Israel late Saturday night killed more than 60 Lebanese civilians including at least 34 children in an airstrike on a building in the Lebanese village of Qana. I was up last night blogging as part of the Blogathon 2006 charity event when the news flashed on CNN.
The Israeli defense of their actions was articulated last night by a very angry young IDF spokesman on CNN. He insisted that Israel was not to blame for killing civilians because of the following reasons:
- Hezbollah started it.
- Hezbollah fired rockets from around the village of Qana.
- Israel asked civilians to flee Southern Lebanon therefore cannot be held responsible for killing the ones who stayed behind.
In a combative interview with CNN International’s Shihab Rattansi, the IDF spokesman insisted that it was Hezbollah who was to blame and Israel was only defending herself. So, this is Israel’s idea of self-defense. Most sane people call this a war crime.
First, let’s list the facts:
- Israel fired a missile at a civilian building in Qana.
- Over 60 civilians were killed.
- Zero Hezbollah were killed.
Last night, the CNN anchors kept asking the openly exasperated CNN reporters who had been to the scene if they had seen any rocket parts at the scene. To which one CNN reporter (I believe it was Karl Penhaul) replied, with frustration in his voice, that he had seen lots of dead children, and body parts, but he had yet to see a rocket part. Tonight as I write this, General David Grange is on CNN complaining that Hezbollah waits for Israelis to kill civilians and then videotapes the scene for political purposes. He complained that there was "overreaction" on the part of the international community. His only suggestion for Israel was that perhaps they should change tactics because they were losing the propaganda war.
I have news for General Grange, it was CNN who was on the scene of this one rather quickly. It was CNN reporters who were visibly shaken by this incident. No amount of spin from you or anyone else will wash away this war crime.
Here’s is how The Guardian newspaper saw the war crime:
It was an unremarkable three-storey building on the edge of town. But for two extended families, the Shalhoubs and the Hashems, it was a last refuge. They could not afford the extortionate taxi fares to Tyre and hoped that if they all crouched together on the ground floor they would be safe.
They were wrong. At about one in the morning, when some of the men were making late night tea, an Israeli bomb pulverised the house. Some witnesses describe two explosions a few minutes apart, with survivors desperately moving from one side of the building to the other before being hit by the second blast. By tonight, more than 60 bodies had been pulled from the rubble, said the Lebanese authorities, 34 of them children; there were only eight known survivors.
The bombing, the bloodiest single incident in Israel’s 18-day campaign against Hizbullah, drew instant condemnation from around the world and sparked furious protests outside the UN headquarters in Beirut. The Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, accused Israel of committing "war crimes" and called off a planned meeting with the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. Israel apologised for the loss of life but said it had been responding to rockets fired from the village.
Mohamad Qassim Shalhoub, a slim 38-year-old construction worker, emerged with a broken hand and minor injuries, but he lost his wife, five children and 45 members of his extended family. "Around one o’clock we heard a big explosion," he said. "I don’t remember anything after that, but when I opened my eyes I was lying on the floor and my head had hit the wall. There was silence. I didn’t hear anything for a while, but then heard some screams."
"I said: ‘Allahu Akbar [God is great]. Don’t be scared. I will come.’ There was blood on my face. I wiped it and looked for my son but couldn’t find him. I took three children out – my four-year-old nephew, a girl and her sister. I went outside and screamed for help and three men came and went back inside. There was shelling everywhere. We heard the planes. I was so exhausted I could not go back inside again. "
Ibrahim Shalhoub described how he and his cousin had set out to get help after the bombs hit. "It was dark and there was so much smoke. Nobody could do anything till dawn," he said, his eyes still darting around nervously. "I couldn’t stop crying, we couldn’t help them."
Said Rabab Yousif had her son on her knee when the first bomb fell.
"I couldn’t see anything for 10 minutes and then I saw my son sitting in my lap and covered with rubble," she recalled. "I removed the dirt and the stones I freed him and handed him to the people who were inside rescuing us.
"I then started freeing myself, my hands were free, and then went with two men to rescue my husband. We pulled him from the rubble. I tried to find Zainab, my little daughter, but it was too dark and she was covered deep in rubble I was too scared that they might bomb us again so I just left her and ran outside." She was in hospital with her son and husband, who was paralysed and in a coma. There was no news of her daughter.
In addition to being a war crime, this is also an act of cowardice by Israel. Faced with the launching of a rocket containing up to a 90-pound warhead, Israel’s response was to launch a bunker buster to destroy a nearby building. Given that these rockets, the Katyushas, are small enough to be man portable, what is the military justification of using a bunker buster bomb to destroy a mobile launcher? What was Israel trying to achieve?
It seems to me if Israel wanted to take down a guerrilla force like Hezbollah, they would engage in ground combat with them. But, perhaps it is easier to bomb buildings full of civilians rather than to fight men with guns. That is an act of a coward. At the beginning of this conflict, Israel’s military already stated Israel’s intention to go after civilians and civilian infrastructure:
Israel called Wednesday’s abductions an act of war, and Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of Israel’s Northern Command, said he has "comprehensive plans" to battle Hezbollah throughout Lebanon, not just in its southern stronghold.
"This affair is between Israel and the state of Lebanon," Adam said. "Where to attack? Once it is inside Lebanon, everything is legitimate — not just southern Lebanon, not just the line of Hezbollah posts." (Watch as Israeli forces enter Lebanon — 2:29)
Earlier, Israel’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, told Israel’s Channel 10, "If the soldiers are not returned, we will turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years."
"Everything is legitimate" indeed! Seldom have war criminals declared their intentions so plainly ahead of the crime.
Who else is complicit? Why, it is the Bush Administration. Fragments found at the site of the bomb that murdered the women and children had this label on it: "GUIDED BOMB BSU 37/B". That is the label of an American 5000 pound bunker buster, courtesy of the Bush Administration. Just last week the Bush Administration rushed a new shipment to Israel so they could blow up more civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Today, as the entire world demanded an immediate ceasefire, the United States stood alone at the United Nations in rejecting any cessation of hostilities. Just as it did last week, the United States has blocked a ceasefire. In doing so, it is complicit in this Israeli war crime.
The most disingenuous comment on this tragedy so far has come from none other than George W Bush:
President Bush on Sunday renewed his call for a "sustainable peace" in the Middle East while his administration urged Israel to avoid civilian casualties in the wake of a deadly airstrike in Lebanon.
"Our hope for peace for boys and girls everywhere extends across the world, especially in the Middle East," the president said before the start of a T-ball game at the White House.
"Today’s actions in the Middle East remind us that friends and allies must work together for a sustainable peace particularly for the sake of children," Bush told the teams of youngsters and visitors. [Emphasis added by me.]
George W Bush pays lip service to the killing of Lebanese children while supplying the very bombs that killed them. A reporter asked Mr. Bush after his comments if he was putting principle ahead of lives. Mr. Bush walked away without answering – no doubt with thoughts of his "culture of life" agenda dancing through his otherwise empty thoughtscape.
Ehud Olmert began this orgy of killing to rescue 2 Israeli soldiers. What has he achieved so far? He has killed civilians in their homes. He has killed civilians as the fled the carnage. He has killed civilians in ambulances. His warplanes have strafed civilians as they lay dying on the highways of Lebanon. His missiles have found their mark on the helpless forms of sleeping infants.
What has he achieved? He has failed to damage Hezbollah. In fact, Hezbollah is stronger today than they were at the beginning of this conflict. Hezbollah is stronger today because of Ehud Olmert’s actions and George W Bush’s inactions. The only certainty is that the blood of Lebanese children is on Olmert’s hands. This stain will not wash off – no matter how much spin and what justification is spun by Israel or the Bush Administration.
Israel says it needs two more weeks to bring Hezbollah to heel. Instead what Israel will get is two more weeks of killing civilians. Hezbollah will do just fine.
This war is over save the killing.