Robert Fisk: Slaughter in Qana

In his weekly dispatch from the front line, our
veteran war reporter witnesses the aftermath of a
Published: 06 August 2006 
Sunday, 30 July

Qana again. AGAIN! I write in my notebook. Ten years
ago, I was in the little hill village in southern
Lebanon when the Israeli army fired artillery shells
into the UN compound and killed 106 Lebanese, more
than half of them children. Most died of amputation
wounds - the shells exploded in the air - and now
today I am heading south again to look at the latest
Qana massacre.

Fifty-nine dead? Thirty-seven? Twenty-eight? An air
strike this time, and the usual lies follow. Ten years
ago, Hizbollah were "hiding" in the UN compound.
Untrue. Now, we are supposed to believe that the dead
of Qana - today's slaughter - were living in a house
which was a storage base for Hizbollah missiles.
Another lie - because the dead were all killed in the
basement, where they would never be if rockets were
piled floor-to-ceiling. Even Israel later abandons
this nonsense. I watch Lebanese soldiers stuffing the
children's corpses into plastic bags - then I see them
pushing the little bodies into carpets because the
bags have run out.

But the roads, my God, the roads of southern Lebanon.
Windows open, listen for the howl of jets. I am
astonished that only one journalist - a young Lebanese
woman - has died so far. I watch the little silver
fish as they filter through the sky.

On my way back to Beirut, I find the traffic snarled
up by a bomb-smashed bridge, where the Lebanese army
is trying to tow a vegetable-laden truck out of a
river. I go down to them and slosh through the water
to tell the army sergeant that he is out of his mind.
He's got almost 50 civilian cars backed up in a queue,
just waiting for another Israeli air attack. Leave the
lorry till later, I tell him.

Other soldiers arrive, and there is a 10-minute debate
about the wisdom of my advice, while I am watching the
skies and pointing out a diving Israeli F-16. Then the
sergeant decides that Fisk is not as stupid as he
looks, cuts the tow-rope and lets the traffic through.
I am caked in dust, and Katya Jahjoura, a Lebanese
photographer colleague, catches sight of me and bursts
into uncontrollable laughter. "You look as if you have
been living in rubble!" she cries, and I shoot her a
desperate look. Better get out of this place, in case
we get turned into rubble, I reply.

Monday, 31 July

Benjamin Netanyahu tries another lie, an old one
reheated from 1982, when Menachem Begin used to claim
that the civilian casualties of Israel's air raids
were no different from the civilians killed in Denmark
in an RAF raid in the Second World War. Ho hum, nice
try, Benjamin, but not good enough.

First, the story. RAF aircraft staged an air raid on
the Nazi Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen, but
massacred more than 80 children when their bombs went
astray. The Israelis are slaughtering the innocent of
southern Lebanon from high altitude - high enough to
avoid Hizbollah missiles. The reason the RAF killed 83
children, 20 nuns and three firemen on 21 March 1945
was that their Mosquitoes were flying so low to avoid
civilian casualties that one of the British aircraft
clipped its wing on a railroad tower outside
Copenhagen central station, and crashed into the
school. The other aircraft assumed the smoke from its
high-octane fuel was the target.

Interesting, though, the way Israel's leaders are
ready to manipulate the history of the Second World
War. No Israeli aircraft has been lost over Lebanon in
this war and the civilians of Lebanon are dying by the
score, repeatedly and bombed from a great height.

Tuesday, 1 August

Electricity off, my fridge flooded over the floor
again, my landlord Mustafa at the front door with a
plastic plate of figs from the tree in his front
garden. The papers are getting thinner. However,
Paul's restaurant has reopened in East Beirut where I
lunch with Marwan Iskander, one of murdered ex-prime
minister Rafiq Hariri's senior financial advisers.

Marwan and his wife Mona are a source of joy, full of
jokes and outrageous (and accurate) comments about the
politicians of the Middle East. I pay for the meal,
and Marwan produces - as I knew he would - a huge
Cuban cigar for me. I gave up smoking years ago. But I
think the war allows me to smoke again, just a little.

Wednesday, 2 August

Huge explosions in the southern suburbs of Beirut
shake the walls of my home. A cauldron of fire ascends
into the sky. What is there left to destroy in the
slums which scribes still call a "Hizbollah

The Israelis are now bombing all roads leading to
Syria, especially at the border crossing at Masna
(very clever, as if the Hizbollah is bringing its
missiles into Lebanon in convoys on the international
highway). Then the guerrilla army, which started this
whole bloody fiasco, fires off dozens more rockets
into Israel.

I put my nose into the suburbs and get a call from a
colleague in south Lebanon who describes the village
of Srifa as "like Dresden". World War Two again. But
the suburbs do look like a scene from that conflict.
My grocer laments that he has no milk, no yoghurt,
which - as a milkoholic myself - I lament.

Thursday, 3 August

More friends wanting to know if it's safe to return to
Lebanon. An old acquaintance tells me that when she
insisted on coming back to Beirut, a relative threw a
shoe and a book at her. What was the book, I asked? A
volume of poetry, it seems.

Electricity back, and I torture myself by watching
CNN, which is reporting this slaughterhouse as if it
is a football match. Score so far: a few dozen
Israelis, hundreds of Lebanese, thousands of missiles,
and even more thousands of Israeli bombs. The missiles
come from Iran - as CNN reminds us. The Israeli bombs
come from the United States - as CNN does not remind

Friday, 4 August

The day of the bridges. Abed and I are up the highway
north of Beirut with Ed Cody of The Washington Post
(he who reads Verlaine) and we manage to drive on side
roads through the Christian Metn district, which has
inexplicably been attacked (since the Christian
Maronites of Lebanon are supposed to be Israel's best
friends here). "You cannot believe how angry we are,"
a woman says to me, surveying her smashed car and
smashed home and shattered windows and the rubble all
over the road. A viaduct has fallen into a valley, all
200 metres of it, though another side road is left
completely undamaged, and we cruise along it to the
next destroyed bridge. So what was the point of
bombing the bridges?

We drive back to Beirut on empty roads, windows open
and the whisper of jets still in the sky. I go to the
Associated Press office, where my old mate Samir
Ghattas is the bureau chief. "So how were the
bridges?" he asks. "I guess you were driving fast." He
can say that again.

I do an interview with CBC in Toronto and talk openly
of Israeli war crimes, and no one in the Canadian
studio feels this is impolitic or frightening or any
of the other usual fears of television producers, who
think they will be faced with the usual slurs about
"anti-Semitic" reporters who dare to criticise Israel.

I turn on the television, and there is Hassan
Nasrallah, Hizbollah's boss, threatening Israel with
deeper missile penetrations if Israel bombs Beirut. I
listen to Israel's Prime Minister, saying much the
same thing in reverse.

I call these people the "roarers", but I leaf through
my tatty copy of King Lear to see what they remind me
of. Bingo. "I shall do such things I know not, but
they shall be the terrors of the earth." Shakespeare
should be reporting this war.

Saturday, 5 August

Lots of stories about a massive Israeli ground
offensive, which turn out to be untrue. The UN in
southern Lebanon suspects that Israel is manufacturing
non-existent raids to pacify public opinion as
Hizbollah missiles continue to fly across the
frontier. But a friend calls to tell me that Hizbollah
might be running out of rockets. Possibly true, I
reflect, and think of all the bridges which haven't
yet been blown to pieces.

More gruesome photographs of the dead in the Lebanese
papers. We in the pure "West" spare our readers these
terrible pictures - we "respect" the dead too much to
print them, though we didn't respect them very much
when they were alive - and we forget the ferocious
anger which Arabs feel when these images are placed in
front of them. What are we storing up for ourselves? I
wrote about another 9/11 in the paper this morning.
And I fear I'm right. 


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