Peres was no peace­maker

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - ROBERT FISK

WHEN the world heard that Shimon Peres had died on Sept 28, 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 in­quiry 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”.

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