[DEBATE] : more of Fisk's postings from Lebanon...
brutherf at ccs.carleton.ca
Mon Jul 31 17:36:29 BST 2006
'How can we stand by and allow this to go on?'
By Robert Fisk
07/31/06 "The Independent
<http://news.independent.co.uk/world/fisk/article1205977.ece>" -- --
They wrote the names of the dead children on their plastic shrouds.
"Mehdi Hashem, aged seven - Qana," was written in felt pen on the bag in
which the little boy's body lay. "Hussein al-Mohamed, aged 12 - Qana','
"Abbas al-Shalhoub, aged one - Qana.'' And when the Lebanese soldier
went to pick up Abbas's little body, it bounced on his shoulder as the
boy might have done on his father's shoulder on Saturday. In all, there
were 56 corpses brought to the Tyre government hospital and other
surgeries, and 34 of them were children. When they ran out of plastic
bags, they wrapped the small corpses in carpets. Their hair was matted
with dust, most had blood running from their noses.
You must have a heart of stone not to feel the outrage that those of us
watching this experienced yesterday. This slaughter was an obscenity, an
atrocity - yes, if the Israeli air force truly bombs with the "pinpoint
accuracy'' it claims, this was also a war crime. Israel claimed that
missiles had been fired by Hizbollah gunmen from the south Lebanese town
of Qana - as if that justified this massacre. Israel's Prime Minister,
Ehud Olmert, talked about "Muslim terror" threatening "western
civilisation" - as if the Hizbollah had killed all these poor people.
And in Qana, of all places. For only 10 years ago, this was the scene of
another Israeli massacre, the slaughter of 106 Lebanese refugees by an
Israeli artillery battery as they sheltered in a UN base in the town.
More than half of those 106 were children. Israel later said it had no
live-time pilotless photo-reconnaissance aircraft over the scene of that
killing - a statement that turned out to be untrue when The Independent
discovered videotape showing just such an aircraft over the burning
camp. It is as if Qana - whose inhabitants claim that this was the
village in which Jesus turned water into wine - has been damned by the
world, doomed forever to receive tragedy.
And there was no doubt of the missile which killed all those children
yesterday. It came from the United States, and upon a fragment of it was
written: "For use on MK-84 Guided Bomb BSU-37-B". No doubt the
manufacturers can call it "combat-proven" because it destroyed the
entire three-storey house in which the Shalhoub and Hashim families
lived. They had taken refuge in the basement from an enormous Israeli
bombardment, and that is where most of them died.
I found Nejwah Shalhoub lying in the government hospital in Tyre, her
jaw and face bandaged like Robespierre's before his execution. She did
not weep, nor did she scream, although the pain was written on her face.
Her brother Taisir, who was 46, had been killed. So had her sister
Najla. So had her little niece Zeinab, who was just six. "We were in the
basement hiding when the bomb exploded at one o'clock in the morning,''
she said. "What in the name of God have we done to deserve this? So many
of the dead are children, the old, women. Some of the children were
still awake and playing. Why does the world do this to us?"
Yesterday's deaths brought to more than 500 the total civilian dead in
Lebanon since Israel's air, sea and land bombardment of the country
begun on 12 July after Hizbollah members crossed the frontier wire,
killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two others. But yesterday's
slaughter ended more than a year of mutual antagonism within the
Lebanese government as pro-American and pro-Syrian politicians denounced
what they described as "an ugly crime".
Thousands of protesters attacked the largest United Nations building in
Beirut, screaming: "Destroy Tel Aviv, destroy Tel Aviv," and Lebanon's
Prime Minister, the normally unflappable Fouad Siniora, called US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and ordered her to cancel her
imminent peace-making trip to Beirut.
No one in this country can forget how President George Bush, Ms Rice,
and Tony Blair have repeatedly refused to call for an immediate
ceasefire - a truce that would have saved all those lives yesterday. Ms
Rice would say only: "We want a ceasefire as soon as possible,'' a
remark followed by an Israeli announcement that it intended to maintain
its bombardment of Lebanon for at least another two weeks.
Throughout the day, Qana villagers and civil defence workers dug through
the ruins of the building with spades and with their hands, tearing at
the muck until they found one body after another still dressed in
colourful clothes. In one section of the rubble, they found what was
left of a single room with 18 bodies inside. Twelve of the dead were
women. All across southern Lebanon now, you find scenes like this, not
so grotesque in scale, perhaps, but just as terrible, for the people of
these villages are terrified to leave and terrified to stay. The
Israelis had dropped leaflets over Qana, ordering its people to leave
their homes. Yet twice now since Israel's onslaught began, the Israelis
have ordered villagers to leave their houses and then attacked them with
aircraft as they obeyed the Israeli instructions and fled. There are at
least 3,000 Shia Muslims trapped in villages between Qlaya and Aiteroun
- close to the scene of Israel's last military incursion at Bint Jbeil -
and yet none of them can leave without fear of dying on the roads.
And Mr Olmert's reaction? After expressing his "great sorrow", he
announced that: "We will not stop this battle, despite the difficult
incidents [sic] this morning. We will continue the activity, and if
necessary it will be broadened without hesitation." But how much further
can it be broadened? Lebanon's infrastructure is being steadily torn to
pieces, its villages razed, its people more and more terrorised - and
terror is the word they used - by Israel's American-made fighter
bombers. Hizbollah's missiles are Iranian-made, and it was Hizbollah
that started this war with its illegal and provocative raid across the
border. But Israel's savagery against the civilian population has deeply
shocked not only the Western diplomats who have remained in Beirut, but
hundreds of humanitarian workers from the Red Cross and major aid agencies.
Incredibly, Israel yesterday denied safe passage to a UN World Food
Programme aid convoy en route to the south, a six-truck mission that
should have taken relief supplies to the south-eastern town of
Marjayoun. More than three quarters of a million Lebanese have now fled
their homes, but there is still no accurate figure for the total number
still trapped in the south. Khalil Shalhoub, who survived amid the
wreckage in Qana yesterday, said that his family and the Hashims were
just too "terrified" to take the road out of the village, which has been
attacked by aircraft for more than two weeks. The seven-mile highway
between Qana and Tyre is littered with civilian homes in ruins and
burnt-out family cars. On Thursday, the Israeli Army's Al-Mashriq radio,
which broadcasts into southern Lebanon, told residents that their
villages would be "totally destroyed" if missiles were fired from them.
But anyone who has watched Israel's bombing these past two weeks knows
that, in many cases, the Israelis do not know the location in which the
Hizbollah are firing missiles, and - when they do - they frequently miss
their targets. How can a villager prevent the Hizbollah from firing
rockets from his street? The Hizbollah do take cover beside civilian
houses - just as Israeli troops entering Bint Jbeil last week also used
civilian homes for cover. But can this be the excuse for slaughter on
such a scale?
Mr Siniora addressed foreign diplomats in Beirut yesterday, telling them
that the government in Beirut was now only demanding an immediate
ceasefire and was not interested any longer in a political package to go
with it. Needless to say, Mr Jeffrey Feltman, whose country made the
bomb which killed the innocents of Qana yesterday, chose not to attend.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
Shredded by Cluster Bombs: Bush and Blair: "Keep It Up!"
By Robert Fisk
July 30, 2006
I dropped by the hospital in Marjayoun this week to find a young girl lying in a hospital bed, swathed in bandages, her beauty scarred for ever by some familiar wounds; the telltale dark-red holes in her skin made by cluster bombs, the weapon we used in Iraq to such lethal effect and which the Israelis are now using to punish the civilians of southern Lebanon.
And, of course, it occurred to me at once that if George Bush and Condoleezza Rice and our own sad and diminished Prime Minister had demanded a ceasefire when the Lebanese first pleaded for it, this young woman would not have to spend the rest of her life pitted with these vile scars.
And having seen the cadavers of so many more men and women, I have to say--from my eyrie only three miles from the Israeli border--that the compliant, gutless, shameful refusal of Bush, Rice and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara to bring this bloodbath to an end sentenced many hundreds of innocent Lebanese to death. As I write this near the village of Blat, which has its own little list of civilian dead, it's quite clear that many more innocent Lebanese are being prepared for the slaughter--and will indeed die in the coming days.
What was it Condoleezza Rice said? That "a hasty ceasefire would not be a good thing"? What was Blair's pathetic excuse at the G8 summit? That it was much better to have a ceasefire that would last than one which might break down? Yes, I entirely understand. Blair and his masters--we shall give Rice a generic title to avoid the obvious--regard ceasefires not as a humanitarian step to alleviate and prevent suffering but as a weapon, as a means to a political end.
Let the war last longer and the suffering grow greater--let compassion be postponed--and the Lebanese (and, most laughably, the Hizbollah) will eventually sink to their knees and accept the West's ridiculous demands. And one of those famous American "opportunities" for change--ie for humbling Iran--will have been created.
Hence, in the revolting words of Lord Blair's flunky yesterday, Blair will "increase the urgency" of diplomacy. Think about that for a moment. Diplomacy wasn't urgent at the beginning. Then I suppose it became fairly urgent and now this mendacious man is going to "increase" the urgency of diplomacy; after which, I suppose, it can become super-urgent or of "absolutely" paramount importance, the time decided--no doubt--by Israel's belief that it has won the war against Hizbollah or, more likely, because Israel realizes that it is an unwinnable war and wants us to take the casualties.
Yet from the border of Pakistan to the Mediterranean--with the sole exception of the much-hated Syria and Iran, which might be smothered in blood later--we have turned a 2,500-mile swath of the Muslim world into a hell-disaster of unparalleled suffering and hatred. Our British "peacekeepers" in Afghanistan are fighting for their lives -- and apparently bombing the innocent, Israeli-style -- against an Islamist enemy which grows by the week. In Iraq, our soldiers--and those of the United States--hide in their concrete crusader fortresses while the people they so generously liberated and introduced to the benefits of western-style democracy slash each other to death. And now the US and UK--following Israeli policy to the letter--are allowing Israel to destroy Lebanon and call it peace.
Blair and his ignorant Foreign Secretary have played along with Israel's savagery with blind trust in our own loss of memory. It is perfectly acceptable, it seems, after the Hizbollah staged its July 12 assault, to destroy the infrastructure of Lebanon and the lives of more than 400 of its innocents. But hold on a moment. When the IRA used to cross the Irish border to kill British soldiers--which it did--did Blair and his cronies blame the Irish Republic's government in Dublin? Did Blair order the RAF to bomb Dublin power stations and factories? Did he send British troops crashing over the border in tanks to fire at will into the hill villages of Louth, Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal? Did Blair then demand an international, NATO-led force to take over a buffer zone--on the Irish, not the Northern Ireland side, of the border?
Of course not. But Israel has special privileges afforded to no other nation. It can do exactly what Blair would never have done--and still receive the British Government's approbation. It can trash the Geneva Conventions--because the Americans have done that in Iraq--and it can commit war crimes and murder UN soldiers like the four unarmed observers who refused to leave their post under fire.
The idea that Nasrallah is going to kneel before a Nato general and hand over his sword--that this disciplined, ruthless, frightening guerrilla army is going to surrender to Nato--is a folly beyond self-delusion.
But Blair and Bush want to send a combat force into southern Lebanon. Well, I shall be there, I suppose, to watch its swift destruction in an orgy of car and suicide bombings by the same organization that yesterday fired another new longer-than-ever range missile that landed near Afula in Israel.
The Lebanese government--democratically elected and hailed by a US administration which threw roses at its prime minister after the US state department claimed a "cedar revolution"--has just caught the Americans off guard, producing a peace package to which the Hizbollah has reluctantly agreed, starting with an immediate ceasefire. Can Washington ignore the decision of a democratic government? Of course it can. It is encouraging Israel to continue its destruction of the democratically elected Hamas government in Gaza and the West Bank.
So stand by for an "increase" in the "urgency" of diplomacy--and for more women with their skin torn open by cluster bombs.
On a Red Cross mission of mercy when Israeli air force came calling
by Robert Fisk; July 28, 2006
07/28/06 "The Independent
<http://news.independent.co.uk/world/fisk/article1201281.ece>" -- -- It
was supposed to be a routine trip across the Lebanese killing fields for
the brave men and women of the International Red Cross. Sylvie Thoral
was the "team leader" of our two vehicles, a 38-year-old Frenchwoman
with dark brown hair and eyes like steel. The Israelis had been informed
and had given what the ICRC likes to call its "green light" to the
route. And, of course, we almost died.
Trusting the Israeli army and air force, which are breaking the Geneva
Conventions almost every day, is a dodgy business.
Their planes have already attacked - against all the conventions - the
civil defence headquarters in Tyre, killing 20 refugees. They have twice
attacked truckloads of refugees whom they themselves had ordered from
They have already attacked two Lebanese Red Cross ambulances in Qana,
killing two of the three wounded patients inside and injuring all the
crew - a clear and apparently deliberate breach of Chapter IV, Article
24 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
But the ICRC must put its trust in the Israeli military and so off we
sped from southern Lebanon for Jezzine to the sound of gunfire, under
the crumbling battlements of the crusader castle at Beaufort, through
the ghostly, shattered streets of Nabatiyeh, bomb craters and crushed
buildings on each side of us.
To cross the Litani river, we had to drive through the water, listening
for the howl of airplane engines, one eye on the road, one on the sky.
Sylvie and her comrades - Christophe Grange from France, Claire Gasser
from Switzerland, Saidi Hachemi from Algeria and two Lebanese
colleagues, Beshara Hanna and Edmund Khoury - drove in silence.
There were fresh bomb craters on the highway north of Nabatiyeh - the
attacks had come only a few hours earlier, a fact we should have thought
more about. Pieces of ordnance littered the roads, shards of wicked
shrapnel, huge chunks of concrete. But we had had that all-important
"green light" from Tel Aviv.
The ICRC teams may be the only saviours on the highways of southern
Lebanon - their reticence in criticising anyone, including the Israelis
and Hizbollah is a silence worthy of angels - although their work can
attack their emotions as surely as an air strike. Only a day earlier,
they had driven to the village of Aiteroun scarcely a mile from the
Israeli army's disastrous assault on Bint Jbeil. In each "abandoned"
village on the way, a woman would appear, then a child and then more
women and the elderly, all desperate to leave.
There were perhaps 3,000 of them and, last night, Sylvie Thoral was
trying to arrange permission for an evacuation convoy. The Israelis are
promising the Lebanese much worse than the punishment they have already
received - well over 400 Lebanese civilians dead - for Hizbollah's
killing of three Israeli soldiers and the capture of two others. But
still the Israelis have suggested no "green light" for Aiteroun.
"They were begging us to take them with us and we had no ability to do
that," Saidi says with deep emotion. "Their eyes were filled with tears."
ICRC workers in Lebanon travel without flak jackets or helmets - their
un-militarised status is something they are proud of - and driving with
them in the same condition was an oddly moving experience.
They live - unlike the Israelis and their Hizbollah antagonists - by the
Geneva Conventions. They believe in them when all others break the
rules. But yesterday, when we reached the town of Jarjooaa, the ICRC in
Beirut told us to turn back. The Israelis were bombing the road to the
north and so we gingerly reversed our cars and started back down the
hills to Arab Selim. The highway was empty and we had almost reached the
bottom of a small valley.
I was reflecting on a conversation I had just had on my mobile phone
with Patrick Cockburn, The Independent's correspondent who has just left
Baghdad. Our guardian angels were working so hard, he said, that he was
fearful they would form a trade union and go on strike.
That's when five vast, brown, dead fingers of smoke shot into the sky in
front of us, an Israeli air-dropped bomb that exploded on the road
scarcely 80 metres away with the kind of "c-crack" that comic books
express so accurately, followed by the scream of a jet. If we had driven
just 25 seconds faster down that road, we would all be dead.
So we retreated once more to Jarjooaa and parked under the balcony of a
house where two women and three children were watching us, waving and
Sylvie was silent but I could see the rage on her face. The Israelis, it
seemed, had made an "error". They had misread the route - or the number
- of our little convoy. "How can we work like this? How on earth can we
do our work?" Sylvie asked with a mixture of anger and frustration. On
all the roads yesterday, I saw only three men whom I suspect were
Hizbollah - no respecters of the Geneva Conventions they - driving at
high speed in a battered Volvo. They can cross the rivers of Lebanon at
will - just as we did - by circling the bomb craters and crossing the
rivers. So what was the point in blowing up 46 of Lebanon's road bridges?
An old man approached us carrying a silver tray of glasses and a pot of
scalding tea. Generous to the end, under constant air attack, these
fearful Lebanese were offering us their traditional hospitality even
now, as the jets wheeled in the sky above us. They asked us in to the
house they had refused to leave and I realised then that these kind
Lebanese people - unarmed, unconnected to Hizbollah - were the real
resistance here. The men and women who will ultimately save Lebanon.
But before we abandoned our journey and before Sylvie and her team and I
set off back to their base in the far and dangerous south of Lebanon, a
man carrying a bag of vegetables walked up to Beshara Hanna. "Please
move your cars away from my home," he said. "You make it dangerous for
And the shame of this shook me at once. The Israeli attack on the Qana
ambulances - their missiles plunging through the red crosses on the
roofs - had contaminated even our own vehicles. He was just one man. But
for him, the Israelis had turned the Red Cross - the symbol of hope on
our roofs and the sides of our vehicles - into a symbol of danger and fear.
The laws of war
The laws of war, as the Geneva Conventions are sometimes known, often
may seem like a lesson in absurdity. But for centuries countries have
adhered to central principles of combat.
At the start of this conflict, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Louise Arbour said: "Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a
foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians."
The rules of war state:
* Wars should be limited to achieving the political goals that started
the war (and should not include unnecessary destruction).
* Wars should be ended as quickly as possible.
* People and property should be protected against unnecessary
destruction and hardship.
The laws are meant to :
* Protect both combatants and non-combatants from unnecessary suffering.
* Safeguard human rights of those who fall into the hands of the enemy:
prisoners of war, the wounded, the sick and civilians.
* Prohibit deliberate attacks on civilians. But no war crime is
committed if a bomb mistakenly hits a residential area.
* Combatants that use civilians or property as shields are guilty of
violations of laws of war.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
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