Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lest We Forget “Never Again”

April 18, 1996, Israel Defense Force shelled a UN compound in Qana, south Lebanon, killing 106 and injuring 116 of the 800 civilians seeking refuge there. Back then, the UN expressed outrage and demanded accountability, stating that its officials had repeatedly given details of the UN facility and its refugee population to Israel. Israel denied this.
July 30, 2006, Israel Air Force attacked a three-story home in Qana where 63 villagers had sheltered in a basement for 18 days. Survivors suggest the house may have been targeted when pilots spotted flickering candlelight. Rubble from one of three bomb strikes blocked the basement door.
What happened after that?
According to accounts related to me in Qana in 2006, family members sought one another by shrieking names while parents felt around in the pitch dark for their children, all the while slipping in blood and scrambling to remove dust from lungs and debris from limbs while the able-bodied scrabbled with bare hands at the blocked exit.
One mother found a toddler she refused to release even after she escaped the ruins. Bleeding, in shock, and sheltering under a tree, she rocked the already dead child until dawn revealed the child to be her neighbor's. Her own child, smothered to death under dust and rubble, was still in the debris - one of 16 children of the 28 confirmed dead; 13 more dead were never found.
The UN expressed outrage and demanded accountability. The US did too, sort of….
My  trip to Qana in 2006 allowed me to understand, first hand, these sites and how these attacks are remembered.
Memorials at the site of the UN attack in Qana include a shiny black pyramid-shape to remember the UN’s UNFIL victims. For the Lebanese dead, an elaborate photo mural, a series of coffin-shapes spread over the plaza and, on the ruined floor of what once an office in the UN compound, a rusty shell casing and a man’s sandal still lay in the bombed structure.
 See more pictures: New holocaust.

A memorial to the dead of the Qana basement is built over the home’s concrete foundation; the youngest victim was 10 months old.   

Memorial to Israel's bombing on a home and killed people who'd
sheltered for 18 days in the basement. Photo: Susan Galleymore

Ibrahim Ahmed’s family’s photo collage honors its dead;
Ibrahim Ahmed is shown right of Zena’s husband, center.

I talked to Zena, whose husband and father were killed, and to Zena’s mother, Maryam, wife to patriarch Ibrahim Ahmed - dead, along with 10 members of the family. Today, these women, like many others who lost heads of household in the attack, eke out a meager living (sometimes supplemented by Hezbollah).

Never again? Or, more of the same?
This year, in July, Israeli forces struck UNRWA schools in Gaza. As of the end of July, the toll of dead and injured had not been fully tallied for this latest event (RT reports, “Officials in Gaza say the shelling killed at least 15 and wounded 90 others”). The overall tally of dead Palestinians in Gaza, so far, is more than 1,300 since July 8 (with Israel targeting 4,100 sites in Gaza’s 139-square-mile area).
According to The Guardian's Harriet Sherwood, reporting from Jerusalem, "United Nations officials described the killing of sleeping children as a disgrace to the world and accused Israel of a serious violation of international law….Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said the attack was "outrageous and unjustifiable" and demanded "accountability and justice". The UN said its officials had repeatedly given details of the school and its refugee population to Israel."
In the US, Israel’s most staunch ally and weapons’ supplier, the White House called this week’s shelling of the UN facility by the Israeli Defense Forces 'totally unacceptable and totally indefensible'.
Nevertheless, RT reports that US Congress “overwhelmingly approved an emergency measure on Friday [August 1st] to grant $225 million in additional revenue to Israel for the country’s Iron Dome missile defense system.” (The inimitable Sen. John McCain explained, “We are with the Israelis, because if they don’t have the Iron Dome, they can’t defend themselves.”)
And, the Pentagon reportedly approved Israel’s request for additional rounds of ammunition from the US.

It is difficult not to feel deep cynicism and not to express biting sarcasm at these predictable goings on. How dare those inconvenient and pesky Palestinians resist their slaughter? Why do they insist upon clinging to land subjected to Israel’s relentless 19th century-style colonizing project?
And, after several such attacks on UN facilities since the 1996 attack on the UN in Qana, how can UN representatives bear to manufacture yet more outrage and indignation for public consumption at yet another instance of the slow-moving genocide of the Palestinians?
How can "the public" watch …then turn away to busy itself with the banal?
Do the Israelis attack so shamelessly because they are certain that the UN's expressions of bitter outrage (and the US’s carefully phrased-to-be-meaningless condemnations) to the public will be as impotent and as futile as ever? No matter what Israelis do, US support, weapons, and ammunition will keep flowing – after all, how else will Israel defend itself?
If the world remembers Qana - or Cana - as the site where Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding two thousand years ago, why can it not remember Qana’s - and Gaza’s - more recent yet just as dramatic events?
Perhaps it is simply pesky and inconvenient to remember distressing events unless they are drummed into heads via assiduously courted and supported pro-Israel historians, academics, history books, movies, news reports, and propaganda, or unless they are as well funded as the marketing campaigns and museums around the world dedicated to the mantra “Never Again”.

1 comment:

Harry Clark said...

In 2006 I heard the Arabophile national politicians, all half dozen of them, speak at an ADC meeting in Washington. Dennis Kucinich visited Qana in 2006 and spoke quite eloquently about it. I think the number of such politicnas has diminished even since.