its own citizens and it is obliged to bring them to justice in its own court. The Palestinian Authority is maintaining that that is exactly what they were doing and the people who are held up in Arafat’s compound have been transferred from the Nablus prison to the compound as a prison with the active cooperation of the Israeli Security Services. Can you comment on that?
Deputy PM Sharansky: Well, first of all there is a big debate between some lawyers about whether they are obliged to extradite or not. Our Attorney General Elyakim Rubenstein insists that the interpretation which you have just presented is absolutely wrong. That is why we go on insisting on extraditing the terrorists. Nevertheless, because it was believed to be highly improbable, [name unclear] agreed that they would at least be arrested. I remember very tough negotiations on this issue at Wye Plantation. I would say that in all cases of arrests – and there were very few cases of arrests during these nine years – all the people were kept in prison only symbolically or they were not kept at all. There are cases when people were kept, so-called, in prison, but were permitted to leave prison for some days to be involved in terrorist activities and then come back.
Just now when you mentioned that there were people who were moved from Nablus or Jenin to Ramallah prison. Some of them after that became suicide bombers. Like the suicide bomber in Jerusalem: he was arrested on our information, moved to Ramallah, Arafat’s people said he was in prison and then he committed suicide and killed 10 or 12 people in the center of Jerusalem. That is a typical example of the so-called arrests of the terrorists. From the reports of our special services, I know that for years, at least during those years that I have been in the government (from the end of 1996), there was not one case that we gave information about some terrorists and it was effectively used to prevent terrorist activities of this person. There were cases when for some time, for a week or two, he was put in comfortable conditions in a so-called prison but in not one case were the terrorist activities of this person prevented.
Q: Two related questions; did your soldiers in Jenin bury any bodies, Palestinian bodies? Secondly, did you move any bodies, transfer any bodies out of Jenin into Israeli territory for a second reburial?
Major Laderman: There was no burial of Palestinian corpses, civilian or terrorists of any kind, by our troops or forces. All the bodies that we discovered during the fighting were transferred to the hospital. Later on, after the fighting ceased, we operated in conjunction with the Supreme Court ruling. Some of the bodies, I may add, that we discovered were booby-trapped by the Palestinians in order to explode on our troops in their search operations. Eventually they were handed over to the hospital or to Red Cross teams or to the Palestinians for burial. And to the second question, none, no bodies at all were transferred outside the refugee camp.
Q: In the last two days the United Nations is talking about forming a multinational force. It would be the UN force that would effectively separate the two sides, not as a monitoring force but as a force of separation. Could you comment on this?
Deputy PM Sharansky: Unfortunately, we have had very bad experience with any kind of involvement of the United Nations in the conflict. One of the last examples was, of course, the kidnapping of our soldiers by Hizbullah. The United Nations forces did not prevent it because, they said, they did not see it. But we found out from our Intelligence sources that they did see it. They watched the whole operation and taped it. When we demanded the tape, the United Nations denied for a year that they had the tape. Terje Larsen himself became very angry and shouted at our representatives: how dare we think that the United Nations has a tape. Only later, when they recognized that they do have the tape, they agreed to give it to us but only with the faces of the Hizbullah people masked in order not to take sides. So, between terrorists of Hizbullah and the members of the United Nations, the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces and Terje Larsen himself prefers not to take sides.
Of course we are not going to agree to this. This type of force will never prevent, will not be able to prevent, any penetration of terrorists to our towns, but they definitely will prevent the response of our army. So it would be additional protection to terrorists. We are not ready to agree to this. There is no need, as all others states have the right to defend their citizens from terror attacks. We admire the example of the United States of America which is ready to fly thousands and thousands of miles to find the terrorists who are responsible for killing civilians in New York. We don’t have, unfortunately, to fly thousand miles. Sometimes it’s not even one mile, it’s much closer.
We destroyed the terror infrastructure. We will do everything not to permit it to be restored. At the same time, we do want to participate together with the world in a big humanitarian effort to improve the lives of the Palestinians. But I think serious efforts have to be made to encourage new, additional Palestinians who will be really interested in the welfare of their people and who will become our real partners for signing peace agreement.
Lt. Colonel Landsberg: If I may add one thing about Mr. Larsen’s allegations of last night that we saw on the news. Referring to the Jenin refugee camp, Mr. Larsen claimed that food and water trucks were detained and [not allowed] to enter the camp. That is not correct. We – the IDF – initiated bringing in the trucks with food to people, civilians in the camp. Mr. Larsen claimed that there was destruction of medical equipment in the hospital. There was no entrance of any IDF soldier into the compound of the hospital or into the hospital building itself, and there was no destruction of any equipment, of medical equipment or any other equipment inside the hospital. Although during the fighting there were snipers and shooting from the hospital building itself towards our troops, we did not enter the hospital building at all.
Q: I spoke to the ICRC, the Red Cross, and they said that Israeli Forces on the scene, at Jenin, stopped them from going in for six days into the refugee camp despite their repeated requests. They were willing and able to go in. And even though that at some stages some of the officers might say yes you can go in, ultimately they were not allowed to go in. What do you have to say about this?
Major Laderman: As I said beforehand in my statement, we were willing to allow any medical team to enter the camp on one condition: that we would be able to check what they would like to take out of the camp. This was our sole request. It was ICRC’s choice whether to comply with this request, or not. If they would have said yes, we would have allowed them to go inside to the camp.
Q: I think that obviously this military operation is a great success since the suicide bombings have just about stopped. And I would like to commend you on that and tell you that I feel much safer as a person who walks around in Israel. What I was wondering was, do you feel that you have done the job? Strictly from a military point of view, is there a need for more time to finish this job or are you doing it faster than you should be doing it because of pressures from different groups, from world opinion, from the government, from whatever? From strictly military point of view, is it done?
Major Laderman: I can answer on our operation in Jenin. We feel that the mission was targeted at the terrorists’ infrastructure and organization in Jenin area, and for my brigade it was the Jenin refugee camp. We feel that we gave a major blow to the terrorist organizations and have prevented them from upgrading in the near future, in a matter of weeks to months. This blow will disable them from attempting any major terrorist attacks to Israel. Unfortunately, since we didn’t have time enough to complete our search and to reveal much of the ammunition and weapons that we believe are concealed in the camp area, we feel we needed more time to complete the mission totally. But we feel that we have given the State of Israel a nice break from the terrorist attacks especially in the intensity that these attacks occurred over the past few months.
Q: Do you think the suicide bombings will return if you don’t continue the operation?
Major Laderman: Once we leave the camp, we cannot control what is inside. We are afraid that they may rebuild their capabilities and that the people we apprehended or killed will be replaced by others. Therefore, maybe sometime in the future, we will have to do further operations to keep life in Israel as it is safe today.
Q: I just want some clarification on your accounts. You said that the troops moved very slowly into the camp and that there were explosives in each house. When you were moving in, could you see there were families inside the houses? And how to explain the devastation that has been described as an earthquake by the UN? Who exploded the houses?
Major Laderman: As I said, most of the houses were evacuated from any civilians when we entered the houses, throughout the whole camp. In the houses in which civilians were found, before entering the house we called upon them to leave their house and to leave the camp if they surrender. We showed them the safe way out of the camp in order not to be harmed during the fighting. Again, we did this in a way that endangered our soldiers in the process but, in terms of morality, we felt that we could not live our lives knowing that we endangered civilians, women and children, when we could have avoided that.
As for the second question – the devastation of the central area of the camp. The central area of the camp was completely booby-trapped and, at the end of the day when the fighting went from house to house, we used tractors which are protected against explosives. When the fighting ended, many segments of houses and walls were still standing but there was a big danger that the walls would collapse. Therefore, we leveled a large area for the safety of the soldiers and the safety of the civilians who still were in the camp. At the end of the day, the whole area looks leveled but the leveling was done as a precautionary matter for the safety of people there.
Q: A follow-up question to your earlier answer on the bodies because that is a much-debated issue. Do I take from your answer that allegations by villagers around Jenin, for example in Romaina where I was offered binoculars to see refrigerated vans further down, that there were no bodies brought to refrigerated vans that were to be buried elsewhere?
Major Laderman: The vans were brought to the area of the camp. There were thoughts at the beginning of transferring bodies, then came the Supreme Court ruling which restrained us from doing so. After the ruling, there were no bodies taken out of the refugee camp by the IDF forces. These vans came in empty and they left the camp area empty. There were no bodies in these vans at any stage.