A Brief History
On April 18, 1996, the village of Qana in Southern Lebanon was shelled by artillery fire from the Israeli Defense Force, the official Israeli military organization. Unfortunately, Qana was the location of a United Nations compound manned by members of the Fijian United Nations Interim Force and had been providing haven to about 800 Lebanese civilian refugees. The attack left 4 of the Fijian soldiers wounded and killed 106 of the Lebanese civilians, injuring another 116 civilians. The bombardment was part of an Israeli offensive operation from April 11-April 27, 1996, known as Operation Grapes of Wrath, an operation to stop the Islamic terrorist faction known as Hezbollah, an Iranian backed group, from sending rockets into Israeli territory from havens in Lebanon.
Obviously, a tragedy of this magnitude generated heated accusations against the IDF, alleging the artillery strike was deliberately targeting the UN site. Just as obviously, Israel vehemently denied any deliberate atrocity and claimed mistaken coordinates or some other user error on the part of the forward observer or artillery crews. When Israel was accused of having a drone (remotely piloted unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with real time television cameras) over the target immediately prior to the attack, the Israelis denied the presence of the drone. Video evidence force the IDF to admit the drone had been present, but the IDF claimed the drone was on an unrelated mission and did not see the Qana emplacement was of a civilian/refugee nature under the aegis of the UN.
The Israelis had had enough of the terrorist rockets being fired into their territory, targeting civilian Israelis, and mounted the Operation Grapes of Wrath to ferret out the Hezbollah guerillas/terrorists (depending on your point of view) responsible for the attacks. The Israeli offensive drove civilians into the UN camp for protection from the fighting. In just the first couple days of the operation the Hezbollah fighters fired 120 rockets into Israel, often from civilian areas or behind civilian areas in order to hide from the IDF and use civilians and refugees as human shields. As despicable as the Hezbollah tactics were, the IDF was not exactly extra-careful to avoid civilian casualties when going after the Hezbollah rocketeers. In fact, at least a few Hezbollah fighters are known to have gone into the camp at Qana, where apparently their families were camped.
The situation in the Middle East, specifically between Israel and their Arab neighbors has been volatile since the creation of Israel in 1948, a creation largely in response to the slaughter that was the “Holocaust” of World War II. Although Jewish people have had a longer history of occupying the land that is Israel, the Arab/Muslim people of the area have been in command of the land since the rise of Islam in the 7th Century when Muslims first displaced the Byzantine Empire from Palestine/Israel. Christians tried to retake the “Holy Land” (what is now mostly modern Israel) from the Muslims during the Crusades, and the British Empire managed to obtain hegemony over Palestine/Israel after World War I with the defeat of the Turks. The land has seen fighting over much of its history, and that fighting has been simmering ever since 1948, and threatens to become much worse as each side becomes more enraged with the other.
A United Nations investigation of the incident at Qana concluded that the artillery fire was deliberately targeted exactly where the shells struck, with no evidence of “short” or “long” mis-targeting or misfiring. Of course, Israel disputed those conclusions. Israel also expressed sorrow at the loss of innocent lives and some displeasure with the UN for not condemning Hezbollah from firing rockets from civilian areas. An investigation by Amnesty International also concluded the Israeli target was indeed the UN camp at Qana, a willful act to hit what the Israelis believed to be Hezbollah positions in spite of the presence of civilians and UN troops. The United Nations voted to condemn the Israeli attack, with only Israel and the United States voting against the resolution.
Some Israeli soldiers interviewed on the condition of anonymity supposedly admitted targeting the camp, claiming that they had a moral right to attack their attackers even if those attackers hid among civilians. Question for students (and subscribers): Do soldiers have this “right?” Please let us know in the comments section below this article. We suspect different answers depending on which side of the conflict the observer is on.
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For more information, please see…
Bard, Mitchell. Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict. AICE , 2016.
Smith, Charles. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016.
The featured image in this article, a diagram from Major-General van Kappen’s report to the Secretary-General of UN Boutrous Boutros-Ghali dated 7 May 1996 (S/1996/337), is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.