Who Will Watch the Watchdogs?

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed a three-person investigative committee to visit the site in Jenin where Israeli efforts to uproot the infrastructure of terror have prompted Arab allegations of “massacre.” However, before the “fact-finding team” is dispatched, those who care about fairness should carefully investigate the investigators.

Jenin was the center of terror that trained 28 home-grown suicide bombers.

Twenty-three of them succeeded as homicide bombers. The area was controlled by the terrorist networks of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aksa Martyrs’ Brigade, and the Tanzim. Within Israel – a country that prides itself on acerbic self-criticism and that has indicted leaders over lesser acts of non-feasance – there is a remarkable and uncharacteristic unity this time in the belief that its defense forces acted properly in Jenin.

Ha’aretz, an influential but extremely liberal and anti-Sharon newspaper, titled its editorial on the subject: “There Was No Massacre in Jenin.” And a unity government that has brought together Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres offers no apologies for uprooting the infrastructure of terror in Jenin.

During its operations in Jenin, Israel uncovered complex networks of tunnels in which terrorists hid, traveled, and stockpiled arms and bomb-making materials. Even the terrorists admit that they hid amid women and children and booby-trapped civilian homes. . Al Ahram, the official government organ in Egypt, published an interview with an Islamic Jihad leader in Jenin. He boasted proudly that 50 buildings had been booby-trapped to collapse into rubble. In the most horrible incident sustained by Israel’s forces, several reservists approached a house where terrorists were believed to be encamped. As they neared, bombs exploded, and the building collapsed on several, killing them. When rescuers raced to extricate the survivors, terrorist snipers stationed on rooftops around the area fired at them. Thirteen Israelis died.

Shaken reservists have come home to tell of the horrors of Jenin – recounting Arab atrocities aimed at them. Of booby-trapped wheelchairs – with apparent invalids sitting in them, wired to explode. Of booby-trapped corpses. Of female suicide bombers running directly into Israeli fire, hoping to detonate themselves close enough to kill soldiers.

The Israelis – perhaps in an overabundance of caution, fearing world reaction – chose not to eradicate terrorism from Jenin as America does in Afghanistan. So Israel employed no carpet bombs, no aerial strafing. Instead, it sent its soldiers house-to-house, to minimize civilian casualties among a population Arafat has taught to hate Jews to death.

And now the three members who Annan has selected to “investigate” Jenin do not augur objectivity as they prepare to “find facts.” Committee chair Martti Ahtisaari, former prime minister of Finland, is immediate past president of the European Union. For that reason alone, his appointment presages trouble for Israel. Israelis recall that he was Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s personal choice in July 1999 to mediate Arafat’s talks with the Ehud Barak government of Israel. Ahtisaari has been a long-time Arafat favorite: on December 12, 1994, after receiving his Nobel Peace Prize, Arafat flew to Finland to thank Ahtisaari personally for Finland’s support of the Palestine Authority. Strike one.

The second “team” member is Sadako Ogata, former United Nations high commissioner for refugees. Ogata has long been a favorite of Annan and previously was mentioned as his choice for deputy secretary-general.

However, she declined that offer at a time when she was plagued by controversy over allegations she had mismanaged a significant portion of her department’s billion-dollar annual budget. On October 6, 2000, Agence France Press (AFP) quoted Ogata as saying: “I was in the [Mideast] region earlier this year and I know under what kind of fragile and crowded conditions the Palestinian refugees are living.” That was before Jenin. Strike two.

Finally, Annan has appointed Cornelio Sommaruga, former head of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In May 1993, Sommaruga made world headlines when he alleged that Israeli behavior in the disputed territories the Israelis call “Judea and Samaria” violates the Fourth Geneva Convention on Human Rights. Israel had sealed off the territories six weeks earlier following a wave of deadly anti-Israeli attacks.

“I was badly impressed by the sufferings of the Palestinian people and the destructions of property” by the Israeli army, Sommaruga said. Four years later, in April 1997, Sommaruga pronounced that “construction of Israeli settlements in disputed territory violates the Geneva Convention.” Strike three.

And so the “fact finding team,” impeccably credentialed and unequivocally tilted against Israel, soon sets off to paint bull’s-eyes in Jenin around the arrows that Israel’s foes already have shot.

Will public opinion demand that Annan return to the drawing board and name a truly impartial team of investigators – or will the anti-Israel charade proceed?