Kol Ha’ir, May 10, 1996. By Gil Riva
Last Friday [May 3] Professor Asa Kasher1 began taking the moral balance of the Grapes of Wrath operation in general and of the bombing of Qana in particular. Kasher, who formulated the Israeli army’s moral code, wrote in Ma’ariv, “At the moment the factual data in the hands of the public are partial, but I do not find in them any basis for a relevant comparison with Kufr Qassem, Deir Yassin, Sabra and Shatila or Qibya. Instead of hasty, superficial and questionable comparisons, a different type of debate is necessary.”
However, such a debate, so needed according to Professor Kasher, has already taken place. It was conducted by Captain S., the commander of the battery that fired on Qana, several minutes after the bombardment in which about 100 Lebanese refugees were killed and several dozen others were wounded.
Said A., a soldier in the battery that misfired: “We received information regarding what happened exactly five minutes after the shooting. I cannot say that the ensuing atmosphere was especially grave. We did not grasp at the time that it was a mishap that could have been avoided, so no one became depressed. The battery commander gathered us all and told us that this was war and that we had to continue firing like the great fighters that we are. Hezbollah2 entered a village in which there were some Arabs, but that was their problem. One more Arab, one less Arab, you know. Even the battery commander said that.”
Do you mean Captain S.? What exactly did he say?
“He told us that it was war. Come on, the bastards fire at you, what can you do? He told us that we were firing well and we should keep it up, and that Arabs, you know, there are millions of them.”
T., a soldier who was present at the same unit meeting: “No one spoke about it as if it was a mistake. We did our job and we are at peace with that. Even S. told us that we were great and that they were just Arabushes.”3
No one protested that term, “Arabushes”?
T.: “Don’t tell me that you are a leftist or something like that.”
A.: “How many Arabs are there and how many Jews? A few Arabushes die, there is no harm in that.”
That, if it were so, was the moral evaluation of the murderous bombing of refugees in Qana. From the testimonies of five soldiers and officers who served on that battery or the adjacent one, interviewed separately, it was unequivocally clear that soldiers and commanders of the unit did not for one minute regret the firing, that none of the senior commanders bothered to concern them with any questions of “purity of arms” and that the psychologists whom the Israeli army claimed to have sent to the soldiers were not seen by them and apparently were not needed.
“A few Arabushes die, there is no harm in that.”
The deep sorrow that was voiced by the Israeli government and by the Israeli army about killing the refugees did not go below the level of Israeli army spokesmen. The soldiers and officers who did the firing did not hear about it.
From the testimonies it was also clear that, contrary to the Israeli army’s official reports, the regional commander did not visit the soldiers after the event. More seriously, their statements give rise to a suspicion that the investigation carried out following the bombing was a cover-up. Contrary to the conclusions of the investigation published this week,4 according to which the firing at Qana was done only because of a mistake on the maps, it was found that the battery that performed the firing also did not carry out the required temperature measurements. Temperature, as every new recruit in artillery units learns, influences the course of the shells. The officers with whom we spoke testified that that was exactly what happened in Qana.
The soldiers in the battery were not really interested in what caused the mistake.
Sergeant T.: “That the cannon is not such an accurate weapon was not even mentioned in the Israeli army’s investigation. Why blame the artillery when you can pin the blame on the maps?
Captain G., an officer who commands a battery similar to the one that fired and missed: “With artillery shells it sometimes happens that there is a miss of about 100 meters. In the case of Qana, the shells fell 300 meters from the target. In the same case in which there was firing of a Katyusha missile at Israeli army forces, we received a report they were at such a place. We put a ruler on the map and checked where to fire. There was really a mistake in the marking of Qana village on the map, but we had an infantry force there, there was a suspicion that there were wounded in that force and we had to fire at the terrorists.
“A Temperature Problem”
“Seventeen terrorists were eliminated,5 and two shells escaped into entirely different areas [Qana village] because of a temperature problem. Up to one kilometer of deviation is normal, but the firing could have been much more accurate if one considered the matter of temperature. In the final calculation, it was not considered that the temperature might have posed a negative factor in firing the shell at the target, although this is known.”
Why didn’t that information appear in the report that was submitted to the chief of staff, as published?
“Perhaps ignoring that subject was intentional and justified.”
“Look, the investigation was intended for reaching conclusions and to put the person responsible for this mishap in his place. Usually when there are mishaps in training we punish the soldiers so that they may learn better the next time and to instill a fear in the others. Here there is no one to blame. Whom would you blame? The weather forecaster? Perhaps God? Would you tell God, ‘There is no excuse for you’ because the temperature was wrong?”
Is God the one who is supposed to check the temperature?
“Apparently the issue of the temperature was not treated very seriously or meticulously by the person in charge.”
If in the case of Qana no one should be punished, for what mishaps do you punish your soldiers?
“If a soldier, for example, is stuck without ammunition when bombing a target, he would be restricted to his base for that great offense.”
How did you explain the tragedy that occurred to your subordinates?
“My battery did not miss during the operation. The messages that should have been passed on to my soldiers did seep in. As an officer, I have 10 times as much knowledge as the privates. They do not know everything and they do not understand everything.”
It was written in the newspapers that psychologists came to the units and spoke with the soldiers.
“My battery did not need psychologists, nor did they come. There were some soldiers who took it hard, but they were not hysterical. They were over it within five minutes. Some people went home that day and others stayed. It was explained to them that there was a mishap because they did not fire well enough.”
Is that also what Captain S. did in his battery?
“Captain S., the battery commander, summoned his soldiers for a talk. There was no one there who took it hard. There was a lot of commotion there, because we were under pressure to fire well and it was still not known who was to blame, if anyone. But this is war, and it was taken into consideration that such things can happen.”
It was written in the newspapers that the regional commander came to speak with you. What did he say?
“The regional commander did not come to speak with us. Perhaps he was in other units. I think that K., the division commander, came to us, but again, not with my soldiers. We gave our subordinates a pep talk.”
What did you tell them?
“Look, there was not really a need for this because we do not consider it to be a crisis. Such things happen. Arabs are Arabs, there is nothing to be done. In a war such things are just waiting to happen.( …)athere was no need for those psychologists and all that bother.”
Captain C. was right. None of the soldiers and officers interviewed for this article needed a psychologist. Even the talks that senior commanders in their corps held were curt and, apparently, just for protocol.
Who came and spoke with you after the event and what did they say?
T.: “Lt. Col. P., the division commander, gave us a pep talk. He told us that we work hard, we fire well and that the Israeli army needs patience to win this war. P. asked us to keep up our general good performance.”
Did you ask him questions about the attack on Qana?
“First of all, who had time to ask? He spoke for two minutes and he went away.”
A.: “Captain S. also held a talk with us. After the event he said that we were great, it was just some dead Arabushes and for that they made a commotion all over the world.(…)
Did Captain S. use the term “Arabushes”?
A.: “Yes, that’s what he said and that is also how we felt. One Arab more, one Arab less, you know.”
T.: “I do not recall the word that he used, but that was the general idea.”
A.: “You must understand, it happens all the time, things like that. Only in the case of Qana there was a commotion, because of the number of Arabs.”
N., an officer in the same batalion, in a battery similar to that of Captain S.: “I do not want to talk about whether psychologists did or did not come. Among us no one was frustrated.”
Did you hear Captain S. tell his soldiers that “it was just some dead Arabushes”?
“I don’t know what were the messages passed on to the soldiers by the command ranks.. I have no idea whether S. was wrong in what he said to his soldiers. I know that soldiers like to talk and to rat about things like that. I think what he told them was all right. As a commander I know that what I had to pass on to my soldiers did pass on and what was not supposed to pass on did not.”
Do you mean what Captain S. said?
“Once again, I don’t want to talk about what he said. I do not know who was the rat who managed to tell you that and how it already reached you. Perhaps some of his soldiers did not understand him properly and perhaps he did not make himself clear and perhaps other things happened. As far as I am concerned you can write ‘no comment.’”
Did the regional commander talk to you?
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
In the newspapers it was written that he came to visit you and speak with you. But I understood from conversations with soldiers that he did not come.
“I cannot tell you.”
And are you certain that Captain S. did not say “it was just some dead ‘Arabushes’”?
“Look, in principle I am not permitted to give an interview without a representative of the Israeli army spokesman being present. It would be a pity to slander good officers because of some nonsense they uttered.”
Did he or did he not say it?
“I don’t want to say.”
These are the statements made by five soldiers, two of them officers, who participated in the firing at Qana. Professor Asa Kasher and other military and morality commentators are now invited to carry out a moral evaluation of the “Grapes of Wrath” operation in general and of Captain S.’s battery in particular. They are invited to express their opinion about a place where the disregard for human lives begins with not checking the temperature and ignoring the maps and tell us where it all will end.
1. Professor Asa Kasher (Philosophy, Tel Aviv University) is one of the shining intellectuals of the Meretz list, and in my view a disgusting hypocrite. The article referred to “proved” that Israel was fully justified in everything it did in Lebanon under the Rabin-Peres government. Needless to say, Kasher strongly opposed what Likud has done in Lebanon. All Meretz intellectuals and politicians took the same line and this will be one of the reasons for the decline of their party. The “code” referred to is a hypocritical document of no value.
2. Army slang for “Hezbollah fighters or members.”
3. The common Hebrew insult against Arabs. The word is a combination of the word “Arab” with the end of the Hebrew word “rats” [“Akhbaroshim”].
4. The commander of the artillery corps was the sole “investigating officer.” The Meretz hypocrites did not even demand a judiciary committee of investigation, as they do when Likud is in power. It is by now assumed even in the Hebrew press that the barefaced lies of the Israeli army influenced the U.N. report which Israel and the U.S. are condemning.
5. No reliance should be placed on these “body counts.”
© Copyright 1997 American Educational Trust