Shimon Peres was no peacemaker. I’ll never forget the sight of pouring blood and burning bodies at Qana

by Robert Fisk
The Independent

Peres said the massacre came as a ‘bitter surprise’. It was a lie: the UN had repeatedly told Israel the camp was packed with refugees

When the world heard that Shimon Peres had died, it shouted “Peacemaker!” But when I heard that Peres was dead, I thought of blood and fire and slaughter.

I saw the results: babies torn apart, shrieking refugees, smouldering bodies. It was a place called Qana and most of the 106 bodies ? half of them children ? now lie beneath the UN camp where they were torn to pieces by Israeli shells in 1996. I had been on a UN aid convoy just outside the south Lebanese village. Those shells swished right over our heads and into the refugees packed below us. It lasted for 17 minutes.

Shimon Peres, standing for election as Israel’s prime minister ? a post he inherited when his predecessor Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated ? decided to increase his military credentials before polling day by assaulting Lebanon. The joint Nobel Peace Prize holder used as an excuse the firing of Katyusha rockets over the Lebanese border by the Hezbollah. In fact, their rockets were retaliation for the killing of a small Lebanese boy by a booby-trap bomb they suspected had been left by an Israeli patrol. It mattered not.

A few days later, Israeli troops inside Lebanon came under attack close to Qana and retaliated by opening fire into the village. Their first shells hit a cemetery used by Hezbollah; the rest flew directly into the UN Fijian army camp where hundreds of civilians were sheltering. Peres announced that “we did not know that several hundred people were concentrated in that camp. It came to us as a bitter surprise.”

It was a lie. The Israelis had occupied Qana for years after their 1982 invasion, they had video film of the camp, they were even flying a drone over the camp during the 1996 massacre ? a fact they denied until a UN soldier gave me his video of the drone, frames from which we published in The Independent. The UN had repeatedly told Israel that the camp was packed with refugees.

This was Peres’s contribution to Lebanese peace. He lost the election and probably never thought much more about Qana. But I never forgot it.

When I reached the UN gates, blood was pouring through them in torrents. I could smell it. It washed over our shoes and stuck to them like glue. There were legs and arms, babies without heads, old men’s heads without bodies. A man’s body was hanging in two pieces in a burning tree. What was left of him was on fire.

On the steps of the barracks, a girl sat holding a man with grey hair, her arm round his shoulder, rocking the corpse back and forth in her arms. His eyes were staring at her. She was keening and weeping and crying, over and over: “My father, my father.” If she is still alive ? and there was to be another Qana massacre in the years to come, this time from the Israeli air force ? I doubt if the word “peacemaker” will be crossing her lips.

There was a UN enquiry which stated in its bland way that it did not believe the slaughter was an accident. The UN report was accused of being anti-Semitic. Much later, a brave Israeli magazine published an interview with the artillery soldiers who fired at Qana. An officer had referred to the villagers as “just a bunch of Arabs” (‘arabushim’ in Hebrew). “A few Arabushim die, there is no harm in that,” he was quoted as saying. Peres’s chief of staff was almost equally carefree: “I don’t know any other rules of the game, either for the [Israeli] army or for civilians…”

Peres called his Lebanese invasion “Operation Grapes of Wrath”, which ? if it wasn’t inspired by John Steinbeck ? must have come from the Book of Deuteronomy. “The sword without and terror within,” it says in Chapter 32, “shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of grey hairs.” Could there be a better description of those 17 minutes at Qana?

Yes, of course, Peres changed in later years. They claimed that Ariel Sharon ? whose soldiers watched the massacre at Sabra and Chatila camps in 1982 by their Lebanese Christian allies ? was also a “peacemaker” when he died. At least he didn’t receive the Nobel Prize.

Peres later became an advocate of a “two state solution”, even as the Jewish colonies on Palestinian land ? which he once so fervently supported ? continued to grow.

Now we must call him a “peacemaker”. And count, if you can, how often the word “peace” is used in the Peres obituaries over the next few days. Then count how many times the word Qana appears.


America's Murderous Legacy in Laos

The Real News Network

As Barack Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos, The Real News brings you an interview with Fred Branfman, the man who first exposed America's secret bombing campaign there.

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: As Barack Obama, the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos, we replay a report that looks at the legacy of the US bombing in Laos. We bring you an interview with the man that exposed the massive secret US bombing of Laos.

FRED BRANFMAN: From the Deputy Chief of Mission to Laos testifying to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee--this is an exact quote--when he was asked why they quadrupled the bombing of northern Laos, he said, quote, Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn't just let them sit there with nothing to do. unquote.

BARACK OBAMA: For the people of Laos, obviously this war was no secret. Over the course of roughly a decade the United States dropped more bombs on Laos than Germany and Japan during World War II
NOOR: President Obama visited the Cope Center that works with victims of explosives left from the Vietnam War era, providing them with prosthetic limbs and takes part in unexploded ordnance clearing efforts.

OBAMA: 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped on this country. For the people of Laos, the war did not end when the bombs stopped falling. 80 million cluster munitions did not explode.

NOOR: Despite Obama's visit the United States remains one of the handful of countries that continue to manufacture and sell cluster bombs, to its allies such as Saudi Arabia which is currently using them in Yemen.

This report is from 2008.

PETER HERBY: A cluster munition is a canister which is fired from an aircraft or an artillery position which contains many small sub munitions, the small munitions, which then explode. And some of these canisters can contain as many as 650 of these small sub munitions.

REKHA VISWANATHAN: Seventy-eight million unexploded cluster bombs are scattered across Laos to this day, active reminders of the Vietnam War. From 1964 to 1973, the US illegally bombed the country as part of a secret war to disrupt Vietcong supply routes into Vietnam.

HERBY: In Laos, they have been everywhere at the time of the war, in the 1960s and '70s, in villages. And the place was basically uninhabitable because of the degree of weapons contamination and, mainly, cluster munition contamination.

VISWANATHAN: The Laos National Unexploded Ordinance Program, or UXO, says Laos has the distinction of being per capita the most heavily bombed nation in the world.

MENG JUNLAMANEE: I went to the paddy field to work. I started ploughing the field, not knowing there was a bomb there. I ploughed the soil, hit the bomb and it exploded. I didn't know there was a bomb underneath.

JA-LOR: I was pulling the weeds in the paddy field. The hoe hit the bomb, and it exploded.

EDWIN FAIGMANE: People know about the dangers about this UXO, about these cluster munitions on the ground. But it's either they leave it on the ground and they will not be able to farm, or they take the risk just to be able to do some farming and plant rice.

HERBY: Our belief is it will be necessary and it's possible to prohibit perhaps more than 95 percent of existing cluster munitions, which means billions of sub munitions that are sitting in stocks around the world.

NOOR: We also interviewed the man that brought the US bombing of Laos to world attention in 1969, Fred Branfman. He passed away in 2014. This is part of our 2013 interview with Fred.

BRANFMAN: When I interviewed over 1,000 refugees from northern Laos who had had their homes and villages destroyed, tens of thousands of people murdered by U.S. bombing, the one thing I couldn't figure out was why the bombing had so increased after November 1968, when the U.S. had halted bombing over North Vietnam. All the peasants were telling me that the bombing had suddenly become four or five times greater. And I knew there was no military reason for it. It was only a few months later that I read--and this is a very important quote from the Deputy Chief of Mission to Laos testifying to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee--this is an exact quote--when he was asked why they quadrupled the bombing of northern Laos, he said, quote, Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn't just let them sit there with nothing to do. unquote.

Now the situation we have today is very similar. The Bush and Obama administrations have created the first US force of American assassins in our history. They've also created automated machines of war called drones. They have to come up with new missions. For example, President Obama stated as recently as last month that the drone strikes are only aimed at people whose names we know who are plotting to kill us back in America and who we can't get any other way.

This is an absolutely falsehood. The evidence is overwhelming that most of the drone strikes in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Somalia, are what they call signature strikes. These are strikes against people whose names they don't know. They have no idea what their names are. They're drone striking them on the basis of there's a crowd of people who they decide might be hiding a militant.

Now you might ask yourself why did they go from striking named people to striking unnamed people. Why did they go? They've only been able to name 77 senior Al-Qaeda leaders and Taliban leaders by name and they've killed 3-5,000 other people. Well the reason is obvious. They're all these drones sitting around out there. They don't know the names of that many Senior Al-Qaeda leaders. They ran out of targets so they then decided to start killing nameless people that both General McChrystal and the former Director of National Intelligence now tell us is infuriating the Muslim world.

NOOR: From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.