Monday, August 07, 2006

... of our own destruction.

On 18 April, 1996, an Israeli "defensive" military action included the intensive shelling of the Lebanon village of Qana.

The Shelling of Qana took place on April 18, 1996 in Qana, a village located southeast of Tyre, in Southern Lebanon, when Israeli artillery, returning fire against Hezbollah forces in the area, hit a Fijian United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNFIL) compound in the village. Around 800 Lebanese civilians had taken refuge there to escape the fighting, of whom 106 were killed and around 116 others injured. Four UNIFIL soldiers were also seriously injured. [1][2]

The incident took place amid heavy fighting between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hezbollah during "Operation Grapes of Wrath". Israeli, U.N. and U.S. officials accused Hezbollah of using civilian refugees as human shields by opening fire from positions near the UN compound. The incident is at times referred to as the Qana massacre, for example by Human Rights Watch[3], but this phrase is rejected by Israel and its supporters. The United Nations miltary investigation determined it was unlikely that Isreali shelling of the U.N. compound was the result of technical or procedural errors.[4
The conflict intensified and thousands of Lebanese civilians sought to flee the area and find safe refuge from the fighting. By 14 April, 745 people were occupying the United Nations compound at Qana. More than 800 were there on April 18.[9]

Beginning with the second day of combat Israel had been retaliating within 10 minutes directly at any source of fire discovered by reconnaisance. This tactic was widely discussed in Israeli media, and well known to the Hezbollah fighters and Lebanese citizens.

According to a U.N. report, on April 18, Hezbollah fighters fired two or three Katyusha rockets and between five and eight mortars at Israeli soldiers near the so-called Red Line (the northern limits of the "security zone") from positions about 220 meters southwest and 350 meters southeast of the United Nations compound. 15 minutes later an Israeli unit responded by shelling the area with M-109A2 155 mm guns.[10] According to the Israeli military, thirty eight shells were fired, two-thirds of them equipped with proximity fuses, an anti-personnel mechanism that causes the weapon to explode above the ground. The UN investigation found that 13 shells exploded within or above the compound and 4 "very close to it."[11]

As a result of the shelling, 106 civilians died, with more wounded. Most of the casualties were residents of nearby villages who had fled the conflict, while four were UN troops.

Response of Israel

Israel immediately expressed regret for the loss of innocent lives, saying that the Hezbollah position and not the UN compound was the intended target of the shelling, and that the compound was hit "due to incorrect targeting based on erroneous data." Army Deputy Chief of Staff, Matan Vilnai stated that the shells hit the base not because they were off target, but because Israeli gunners used outdated maps of the area. He also stated that the gunners miscalculated the firing range of the shells.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres claimed that "We did not know that several hundred people were concentrated in that camp. It came to us as a bitter surprise."[12] Following the attack, Lt.-Gen. Amnon Shahak, Israel's chief of staff, at a press conference in Tel Aviv on April 18 defended the shelling: "I don't see any mistake in judgment… We fought Hezbollah there [in Qana], and when they fire on us, we will fire at them to defend ourselves… I don't know any other rules of the game, either for the army or for civilians…"[13].

Both the U.S. and Israel accused Hezbollah of "shielding", the use of civilians as a cover for military activities, which is a breach of the laws of war. The U.S. State Department spokesperson, Nicolas Burns stated, "Hezbollah [is] using civilians as cover. That's a despicable thing to do, an evil thing."[14] and Prime Minister Shimon Peres cited the use of human shielding to blame Hezbollah. On April 18 he said, "They used them as a shield, they used the UN as a shield — the UN admitted it."[15] Rabbi Yehuda Amital, a member of Peres' cabinet, called the Qana killings a desecration of God's name (chilul hashem).[16]

The Israelis "miss" their targets by some two or three hundred yeards.

Being within two or three hundred yards is "shielding behind civilians"?

There is a very interesting op-ed piece in Granny Herald this morning. It is written by Catheringe Masters and is an "interview" with David Khouri, a New Zealander of Lebanese descent who has spent three years in Israel.
When Khouri heard of last month's attack on Qana, where scores of people died, including children, he was sickened. "If I feel this upset here in NZ then I think the people who are in Lebanon must be incandescent with anger and hatred and wanting revenge," he says softly.

"That's where I can't understand how Israel can be so short-sighted. What do they think is going to happen next?
People need to remember the brutality of Israel's 18-year occupation, says Khouri.

In the town of Khiam, now virtually obliterated in the current war, the Israelis had a jail where they kept Hizbollah prisoners. It was abandoned when they pulled out in 2000 and Khouri remembers watching scenes of jubilation on the television as relatives broke in and released their family members.

Hizbollah did not exist before the Israeli invasion. "They are not different people who hide weapons under the beds of civilians, they are the same people. Israel's occupation brought Hizbollah into existence and the organisation is the only thing stopping the Israelis from coming back", he says.

What attracted my eye was this comparison...
Hizbollah, says Khouri, are the tangata whenua of southern Lebanon defending their turangawaewae, the place where they stand.

"That's what it is. The Palestinians are the same. And all the attempts by Israel and the Americans and the British to call them terrorists is an attempt to obscure that reality, that they are the tangata whenua."

Hizbollah are Shiite Muslims who live in the south of Lebanon. Khouri says history shows the Shiites were always ignored by the central Government, they were the poor relations of the south, deprived and without developed social services.

"I think that if Iran provided financial assistance as well as religious training then it met a need of the people that was not being met elsewhere

The Maori word "whenua" is interchangeable in meaning between "people" and "land". "Tangata" also means "people", but is specific rather than general in application. So, "tangata whenua" takes on a very potent metaphorical meaning as "the people of this land".

As important, and somewhat glossed over is the meaning of "turangawaewae". His given meaning of "where I stand" is a correct useage, but it goes somewhat further than that. It is "the place where my being connects to my whenua", it is where I am attached to the land; it is "where I come from" in the figurative sense if not the physical. To give as an example I was born in Lower Hutt, so that could (if I were Maori) be my turangawaewae. But if my parents were from Taranaki and East Cape then I could equally choose either - it would be the place where I felt "connected". Personally, I have a very close affinity with a small village in the East Coast ranges where my father taught for two years.

I hope that makes the language a little clearer, because Khouri's comparison is so apt.

I say it again -

There is no more justification in the actions of Hezbollah than there is legitimacy in the actions of Israel. Neither is there any less.

To argue that Hezbollah has no right to fight, is to say that the Muslims of Southern Lebanon have no right to defend themselves.

To argue that Hezbollah attacked first is to ignore all of the history of the war between Israel and Lebanon. Never has there been any revocation of that state of war. Never has there been an equitable ceasefire.

To argue that Hezbollah is an "external terrorist organisation", is no different to arguing that Tino Rangatiratanga is an arm of the Chinese Peoples Party or the Australian Aborigine Freedom Association. The statement is wrong. As Khouri has said, Hezbollah IS the people of South Lebanon.

Lebanon has never made any meaningful defence of the people of the South. The massacres of Sabra and Shatila in 1982 and again in 1985 shows that neither Israel nor Lebanon wish to have responsibility for those who were expelled from MSOI in 1947/48.

Neither has the international community ever recognised the people of South Lebanon as anything other than a "Lebanese problem". That should be as much to our shame as "civilised" people as Dafur.

As Khouri says, if support comes from Syria or Iran for these forgotten people it should be of no surprise. It should be no more surprising that support is accepted with no less gratitude by the people of Southern Lebanon, than US aid for Israel is received in that country.

We, the west, have created our own enemy.

We have sown that enemy in inequity, in suppression, and in neglect.

Our crop has been 40 years and more in the growing.

We are reaping the harvest.

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