‘Butcher of Qana’ was a Nobel Peace laureate!
THE 1996 LEBANON MASSACRE OF REFUGEES IN UN CAMP . . .
by Selvam Canagaratna (Sunday Island)
“You may call for peace as loudly as you wish, but where there is no brotherhood there can in the end be no peace.”– Max Lerner, Actions and Passions, 1949.
Shimon Peres, a former Prime Minister of Israel and also Head of State, died recently at the age of 93.
World media was quick with fulsome praise, hailing him as a ‘Peacemaker!’ But when Robert Fisk, famed Middle East correspondent of The Independent, UK, heard of his demise, he confessed (in his piece in Counter Punch magazine): “I thought of blood and fire and slaughter.”
A veteran journalist who has reported since 1976 throughout the Middle East, here’s Fisk’s recall of Israel’s 1996 massacre of refugees in a UN camp in Lebanon as personally witnessed by him in real-time:
“I saw the results: babies torn apart, shrieking refugees, smouldering bodies. It was a place called Qana and most of the 106 bodies – half of them children – now lie beneath the UN camp where they were torn to pieces by Israeli shells in 1996. I had been on a UN aid convoy just outside the south Lebanese village. Those shells swished right over our heads and into the refugees packed below us. It lasted for 17 minutes.
“Shimon Peres, standing for election as Israel’s Prime Minister – a post he inherited when his predecessor Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated – decided to increase his military credentials before polling day by assaulting Lebanon. The joint Nobel Peace Prize holder (Peres) used as an excuse the firing of Katyusha rockets over the Lebanese border by the Hezbollah. In fact, their rockets were retaliation for the killing of a small Lebanese boy by a booby-trap bomb they suspected had been left by an Israeli patrol. It mattered not.
A few days later, Israeli troops inside Lebanon came under attack close to Qana and retaliated by opening fire into the village. Their first shells hit a cemetery used by Hezbollah; the rest flew directly into the UN Fijian army camp where hundreds of civilians were sheltering. Peres announced that “we did not know that several hundred people were concentrated in that camp. It came to us as a bitter surprise.”
“It was a lie. The Israelis had occupied Qana for years after their 1982 invasion, they had video film of the camp, they were even flying a drone over the camp during the 1996 massacre – a fact they denied until a UN soldier gave me his video of the drone, frames from which we published in The Independent. The UN had repeatedly told Israel that the camp was packed with refugees.
“This was Peres’s contribution to Lebanese peace. He lost the election and probably never thought much more about Qana. But I never forgot it.
“When I reached the UN gates, blood was pouring through them in torrents. I could smell it. It washed over our shoes and stuck to them like glue. There were legs and arms, babies without heads, old men’s heads without bodies. A man’s body was hanging in two pieces in a burning tree. What was left of him was on fire.
“On the steps of the barracks, a girl sat holding a man with grey hair, her arm round his shoulder, rocking the corpse back and forth in her arms. His eyes were staring at her. She was keening and weeping and crying, over and over: “My father, my father.” If she is still alive – and there was to be another Qana massacre in the years to come, this time from the Israeli air force – I doubt if the word ‘peacemaker’ will be crossing her lips.
“There was a UN inquiry which stated in its bland way that it did not believe the slaughter was an accident. The UN report was accused of being anti-Semitic. Much later, a brave Israeli magazine published an interview with the artillery soldiers who fired at Qana. An officer had referred to the villagers as “just a bunch of Arabs” (‘arabushim’ in Hebrew). “A few Arabushim die, there is no harm in that,” he was quoted as saying. Peres’s Chief of Staff was almost equally carefree: “I don’t know any other rules of the game, either for the [Israeli] army or for civilians…”
“Peres called his Lebanese invasion Operation Grapes of Wrath, which – if it wasn’t inspired by John Steinbeck – must have come from the Book of Deuteronomy. “The sword without and terror within,” it says in Chapter 32, “shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of grey hairs.” Could there be a better description of those 17 minutes at Qana?
“Yes, of course, Peres changed in later years. They claimed that Ariel Sharon – whose soldiers watched the massacre at Sabra and Chatila camps in 1982 by their Lebanese Christian allies – was also a ‘peacemaker’ when he died. At least he didn’t receive the Nobel Prize.
“Peres later became an advocate of a ‘two-state solution’, even as the Jewish colonies on Palestinian land – which he once so fervently supported – continued to grow.
“Now we must call him a ‘peacemaker’. And count, if you can, how often the word ‘is used in the Peres obituaries over the next few days. Then count how many times the word Qana appears.”
Ben Norton, a staff writer at Salon, while noting that most media reports showered the late Peres with adulation as ‘a man of peace’, observed that “few media reports acknowledged that there was considerable blood on the hands of this man of peace – Palestinian and Lebanese blood, to be more precise.”
The Times of Israel encapsulated the late Peres’ contradictory legacy somewhat better with the headline Peres, a man of peace, made Israel a military powerhouse. The New York Times likewise noted that Peres ‘Built Up Israel’s Defense and Sought Peace’. And CNN described him as ‘Israel’s warrior for peace’, as did Secretary of State John Kerry.
Noted Norton: “These kinds of Orwellian descriptions are common in media reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even when Israeli politicians carry out brutal wars and oversee atrocities, it is always ‘in the name of peace’. Conversely, when Palestinians resist Israeli military occupation and land theft, their response is generally depicted as ‘violent aggression’.
“Peres, who participated in the war that established Israel by violently expelling and displacing the majority of the indigenous Palestinian population in 1948, later tried to erase this history. The ostensible man of peace told the Israeli newspaper Maariv in 2013 that before Israel was created, ‘There was nothing here’.
“The New York Times stressed in the opening paragraph of its obituary that Peres ‘did more than anyone to build up his country’s formidable military might.’ This is the kind of belligerent so-called peacemaking that is often rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Peres, the Nobel laureate, played a key role in obtaining nuclear weapons for Israel. Top-secret government minutes from 1975 meetings show that Peres, who was then Defense Minister, offered to sell nuclear weapons to the apartheid regime in South Africa. Joining Peres as Nobel Peace laureates are accused war criminal Henry Kissinger – whose policies caused millions of deaths – and current US President Barack Obama – who dropped more than 23,000 bombs on six Muslim-majority countries in 2015. They epitomize what scholar Michael Parenti has sardonically called the ‘Nobel Peace Prize for War’!
Norton recalled what Fisk wrote then on the 1996 attrocity: “. . . so cavalier, so ferocious, that not a Lebanese will forgive this massacre.”