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The Massacre at Qana, 10 Years Later

News of atrocious attack on civilians in Tel Aviv is coming in as I write this article. This will be worldwide news as it should be. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz says Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said the attack was “a natural result of the continued Israeli crimes against our people.” “Natural” as if no one ordered this attack on civilians. A repulsive excuse.Yet the steady stream of Palestinians killed by the Israeli army’s low intensity warfare and siege against the Palestinians, goes by almost unnoticed [26 killed including 5 children in the last three weeks].

Coincidentally enough the current attacks take place almost exactly ten years after a terrible Israeli massacre of Lebanese inside a UN compound in Lebanon [April 18, 1996] This was during the days Israel occupied southern Lebanon, when Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres was Prime Minister. During the election campaign Peres decided to have a little war to improve on his “dovish” image. So he launched “Operation Grapes of Wrath” causing 400,000 people to flee their homes, some 800 of them to a UN base called Qana.

On April 18 the IDF shelled Qana. I quote from the August 1996 issue of a journal I edit, “The Struggle”. “The TV showed battle hardened journalists weeping as they walked among the corpses. No TV news in the world could show the most revealing pictures. Rescuers for a long time didn’t know how many people were killed. There were heaps of body parts all around.” Go on the internet and google “+qana +massacre”. Available for viewing is an absolutely horrifying video of the mangled bodies of children.

The Israeli government offered various excuses. They said the IDF was firing at Hizbullah positions and a few shells went long. They explained that their soldiers didn’t know the UN base was so close, or that it held civilians. They denied they had any aircraft in the area. PM Peres was quoted as saying, “In my opinion, everything was done according to clear logic and in a responsible way. I am at peace.”

The Israeli excuses were all lies. 36 shells were in and around the base.

A UN soldier with a camcorder recorded five minutes of the shelling and the image of an unmanned Israeli spy plane flying overhead. UN soliders spotted two helicopters in the area. A UN commander pleaded with the Israelis during the shelling for a halt. The pleas fell on deaf ears and the gunners continued their slaughter. The UN issued a report on Qana which determined that it was “highly unlikely” that human or mechanical error caused the deaths, but it ended there. Shamefully the UN didn’t blame anyone.

Why did the Israeli government do it? Well, Israel was losing the war to Hizbullah. Its troops were suffering the same number of casualties as were the Lebanese. Six months before “Grapes of Wrath” Yitzhak Bailey, an Israeli Defense Ministry official, wrote about a strategy for an attack on Lebanon. In it he said, “Unfortuantely, the only way to stop Hizbullah actions against the Israeli forces in south Lebanon is to inflict heavy blows on the passive population…Then Hizbullah would be loathed.” Pure terrorism. Bin Laden wouldn’t say it any differently.

And how were the killers punished? Not at all. Peres lost the election to Netanyahu, but notice of his political death was premature. He was lately Sharon’s Foreign Minister and next Monday he will preside with the swearing in of Israel’s new Knesset. No Israeli soldier was put on trial.

The US President at the time was Bill Clinton. He never said a word of criticism of the Qana attack and in fact greeted Peres warmly in Washington a week after the massacre.

On December 15, 2005, relatives of those killed filed suit in a Washington, DC, court against former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon for his role in the deaths. The lawsuit was prepared by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Yaalon, who is a visiting scholar in Washington, reportedly refused the papers serving the lawsuit.

The blood of Qana still cries out for justice.

STANLEY HELLER is chairperson of the Middle East Crisis Committee and host of its weekly TV news program that can be seen on the internet www.TheStruggle.org. He is a member of the organizing committee of Connecticut United for Peace. He can be reached at mail@thestruggle.org