Robert Fisk: Remember the civilian victims of past 'Allied' bombing campaigns

People such as Raafat al-Ghosain are often tragically forgotten in the fog of air attacks.

Robert Fisk
Monday 21 March 2011 01:00 GMT
(Photo Courtesy of Al-Ghossain Family)

How life past catches up with life present. The Americans killed Raafat al-Ghosain, puctured above, just after 2am on 15 April 1986. In the days that followed her death, United States officials claimed that Libyan anti-aircraft fire might have hit her home – watch out for similar American claims in the coming hours – not far from the French embassy in suburban Tripoli.

But three weeks later, the Pentagon admitted that three bombs dropped from an F-111 aircraft as part of the US attack on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, in reprisal for an attack by Libyan agents on a Berlin nightclub, had "impacted in the vicinity of the French embassy" and had caused – to use the usual callous euphemism – "collateral damage".

Ms Ghosain was aged 18, a graduate from an English school on holiday from London, a promising and beautiful artist whose individual death went unrecorded in the country that killed her a quarter of a century ago. Her mother was Lebanese and her father Palestinian, working for a Libyan oil company. She is forgotten today.

We remember, as usual, our own dead. But not the dead of others, Libyans or Lebanese, Afghans or Syrians. We blue-eyed folk count. The rest are "collateral damage". I thought of Ms Ghosain yesterday morning as the "Allies" – a phrase trotted out immediately by the television clamouratti, I noticed – started their "ground preparation" against Libya with their "air assets" against Colonel Gaddafi. Then it was Ronald Reagan. Now it was Barack Obama. Better luck this time, I suppose.

At the funeral of the civilian dead in Tripoli 25 years ago, Colonel Gaddafi's mobs urged the press to the front of the cemetery. We were to record the result of America's murderous onslaught first hand. But when I saw the Lebanese and Palestinian flags over one of the coffins – the cedar tree over a white and red tricolour, from the country where I lived and still live – I ran through the overgrown cemetery and sought out the dead girl's distraught and badly wounded mother, Saniya. "We are Muslims but we have one God," she told me then. "We are one people. I hope Mr Reagan understands that."

For years, Ms Ghosain's father, Bassam, sought redress. He witnessed the suffering of his other daughter, Kinda, and asked the American authorities to pay, at least for her schooling in Beirut since they had caused her sister's death. Ms Ghosain had been sleeping in the television room of their home, next to the French embassy, when she was killed by a 2,000lb bomb which flattened the neighbours' house, killing all five of them.

Mr Ghosain recorded what he saw when a Libyan civil defence team raised the wall from his daughter's body: "She was lying on her back with the head turned on the right cheek, she was intact, her hair undisturbed, and a small streak of blood coming from the top side of her head, flowing down her left cheek."

On that occasion, it was the death of an American soldier in a Berlin nightclub that was the cause of the raid. Yesterday, of course, it was a United Nations resolution to prevent Colonel Gaddafi from killing civilians, just like Ms Ghosain.

Over the years, I got to known the Ghosain family in Beirut, wrote about them, went out to lunch with them, visited their home where their daughter's wonderful paintings still hang. I got to know the parents, and also Kinda, who has since married. But it was with some trepidation that I called them yesterday. Mrs Ghosain answered the phone. "I hope they get him this time," she said. And I asked, timidly, if she meant the man with the moustache. Colonel Gaddafi has a moustache. Mr Obama does not. "Yes," she said. "I mean Ghazzefi." "Ghazzefi" is the Lebanese Arabic pronunciation of the man's name.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in