War Criminals Join Hands

Today, Shimon Peres became the Labor Party’s unopposed choice for foreign minister, virtually assuring him the job in Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon’s government. It is not clear to what extent Peres, will be able to shape policy in an Israeli cabinet expected to be dominated by hawkish ministers and lead by the known war criminal, Ariel Sharon.

Peres dismissed criticism by members of the Labor Party that Ariel Sharon is using him to give his government a moderate image, without actually trying to move peace efforts forward. “I do not feel I have the qualities of a fig leaf,” Peres said.

It is not surprising that Shimon Peres is joining Sharon’s cabinet. Both Sharon and Peres are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians.

Almost five years have passed since more than 100 Lebanese civilians were slaughtered by an Israeli artillery barrage on a U.N. compound in Qana.

On April 18, 1996, when Shimon Peres was Israel’s Prime Minister, approximately 800 civilians were sheltering in the U.N. base. Most residents of Qana and neighboring villages had fled north a week earlier seeking refuge in Beirut.

Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk reported: “It was a massacre. Not since Sabra and Chatila had I seen the innocent slaughtered like this. The Lebanese refugee women and children and men lay in heaps, their heads or arms or legs missing, beheaded or disemboweled. there were well over a hundred of them. A baby lay without a head. The Israeli shells had scythed through them as they lay in the United Nations shelter, believing that they were safe under the world’s protection. Like the Muslims of Srebrenica, the Muslims of Qana were wrong.”

The absence of precautions prior to the attack in close proximity to the town of Qana and the U.N. base located there, as well as the means and methods of attack chosen by the Israeli army (a sustained artillery barrage without lines of sight to the target), put Israel in violation of international humanitarian law.

UN Military Advisor Major General Franklin van Kappen conducted an official on-site investigation of the Qana incident three days later. In his report to former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali, van Kappen concluded that “while the possibility cannot be ruled out completely, it is unlikely that the shelling of the UNIFIL compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural error,” as officials from the Israeli occupying forces had claimed.

The Clinton-administration gave the green light to Shimon Peres’ campaign against Southern Lebanon. The United States tried unsuccessfully to suppress a U.N. report blaming Israel for the massacre of more than a hundred Lebanese refugees taking shelter in a U.N. building at Qana.

On April 25, 1996, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (UNGA Res. A/RES/50/22 C), characterising Israel’s actions during the “Grapes of Wrath” offensive as “grave violations of international laws relating to the protection of civilians during war.” The United States and Israel vigorously contended that the attack had been an unfortunate mistake, and the story gradually disappeared from all but the memories of those civilians, UNIFIL personnel and journalists who had witnessed the carnage at Qana.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also conducted investigations into the Qana incident, and concluded that the shelling of the compound was most likely deliberate, not mistaken.

First, the artillery was fired without the customary warnings issued by the Israeli army in advance of attacks near positions of U.N. peacekeepers. Second, the attack continued even after UNIFIL notified the Israeli military that the base was being shelled. Third, Israel’s claims that it had no knowledge that hundreds of civilians were sheltered at the Qana base are simply lies.

The decision of those who planned the attack to choose a mix of high-explosive artillery shells that included deadly anti-personnel shells designed to maximize injuries on the ground — and the sustained firing of such shells, without warning, in close proximity to a large concentration of civilians — violated a key principle of international humanitarian law. This principle, as articulated in Article 57(2)(a) (ii) of Protocol I, states that those who plan or decide upon attacks must “take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.”

Leading up to the Qana massacre, 17 villages had been flattened, over a half million people had been rendered homeless, more than 200 had been murdered, and hundreds were wounded. Israeli Prime Minister Peres, who was granted the Nobel Prize for Peace, ordered the bombing blitz. The entire world, with the exception of the White House, condemned this barbaric attack conducted intentionally against defenseless civilians.

The tragedy at Qana was that this incident was not unique in its general features. More than eighteen years ago, refugees at Sabra and Shatila woke up to one of the bloodiest chapters in Lebanon’s history. In 1982, as defense minister, Ariel Sharon led Israel’s aggression against Lebanon that killed 20,000 people. His actions and failure to act facilitated the massacre of at least seven hundred to eight hundred, and by some accounts as many as 3,000, Palestinian and Lebanese men, women and children in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in September 1982.

Ariel Sharon, Israel’s Prime Minister-Elect and Shimon Peres, Israel’s expected Foreign Minister, both have committed acts classifiable as war crimes and crimes against humanity under the Geneva Conventions. In an age that has witnessed the international community’s growing intolerance of war crimes and the establishment of tribunals to indict and arrest war criminals in Rwanda, Serbia, and Bosnia, it is jarring indeed to see war criminals with as bloody a record as Sharon and Peres ruling a country that on a daily bases commits violations of human rights, crimes against humanity, without accountability.

The author is a Dutch-Palestinian political scientist, human rights activist and is affiliated to the the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (Al-Awda) and ElectronicIntifada.net

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