Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The July War Series, Part II – Israeli Crimes in the July War

26/07/2009 By Yusuf Fernandez
July 26, 2009

Since the first hour of the war of July 2006, Israel turned Lebanese civilians into the first targets of its aggression. More than 1,300 Lebanese men, women and children were killed by Israeli bombs and 4,000 were wounded. About 970,000 Lebanese got displaced out of a population of 4 million. Incapable to achieve a victory on the battlefield, Israel tried to bomb Lebanon into surrender and to get the Lebanese people to turn against Hezbollah but it failed in both goals. It is noteworthy to point out that the Bush government was also a direct responsible for these crimes because of the blank check that he gave Israel “to defend herself.”

On July 13, Israeli warplanes killed at least 47 Lebanese civilians, mostly children, in 50 airstrikes across Lebanon. A Muslim imam, his wife and 10 children were killed when an Israeli missile struck their home in the village of Dweir, near the town of Nabatiyeh, reported Agence France-Presse. Another family of seven, including a 10-month-old baby, was killed in a pre-dawn air raid in which four missiles struck their home in the village of Baflay, near the coastal city of Tyre, police said. “The first one they brought in was just three years old. They brought her in pieces. First her head and then her arms,” said a spokesman for the Sheikh Ragheb Harb Hospital, in the nearby village of Toul, to the British newpaper The Times.

On July 15, another awful massacre took place. Twenty seven people were burnt alive when an Israeli helicopter gunship launched some missiles on a convoy of families who were fleeing Israel´s attacks in the South to seek refuge in Beirut and the mountains. An Israeli missile hit a van that was carrying families having left the village of Marwaheen, killing 15 people and wounding 6. The Lebanese authorities had asked the UN to help evacuate about 160 people when they were in Marwaheen, but the UN peacekeepers refused to do so. Relatives then blamed the UN for these deaths and threw stones at UN peacekeepers when these arrived there with the dead bodies after the attack, agencies reported.

On July 16, in another attack on a house in Aitarun, an Israeli warplane killed 11 members of the al-Akhrass family, including seven Canadian-Lebanese dual nationals who were vacationing in the village. Among the victims were four children under the age of eight.

The most horrendous massacre took place on July 30 in Qana, where at least 28 people, including 16 children –some of them disabled- and 9 women died in an Israeli airstrike against a building where some dozens of refugees were sleeping. On 18 August, the funeral took place. The bodies were transported to Qana in refrigerated trucks from the southern port city of Tyre, where the dead had been kept since the July bombing attack. The coffins with the bodies of the victims were draped with Hezbollah´s yellow flags or Lebanese national flags. The bodies were then laid in individual graves, which had been dug in an open field, AFP pointed out.

“The Israelis are savages, they are heartless. They should fight against our combatants and not our children and our disabled people,” said Fatmeh Farhat, who lost several of her cousins. “I want to see them. I want to hold them,” a tearful, devastated Hala Shalhoub, whose two daughters, ages 1 and 5, were killed in the Israeli attack, told The New York Times.

Qana had been the scene of another Israeli massacre in 1996, when an Israeli artillery battery killed 106 civilians who had sought shelter in a UN base. More than half of those 106 were children. Shimon Peres, a Peace Nobel-Prize winner, was then Israel´s Prime Minister. Fatima Balhas then lost five children and her husband in 1996. “I am today witnessing another Qana massacre,” Balhas said shortly after the new Israeli massacre in July 2006. “This enemy does not know either mercy or human rights,” she told Reuters.

Naim Raga, the head of a civil defense team, told the British paper The Guardian that when the rescuers found the children´s bodies, “they were all huddled together at the back of the room… Poor things, they thought the walls would protect them.”

Muhammad Qassim Shalhoub, who lost his five children, wife as well as 45 members of his extended family, recalled the haunting nightmare. “Around one o´clock we heard a big explosion,” he told The Guardian. “I do not 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 did not hear anything for a while, but then heard screams.” Shalhoub tried to help his terrified children but could not due to the non-stop Israeli strikes. “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 inside. There was shelling everywhere. We heard the planes… It was dark and there was so much smoke. Nobody could do anything till dawn,” he said.

At the beginning, Israel cynically claimed that missiles had been fired by Hezbollah fighters from Qana as if it could have justified the massacre. Actually, the Israeli government was angry at its armed forces´s failure to achieve any military gains after three weeks of its bombing campaign across Lebanon. Israeli minister of justice, Haim Ramon, issued a warning that a large area in south Lebanon would be regarded by Israel as a war zone, and he advocated for bombing villages to facilitate the unsuccessful advance of the Israeli army. “These places are not actually villages. They are military bases in which Hezbollah fighters are hiding and from which they are operating,” he said.
These lies were, however, dismissed by local residents and international aid organizations. “There were no Hezbollah rockets fired from here,” 32-year-old Ali Abdel told IPS. “Anyone in this village will tell you this, because it is the truth.” Lebanese Red Cross workers in the nearby coastal city of Tyre told IPS that there was no basis for Israeli claims that Hezbollah had launched rockets from Qana. “We found no evidence of Hezbollah fighters in Qana,” Kassem Shaulan, a 28-year-old medic and training manager for the Red Cross in Tyre, told IPS at their headquarters. “When we rescue people or recover bodies from villages, we usually see rocket launchers or Hezbollah fighters if they are there, but in Qana I can say that the village was 100 percent clear of either of those.”

The massacre of Qana triggered a global wave of condemnations against Israel. The Guardian recalled the Qana massacre of 1996 stressing that Israel´s policies had not changed although they had never yielded concrete results. In an article titled, “How can we stand by and allow this to go on?” Robert Fisk, a popular journalist for Independent, said: “You must have a heart of stone not to feel the outrage.” Also in the United Kingdom, David Clark, adviser for the Workers´ Party government, wrote that Israel had openly committed war crimes and that Blair and Bush were being hypocritical by not condemning all forms of terrorism, including Israeli state terrorism.

Some days after the massacre, some international newspapers revealed that the bombs used in the attack had been produced by the United States. The Guardian reported that the bombs were laser-controlled BSU 37/B bunker busters manufactured in the US. Another British paper, The Independent, also claimed that inscriptions on shrapnel found at the site of the attack indicated that the bombs were American. It is noteworthy to point out that the same type of bomb had been used in another attack the previous week that killed four disarmed UN observers. According to some sources, the Bush administration sent other 100 GBU-28 “bunker busters” to Israel after the Israeli aggression against Lebanon started on July 12.

In the 34 days of the war, Israeli attacks devastated Lebanese infrastructure, destroying many roads and most of bridges - including bridges in the South of the country connecting villages to their main roads. The entrances and exits of many towns and villages in the South were totally destroyed by the Israeli air force, leaving local residents as prisoners in them. The Al-Hilwah Palestinian refugee camp at Sidon, an orphanage and funeral became also “military targets” of Israel.

The southern suburb of Beirut, considered as a Hezbollah stronghold, was terribly bombed by Israeli warplanes. Israeli warplanes bombed Al Manar television station there wounding six people. Lebanese television stations also showed flames rising from a section of the Beirut airport, the country´s only international airport. The port of Beirut came under attack too.

Israel also launched air strikes against the north of Lebanon, including Tripoli, Lebanon´s second-largest city. Israeli aircraft destroyed radar installations in the ports of this city and also in Jounieh. In the town port of Abdeh, situated near Tripoli, 14 people were killed, including 9 soldiers. This showed that the claim that the goal of the Israeli offensive was only to destroy or weaken Hezbollah, but not the Lebanese state or army, was a blatant lie. Actually, Israel wanted to destroy Lebanon, a prosperous state in the region whose tourism industry is a direct competitor of Israel´s.

The bombing of petrol deposits and stations and electric lines were part of the Israeli plans for an exhaustive and systematic destruction. Blackouts became a common fact, especially in Beirut. Israel also attacked grain silos and food factories, including a dairy factory. The aerial and naval blockage prevented Lebanon from importing food and medicine, although some supplies could enter Lebanon from Syria. However, Israeli warplanes also bombed the main Beirut-Damascus road to disrupt this traffic.

The intentional and brutal calculated Israeli policy of targeting innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure in order to force the peoples of the region into submitting to Israeli dictates has been constantly used against the Palestinians ever since the Nakba of 1948, and was also put into practice in the July war and, more recently, in the Israeli offensive against Gaza. Israel has copied this doctrine from the Nazis, who used it in the territories that they occupied to crash the resistance. This brutal doctrine is now widely supported by most Israelis.

Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon´s civilian infrastructure and population. AI said in a report on the Israeli campaign: “It included directly attacking civilian objects and carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks. During more than four weeks of ground and aerial bombardment by the Israeli armed forces, the country´s infrastructure suffered destruction on a catastrophic scale,” the report said. “Statements from the Israeli military officials seem to confirm that the destruction of the infrastructure was indeed a goal of the military campaign. In village after village the pattern was similar: the streets, especially main streets, were scarred with artillery craters along their length. In some cases, cluster bomb impacts were identified.”

“Israeli forces pounded buildings into the ground,” the report went on, “reducing entire neighborhoods to rubble and turning villages and towns into ghost towns as their inhabitants fled the bombardments. Main roads, bridges and petrol stations were blown to bits. Entire families were killed in airstrikes on their homes or in their vehicles while fleeing the aerial assaults on their villages. Scores lay buried beneath the rubble of their houses for weeks, as the Red Cross and other rescue workers were prevented from accessing the areas by continuing Israeli strikes… Houses were singled out for precision-guided missile attacks and were destroyed, totally or partially, as a result. Business premises such as supermarkets or food stores and auto service stations and petrol stations were targeted.”

Nevertheless, the horrendous destruction did not ruin Lebanon´s spirit. The presence of this spirit could be seen in each and every act of solidarity that Lebanese citizens showed towards their compatriots who became homeless. These gestures also proved that the will of the Lebanese people to survive and rebuild their nation was far stronger than the will of the Israelis to kill and destroy. The Lebanese knew that Israel has launched its aggression in order to set their country “back 20 years”. But despite this fact, there is no doubt that they firmly believed that no matter how hard their nation was hit, it would be able to once again rise up from the ashes.

With its attacks Israel also sought to punish civilian population and the Lebanese government in an effort to get them to turn against Hezbollah. However, the Israeli assault had completely the opposite effect to the one that they intended: Hezbollah became even more popular than before because the Lebanese realized that it was the main force standing up to the Israeli attackers. This popular support for Hezbollah was seen in the recent parliamentary election in which more than 92% of the Shiite community -which mainly lives in the South of Lebanon and the southern suburb of Lebanon, that is, the most devastated regions in the July war- voted for Hezbollah and its allies of the National Opposition.

Israel´s daily bombardment of civilian areas in Lebanon and the murder of many innocent people, including old men, women and children were war crimes and crimes against the humanity. The UN Human Rights Commission found that Israel has violated nearly all 149 articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention that governs the treatment of civilians in war and under occupation and in so doing is guilty of war crimes according to international law.

Therefore, Israeli military and political leaders should be prosecuted for them. “Many of the violations examined in this report are war crimes that give rise to individual criminal responsibility,” the Amnesty report said. After the Israeli war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza, many people in the world is now demanding the UN General Assembly act to establish a special International Tribunal for Israel that would use its authority to prosecute Israeli officials and military officers in the Hague if they can be brought there or in absentia if they cannot. The task of the international community must be now ensure that all those who are involved in brutal crimes and massacres are brought to justice

The July War Series, Part I - The US Involvement in the Israeli Aggression

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