Shimon Peres, deputy prime minister of Israel, received a standing ovation at Yale on Nov. 29. As reported by the News (“Peres Stresses Globalization,” 11/30), the Middle East Crisis Committee and other organizations protested his presence. Missing was a thorough explanation of why anyone would protest a Nobel Peace laureate.
Shimon Peres is responsible for the Qana Massacre of 1996, he was an architect of Israel’s nuclear weapons program and he is part of the current government that has recently killed more than 1,000 in Lebanon and 500 in Palestine, using several illegal weapons in the process.
People justify or excuse Israel’s policies in many ways, but none of these explanations holds up under scrutiny. Some say Israel’s violence is unavoidable, accidental or in self-defense. Others assume that Israeli violence is categorically unintentional. When Israel secretly produces nuclear weapons, we look the other way because they mean no harm. If there is a massacre, it is easily brushed off as an unfortunate necessity or a careless error. It is generally assumed that Arabs want to kill Israelis, but Israelis do not want to kill Arabs. After decades of Israeli occupation and violence, it is not hard to become skeptical of these claims.
Although many knee-jerk defenders of Israel — who believe Israeli officials simply cannot be responsible for violence — refuse to take into consideration historical accounts, we would like to point out some details of the massacre of Qana in 1996 to which Peres is closely linked.
In 1996, Israel was occupying the south of Lebanon — an occupation that started in 1982. By this time, close to 100,000 Lebanese had been killed. Israel conducted a bombardment campaign from April 11 to April 27 to eliminate Hezbollah, which had formed in 1984 in reaction to Israeli occupation. On April 18, 1996, Israel shelled a U.N. base in Qana, Lebanon, where 800 civilians had taken refuge from bombardment. In the process, Israel killed 106 innocent people and injured many more. Prime Minister Shimon Peres apologized and said it was an accident.
The U.N. initiated an on-the-ground investigation that concluded error was unlikely: “The pattern of impacts is inconsistent with a normal overshooting of the declared target (the mortar site) by a few rounds, as suggested by the Israeli forces.”
Israeli officials first claimed that they had no idea what was occurring on the ground in Qana. However, the U.N. investigation revealed that “[t]he presence of one helicopter and an RPV was documented on a video tape, which covers the latter part of the shelling. … The RPV on the tape was of a type with a real-time data link capability.” In other words, both human witnesses and electronic observations indicate that officials knew what was going on in Qana. Furthermore, the investigation found that the decision to fire was not made by low-level military personnel, but was sent from Northern Command in Israel.
U.N. officials testified that they repeatedly called Israeli officials to tell them to halt their attack, but that the shelling continued for an additional 10 minutes after Israel received the plea.
Why would anyone attack a civilian population? Israeli Defense Official Yitzhak Bailey wrote in Haaretz in 1995, “Unfortunately, the only way to stop Hezbollah actions against the Israeli forces in south Lebanon is to inflict heavy blows on the passive population. … Then Hezbollah would be loathed.”
One soldier involved in the shelling of Qana interviewed in the Israeli newspaper Kol Ha’ir after the massacre said, “The battery commander gathered us all and told us that this was war and that we had to continue firing like the great fighters that we are. Hezbollah entered a village in which there were some Arabs, but that was their problem. One more Arab, one less Arab, you know.”
Knee-jerk defenders of Israel would blame the wars with Lebanon on the PLO or Hezbollah and say that if these groups had not tried to fight Israel, none of this would have happened. What we don’t understand is why people expect the Lebanese or Palestinian people to be the first in history not to fight foreign invasion and occupation of their lands. Why is the blame laid entirely on the Lebanese and Palestinians and not on the country that occupies the West Bank, Gaza, southern Lebanon and the Golan? Is occupation unintentional?
As it does with all motions critical of Israel, the United States vetoed the 1996 resolution condemning Israel for killing 106 civilians and calling for further investigation of the events.
Tragically for Qana, it experienced a nightmarish form of deja vu this summer during the more recent attempt by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and the Israeli government to eliminate Hezbollah in Lebanon. The 2006 Qana massacre was followed by regrets and claims that it occurred only because Hezbollah was firing on Israel. However, the New York Times reporter on the ground said, “There was little evidence of fighters on Sunday [the day of the bombing].” Haaretz reported on the following day, “It now appears that the military had no information on rockets launched from the site of the building, or the presence of Hezbollah men at the time.”
Incidentally, in the recent war on Lebanon, Peres’ government has admitted using the chemical weapon “white phosphorous” and dropping more than one million cluster bombs in civilian areas. This internationally condemned (except by the United States) act of inhumanity occurred on the last three days of fighting after a cease-fire had already been negotiated. Was this an accident too?
The man who was given a standing ovation at Yale is responsible for horrendous war crimes. Peace can be achieved, but only when occupation and war crimes are renounced, not excused and rewarded.
Sam Bernstein, Craig Berman and Leela Yellesetty graduated from Yale College in 2005. Khalil Iskarous works at the Yale-affiliated Haskins Laboratories.