Robert Fisk

QANA

Massacre in Sanctuary; Eyewitness

The Independent, 19 April 1996

 

Qana, southern Lebanon

Qana Massacre

Headless baby in QANA

     It was a massacre. Not since Sabra and Chatila had I seen the innocent slaughtered like this. The Lebanese refugee women and children and men lay in heaps, their hands or arms or legs missing, beheaded or disembowelled. There were well over a hundred of them. A baby lay without a head. The Israeli shells had scythed through them as they lay in the United Nations shelter, believing that they were safe under the world's protection. Like the Muslims of Srebrenica, the Muslims of Qana were wrong.

In front of a burning building of the UN's Fijian battalion headquarters, a girl held a corpse in her arms, the body of a grey- haired man whose eyes were staring at her, and she rocked the corpse back and forth in her arms, keening and weeping and crying the same words over and over: "My father, my father." A Fijian UN soldier stood amid a sea of bodies and, without saying a word, held aloft the body of a headless child.

"The Israelis have just told us they'll stop shelling the area", a UN soldier said, shaking with anger. "Are we supposed to thank them?" In the remains of a burning building - the conference room of the Fijian UN headquarters - a pile of corpses was burning. The roof had crashed in flames onto their bodies, cremating them in front of my eyes. When I walked towards them, I slipped on a human hand...

Israel's slaughter of civilians in this terrible 10-day offensive - 206 by last night - has been so cavalier, so ferocious, that not a Lebanese will forgive this massacre. There had been the ambulance attacked on Saturday, the sisters killed in Yohmor the day before, the 2-year-old girl decapitated by an Israeli missile four days ago. And earlier yesterday, the Israelis had slaughtered a family of 12 - the youngest was a four- day-old baby - when Israeli helicopter pilots fired missiles into their home.

Shortly afterwards, three Israeli jets dropped bombs only 250 metres from a UN convoy on which I was travelling, blasting a house 30 feet into the air in front of my eyes. Travelling back to Beirut to file my report on the Qana massacre to the Independent last night, I found two Israeli gunboats firing at the civilian cars on the river bridge north of Sidon.

Every foreign army comes to grief in Lebanon. The Sabra and Chatila massacre of Palestinians by Israel's militia allies in 1982 doomed Israel's 1982 invasion. Now the Israelis are stained again by the bloodbath at Qana, the scruffy little Lebanese hill town where the Lebanese believe Jesus turned water into wine.

The Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres may now wish to end this war. But the Hizbollah are not likely to let him. Israel is back in the Lebanese quagmire. Nor will the Arab world forget yesterday'a terrible scenes.

The blood of all the refugees ran quite literally in streams from the shell-smashed UN compound restaurant in which the Shiite Muslims from the hill villages of southern Lebanon - who had heeded Israel's order to leave their homes - had pathetically sought shelter. Fijian and French soldiers heaved another group of dead - they lay with their arms tightly wrapped around each other - into blankets.

A French UN trooper muttered oaths to himself as he opened a bag in which he was dropping feet, fingers, pieces of people's arms. And as we walked through this obscenity, a swarm of people burst into the compound. They had driven in wild convoys down from Tyre and began to pull the blankets off the mutilated corpses of their mothers and sons and daughters and to shriek "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great") and to threaten the UN troops.

We had suddenly become not UN troops and journalists but Westerners, Israel's allies, an object of hatred and venom. One bearded man with fierce eyes stared at us, his face dark with fury. "You are Americans", he screamed at us. "Americans are dogs. You did this. Americans are dogs."

President Bill Clinton has allied himself with Israel in its war against "terrorism" and the Lebanese, in their grief, had not forgotten this. Israel's official expression of sorrow was rubbing salt in their wounds. "I would like to be made into a bomb and blow myself up amid the Israelis", one old man said.

As for the Hizbollah, which has repeatedly promised that Israelis will pay for their killing of Lebanese civilians, its revenge cannot be long in coming. Operation Grapes of Wrath may then turn out then to be all too aptly named.
 

 
Reality bites for PR men at Qana

The Independent, 22 April 1996

 

Qana, Southern Lebanon

    
Herve de Charette's face was as white as death. The French Foreign Minister, neatly clad in blue suit and tie, had gingerly walked through the scene of last week's massacre at the UN's compound, nodding diplomatically as the UN's Fijian commander described the 12 minutes in which Israeli shells slaughtered up to 120 refugees, the sliced-up corpses that his soldiers were forced to pick up, the difficulty in identifying parts of the children who had been torn to pieces. Mr de Charette listened with distaste. But then he was confronted by a survivor.

Fawzaya Zrir, a small, frail woman in a scarf, simply walked up to the French Foreign Minister and began talking to him with an odd mixture of affection and anger. "For us, France is our mother and God is our father," she said in a flight of rhetoric that might have been written by the Quai d'Orsay public relations men, who beamed happily at this fortunate encounter.

Then things began to go wrong. "We have lived through hell", Mrs Zrir continued. "The people were chopped into pieces by the Israeli bombs. They bleed, these people. You should have seen the heads."

At the French foreign minister's right, a Lebanese softly translated the woman's dreadful words. The PR men began to look uneasy. "We have lived here 40 years and now we are treated like animals", the woman cried. "Do you know what the dogs did at night after the killings? They were hungry and I saw them in the ruins eating fingers and pieces of our people."

Mr de Charette stared at her as if he had seen a ghost. This had clearly not been part of the programme, a schedule that was supposed to have whisked the foreign minister from a light lunch at UN headquarters in Naqqoura to a photo-opportunity on the roof of the wrecked UN battalion HQ, a three-minutes press conference to give the impression of openness and a swift drive back to the coast and a helicopter to Beirut - everything, in fact, that would enhance France's much-trumpeted love for Lebanon. Reality had very definitely not been part of the programme.

A UN soldier was quite blunt about it. "This place is going to be turned into one of those awful pilgrimage sites for the great and the good", he muttered. "Boutros-Ghali sent his emissaries today to express their horror. But they'll do no more than they did after Srebrenica. They'll tut-tut and shrug it off. And they wonĄt even have the guts to condemn Israel even now - for this wickedness."

And indeed, the UN Secretary-General did send General Frank Van Kappen of the Netherlands army - not, perhaps, a happy choice after the Dutch army's disgrace at Srebrenica and he duly marched round the site of the worst carnage, asking how many rounds landed, where the Katyusha missiles were fired from and whether he could be shown this site to discover if any Israeli shells bad fallen there.

He would be meeting with General Amnon Lipkin Shahak, the Israeli chief of staff, he said. Yes, he would be asking to meet the soldiers who fired the fatal artillery rounds - "fat chance of that", another UN soldier said as he listened to all this - and with that, Van Kappen, an immense figure in his steel flak jacket and huge helmet clanked out of the compound with a colonel from the Royal Engineers.

Mr de Charette was even more gentle of spirit. What had happened on Thursday was 'unfortunate", an event for which France wished to show its sympathy for the Lebanese. So how did it rank in the scale of civilian atrocities? How did it rank, for example, beside the Sarajevo market massacre?

"Frankly", the Foreign Minister replied sharply, "I have not had an opportunity to make categories of unhappiness we have to work to do is to make it impossible for this to happen in the future in Lebanon." And so say all of us. Did he believe Israel had given sufficient explanation of the massacre? "I hear there is an inquiry we have to await the result."

The problem, however is that neither America nor Europe are going to condemn a country which pounded refugees of Qana with 155mm shells for 12 minutes; and such condemnation is about the only palliative that the Lebanese might accept for the moment. And you can see their point. On the coast road back to Beirut last night there were burning cars, civilians deliberately targeted by Israeli warships north of Sidon, three of whom had been badly wounded. Had this being a Syrian warship shelling Israeli civilians on the Haifa-Tel Aviv road, of course, Mr Clinton himself would have deplored - rightly - an act of "international terrorism". But not a word of criticism about this scandalous targeting of Lebanese civilians was uttered by the foreign ministers of America, Russia, France and Italy as they sought to bring an end to an apparently unstoppable war.
 

 

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