Operation Defensive Shield began on March 29 2002, with an incursion into Ramallah, followed by incursions into the six largest cities in the West Bank, and their surrounding localities. The Israel Defense Forces invaded Tulkarm and Qalqilya on April 1, Bethlehem the next day, and Jenin and Nablus the next. From April 3-21, the period was characterized by strict curfews on civilian populations and restrictions of movement of international personnel, including at times prohibition of entry to humanitarian and medical personnel as well as human rights monitors and journalists.
According to The Guardian, during the three weeks of Operation Defensive Shield at least 500 Palestinians were killed and 1500 were wounded. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent over 4,258 people were detained by the Israeli military. The Israeli offensive left 29 Israeli soldiers dead, and 127 wounded. In addition to loss of life, massive economic losses due to destruction of property and the inability to reach workplaces were a major characteristic of this period. The World Bank estimated that over $360 million worth of damage was caused to Palestinian infrastructure and institutions, $158 million of which came from the aerial bombardment and destruction of houses in Nablus and Jenin. Large sectors of the Palestinian population were left homeless by the operation. Long after Operation Defensive Shield was over, Palestinians spoke about the intensity of the closures during that period, and the Palestinian Authority did not manage to fully address damaged infrastructure for approximately two years after the invasions.
The UN report on the subject says, "Combatants on both sides conducted themselves in ways that, at times, placed civilians in harm's way. Much of the fighting during Operation Defensive Shield occurred in areas heavily populated by civilians and in many cases heavy weaponry was used."
March and April 2002 saw a dramatic increase of suicide bomb attacks against Israelis by Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Following nine terror attacks between March 2-5 the Israeli cabinet decided to massively expand its anti-terrorist activity. While talking with reporters in the Knesset cafeteria, Sharon explained the cabinet's decision, pointing to the unleashing of the bloodiest week against Israelis since the start of the Second Intifada; in conjunction he asserted, "The Palestinians must be hit, and it must be very painful... We must cause them losses, victims, so that they feel a heavy price. Palestinian violence continued to escalate and in March alone approximately 130 Israelis were killed in 13 attacks. Suicide bombings on 9 March (q.v.), and 20 March, followed by a larger attack on 27 March (an event known as the Passover massacre in which 30 Israeli civilians were killed), prompted the Israeli government to announce Operation Defensive Shield on March 29, and deploy the IDF on a wave of incursions into the West Bank in a large-scale counter-terrorist offensive. The Israel Defense Forces issued emergency call-up notices for 20,000 reserve soldiers, the largest call-up since the 1982 Lebanon War.
During the operation, strict curfews were placed on at least six major Palestinian cities, resulting in complaints by human rights groups that essential medical attention was being denied to wounded, sick and elderly Palestinians, as well as complaints that Israel was practicing collective punishment, which is prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention. In some cities, there were scheduled breaks in the curfews. In others, curfews continued uninterrupted for a week or more.
Throughout the two weeks of fighting in Jenin and for a few days afterwards, the city and its refugee camp were under total closure. There was much concern at the time about possible human rights violations occurring in the camp. However, reports of a large-scale massacre there were found to be untrue, a result of confusion resulting from the Israeli refusal to allow entry to outside observers, and/or Palestinian media manipulation. The Jenin incursion battle saw heavy losses among the Israeli infantry as well as heavy Palestinian casualties.
The city of Bethlehem and its environs remained under curfew for five weeks, though there were periodic breaks, until an impasse involving Palestinian gunmen who had seized the Church of the Nativity was resolved. Most of the armed Palestinians in the Church of the Nativity agreed to go to the Gaza Strip. The rest were exiled to Cyprus.
In Ramallah, the IDF besieged Yasser Arafat's compound in an effort to isolate him physically and diplomatically.
The UN report on the subject noted: "It was not only the Palestinian people whose movement was restricted during Operation Defensive Shield. In many instances, humanitarian workers were not able to reach people in need to assess conditions and deliver necessary assistance because of the sealing of cities, refugee camps and villages during the operation. There were also cases of Israeli forces not respecting the neutrality of medical and humanitarian workers and attacking ambulances."
In reply to these complaints, the Israeli army stated that the curfew was placed in order to prevent civilians from being caught in gunfights and getting hurt. Palestinian ambulances were stopped for checks following the discovery of an explosive belt in a Red Crescent ambulance.
The effects of Operation Defensive Shield were an initial drop in half (46 percent) in the number of suicide bombings -- from 22 in Feruary-March to 12 in April-May -- and a 70 percent drop in executed attacks between the first half of 2002 and the second half (43 January-June, 13 July-December). While 2003 had a total of 25 executed suicide bombings in comparison to 56 in 2002, the main difference was the number of attacks which did not come to realization (184) either due to Israeli interception or problems in the execution. 2003 also saw a 35 percent drop in the number of fatalities from 220 deaths in 2002 to 142 deaths resulting from suicide bombings.
A UN fact-finding mission was established under UN Security Council Resolution 1405 (April 19 2002) into Operation Defensive Shield following Palestinian charges that a massacre had occurred in Jenin. In its attachment to the UN report the Palestinian Authority decried Israel's "culture of impunity" and called for "an international presence to monitor compliance with international humanitarian law, to help in providing protection to Palestinian civilians and to help the parties to implement agreements reached." A report of the European Union attached in the report stated, "The massive destruction, especially at the centre of the refugee camp, to which all heads of mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah can testify, shows that the site had undergone an indiscriminate use of force, that goes well beyond that of a battlefield."
Human Rights Watch determined that "Israeli forces committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, some amounting prima facie to war crimes." ()
Amnesty International reported that war crimes occurred in the Jenin refugee camp and in Nablus, including: unlawful killings; a failure to ensure medical or humanitarian relief; demolition of houses and property occurred (sometime with civilians still inside); water and electricity supplies to civilians were cut; torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in arbitrary detention occurred; and Palestinians civilians were used for military operations or as "human shields." According to Amnesty, "the IDF acted as though the main aim was to punish all Palestinians."
A great deal of the media attention to Operation Defensive Shield centered around Palestinians claims of a large scale massacre in Jenin and Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat was widely quoted by the press as saying there were 500 massacred Palestinians in the Israeli assault on Jenin.
Initially Israel welcomed an investigation, announcing that it would cooperate fully with the Secretary General's fact-finding effort. According to the United Jewish Communities, Israel made a number of points regarding the team's methodology, in order to "safeguard the impartiality of its work. However, Israeli government receptivity to cooperating with the UN fact-finding mission decreased when Kofi Annan did not appoint a predominantly technical team with specialized military and forensic expertise, but rather political-administrative figures without such specialized skills (including Cornelio Sommaruga, controversial for previous "Red Swastika" remarks), and after Palestinian officials reduced the casualty toll in Jenin on May 1 2002. to be between 50-60 deaths while Israel maintained there were only 7 or 8 civilian casualties. The charges of a massacre which had sparked demands for a U.N. investigation, had now been dropped. The U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, disbanded the U.N. fact-finding team in Jenin supposed to determine whether a massacre had taken place with the comment:"Clearly the full cooperation of both sides was a precondition for this, as was a visit to the area itself to see the Jenin refugee camp at first hand and to gather information. This is why the Secretariat engaged in a thorough clarification process with the Israeli delegation."
DECADE AFTER OPERATION DEFENSIVE SHIELD, DECREASE IN TERROR CONTINUES IN RESPONSE TO A MONTH OF COUNTLESS DEADLY TERROR ATTACKS KILLING OVER 100 ISRAELIS, THE IDF CARRIES OUT A COMPLEX OPERATION IN JUDEA AND SAMARIA 10 YEARS AGO.
Mar 31, 2012; JERUSALEM, Israel -- The following information was released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF): Author: Florit Shoihet Exactly...
DECADE AFTER OPERATION DEFENSIVE SHIELD, THE JENIN CITY PROSPERS ONCE "THE CAPITAL OF TERRORISM" NOW ENJOYS A SIGNIFICANT DECREASE IN UNEMPLOYMENT RATES, COOPERATION WITH PALESTINIAN SECURITY FORCES, AND GROWING CULTURE CENTERS.
Mar 31, 2012; JERUSALEM, Israel -- The following information was released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF): Author: Florit Shoihet Meet the...