Robert Fisk Discusses U.S. Coverage of the Qana's Massacre

The voice at the other end of the line gave him instructions to meet at 1:00 p.m. at a crossroads outside Qana. Robert Fisk never drove to southern Lebanon as fast as he did that day. And at 1:00 p.m., he saw in the rearview mirror of his parked car a UN jeep pull up behind him. A UN soldier in battledress and blue beret walked up to him, shook hands and said: "1 copied the tape before the UN took it. The plane is there... 1 have two young children, the same age as the ones 1 carried dead in my own arms at Qana. This is for them. "From his battledress blouse, the soldier pulled a videotape and threw it in the passenger seat of the car.

 This is Fisk' s account of how he obtained a copy of the amateur videotape showing Israeli planes flying over Qana during the bombing which took the lives of more than 100 civilians a year ago.

 "Israeli" authorities repeatedly denied that any reconnaissance planes had flown over the UN compound before, during, or after the bombing and insisted that the attack was an "error." However, the UN report on Qana  established the presence of two Israeli helicopters and a "remotely piloted vehicle" at the time of the attack and concluded that "it is unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors."

 Fisk aired the 8-minute amateur videotape at the American University (AU) in Washington, D.C., during a two-hour presentation organized by ADC and AU's Center for the Global South. The video showed that the shelling was heavily concentrated on the UN compound, which rules out the possibility of a "misfiring." It also showed parts of the compound bursting in flames, scorching the bodies of victims trapped inside. Fisk used contents of the videotape in his reports on Qana for the London-based Independent which distributed the tape to anyone who asked for it.

 Soon, the image of the "Israeli" planes was broadcast all over the world. The UN Report on Qana was then made public after being originally withheld, largely due to U.S. pressures. "The mighty powers may try to cover up," Fisk pointed out. "But the little men can still sometimes win".

On the day of the Qana massacre, Fisk spent seven hours under Israeli gunfire and ended the day walking in the streams of blood coming from the dead bodies of the children, women and men who had fled their homes and sought safe haven in the UN compound. Be recalled the gripping image of a young girl holding a dying middle-aged man, murmuring " my father, my father," as she rocked his body back and forth in her little arms. "It was like being at the gates of hell," he said.

Fisk's eyewitness coverage of the massacre at Qana was one of the most vivid and gripping in sharp contrast with mainstream American reporting which tended to go along with the Israeli version of events. During his presentation, entitled "Threats, Lies and Videotape," Fisk discussed flaws in media coverage of the Middle East and some of the challenges facing journalists today, including the physical dangers of reporting in a volatile region.

Because of what he calls " geographical shrinkage," which leads to heavy reliance on so-called experts, think tanks, and the internet, some journalists write about events taking place across continents without ever leaving home. As a result, a stereotypical and narrow view of the world replaces a first-hand account of events. It is thus that reasonable opposition to a " flawed peace treaty" turns into " support for terrorism," regardless of the fact that millions of Arabs and Muslims feel they are being " bulldozed by a Mideast peace treaty with time-bomb attached to it".

In the case of Qana, American journalists repeated the "Israeli" claim endorsed by the U.S. government that the attack on Qana was a mistake despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Fisk, who holds more British journalism awards than any other foreign correspondent, was one of the few to expose the facts behind "Israel's" vicious attack on Qana.

While some journalists can tell a good story, others uncover truths, and a few contribute to recording history. Fisk can do all of these things with the courage and integrity befitting his profession. A year after Qana, his coverage of "Israel's" "Operations Grapes of Wrath" transports the reader back to the scene of the grisly massacre. During last year's ADC Convention, which was in progress when Israel bombed Qana, Fisk's report in The Independent was read avidly by ADC members seeking the facts with a human perspective.

No one will forget the picture of a decapitated child carried away by a Fijian soldier, or the images of 1imbs severed from the mutilated bodies of their charred victims, or the stories of survivors who lost an arm, a leg, or worse yet, their loved ones. In commemoration of the suffering at Qana, ADC activists held silent vigils on April 18, 1997 exactly one year after the massacre. "Never again" was their rallying cry. Yet, the specter of death continues to loom over Lebanon as long as "Israel's" brutal military occupation persists in the south. The world community owes it to the widows, the orphans, the victims and the survivors of Qana to push for justice, compensation and an end to occupation.

Attempts to portray the massacre at Qana as a mistake, especially by the United States which painstakingly tried to brush off "Israeli" responsibility for the carnage, are belied by news reports, evidence, and the UN investigation of the attack. The memory of Qana will thus endure, as well as the pressing need for "Israeli" withdrawal from southern Lebanon in compliance with UN resolutions and international law. Through the diligent reporting of the facts by Fisk and other journalists dedicated to the truth, Israeli culpability, U.S. cover-up efforts, and the tremendous human suffering caused by the massacre are etched in the archives of history.

By Ghada Khouri (Reprinted from ADC Times, April-May, 1997-Vol. 18 No.10)


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