Massacres at Qana
When “Never Again” Needn’t Apply to Lebanon
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, July 30, 3006
It was April 18, 1996, the fifth day of what Israel dubbed “Operation Grapes of Wrath”—one of its episodic ways of responding to ant bites from south Lebanon’s parasites with Dresden-inspired bombing tonnage on the civilian population of Lebanon. At the time Israel occupied what it disingenuously called a “security zone” in south Lebanon. It was an occupation zone about twelve miles deep. But the international press for the most part bought the Israeli euphemism. Southern Lebanese didn’t, especially Hezbollah. The occupation zone was frequently attacked, just as Israel frequently attacked Lebanese villages and kidnapped Lebanese citizens as bargaining chips, when it wasn’t assassinating them outright—something it has always allowed itself, but not others. In April 1996, Israel launched “Operations Grapes of Wrath” in response to a few Hezbollah rockets that had targeted northern Israel, but, as always, with mostly ineffective results except to give Israel the excuse to unleash one of its regular assaults, one of its killer training runs at Lebanon’s expense, one of its “lessons” that never teach anybody anything but do wonders to beef up the near-fanatical hatred of Israel in the region—a considerable accomplishment, given the competing factions deserving hate and resentment there.
Civilians who could not make their way north made their way to United Nations encampments, thinking the Blue Helmets would protect them, thinking Israel would not be so murderous as to target UN camps. How wrong those civilians were. On April 18, 1996, Israel unleashed an artillery barrage on the UN encampment at Qana, a village five miles east of Tyre. Hezbollah rockets had been fired at Israel from near there. The rockets had done little more than psychological damage. But they’d been fired. It was enough. Pride is sicker than blood. The UN encampment was clearly marked. And when the shelling began, UN personnel immediately set off flares and contacted Israeli authorities to let them know their mistakes. It didn’t matter. The barrage lasted 90 minutes. When it was over, more than 75 civilians, more than half of them children, had been killed, and 400 injured. Israelthen called the shelling a grave mistake. But only then.
The world was outraged. What good is outrage when the deed is done, when it serves as nothing to prevent another identical outrage? Israel knew what it was doing. This wasn’t one stray missile, one misguided air strike, a fifteen-minute artillery barrage that got its coordinates wrong. This was a targeted assault on a UN encampment that went on for 90 minutes, calculated and barbaric, the way the August 12, 1982 blind bombing of Beirut had been (when Ronald Reagan tried for three hours to reach Menachem Begin to tell him of his “outrage” and demand a halt to the bombing), the way, indeed, so many of the last two and a half weeks’ bombings have been.
And today in Qana, it happened again: “In an attack that the Israeli military said was aimed at destroying Hezbollah rocket launchers,” The Washington Post reports, as if cribbing words from 1996, “Israeli warplanes blasted a group of buildings in a southern Lebanese village Sunday, killing more than 50 people, most of them women and children, according to Lebanese officials and on-scene interviews by Lebanese television reporters.” The Israelis accomplished their missile sermon “in their shining US-made, US-equipped, and US-paid fighter jets,” as Victor de la Vega put it, on a Sunday, “the day of worship in gentile Christian culture.” So much for Condoleezza Rice’s show-shopping in the Middle East at this very moment. So much for the latest Bush-Blair sniffing of each other’s rear-ended peace plans. So much for claims of self-defense, just war, “surgical” precision, of claims that Israel is unlike Hezbollah (it is, in fact, far worse in the ongoing campaign). So much for Israel's apoligies, which followed on cue today.
But we’ve said all this before. We’ve been saying it for almost three weeks, or ten years if it’s the survivors of the first Qana massacre who are speaking, or twenty-four if it’s the survivors of “Operation Peace in Galilee” in 1982, which took out 18,000 civilians in three months and rendered half a million homeless, or twenty-eight years of we go back to the 1978 invasion, or… And still they claim it’s Israel that’s the one being threatened with annihilation. And still they claim that it is Israel’s enemies who don’t want peace.
Lebanon’s prime minister responded to the latest Qana massacre as he should: No talks with Rice until a call for a cease-fire is made (the British-American kennel show proving incapable to do even that much on Friday). The Israelis will simply respond with craven “we-told-you-so’s,” and the American press will, in the main, follow suit. And tomorrow or the day after we’ll wake up to another day of “worst-day-so-far” tallies of a carnage neither Israel nor Bush seem to get enough of. In 1982, remember, Ronald Reagan intervened himself that massacre-ridden August to threaten Israel with an end to the negotiations. Once that was done Israel quickly bowed its head and talked. What we have now is failure of communication, planned and willed between Washington and Jerusalem, while arms shipments from a few quite American factories rush their way to their promised shred of the Holy Land, Qana-style.
It was bread and wine that miraculously multiplied then. It’s blood and guts that so generously flow, with thanks be to the Bush-Blair twins, the Olmert-Nasrallah twins, and, of course, that fifth wheel careening hither and yon like a dervish without voice, Condi Rice.