Robert Fisk: Slaughter in Qana

In his weekly dispatch from the front line, our veteran war reporter witnesses the aftermath of a massacre
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The Independent Online

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 stronghold"?

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 us.

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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