Tears Of Leaders
As City Burns
By Robert Fisk
08 August 2006
after 4am, the fly-like buzz of an Israeli drone came out of the sky
over my home. Coded MK by the manufacturers, Lebanese mothers have sought
to lessen their children's fears of this ominous creature by transliterating
it as "Um Kamel", the Mother of Kamel. It is looking for targets
and at night, like all the massacres being perpetrated by the Israeli
air force across southern Lebanon, you usually cannot see it.
The latest model can even
fire missiles. Well, it flew around for a few minutes before it moved
south-west over the city in search of other prey. Then an hour later
came the hiss of jets and five massive blasts as the southern suburbs
received their 29th air raid. The Israelis must be convinced that beneath
the rubble of their previous strikes, the Hizbollah have secret bunkers
to direct their war in the south, that Hizbollah's television station
- its four-storey headquarters a pancaked pile of rubble - must be staying
on air because it has ever-deeper studios beneath the debris. I doubt
After dawn, I drive out to
see friends in the suburbs, among the few Shias not to have abandoned
their homes. Hassan and Abbas live in two decaying blocks of chipped
stone stairs and damp walls; each lives with only two other families
in these rotting eight-storey tenements, their neighbours having sought
refuge with Lebanon's 700,000 internal refugees - another 200,000 have
fled abroad - in the Druze Chouf mountains or the Christian mountains
to the north or in Beirut's slum parks and crowded schools.
"I don't have any other
place to go," Hassan tells me mournfully as his two-year-old plays
tug of war with a toy Pink Panther. "In the Chouf now, a two-room
flat costs $800." Well, the Druze are certainly making money, I
say to myself. "Nobody is coming to our help"
We glower at Al Manar, Hizbollah's
TV station, in the corner of the room, whose Hizbollah announcer is
proclaiming the merits - and demerits - of the Arab foreign ministers
meeting to start shortly in Beirut. These wealthy princes and emirs
of the Gulf and the utterly boring Amr Moussa of Egypt roared and strutted
upon the stage, remaining silent only when Fouad Siniora - Lebanon's
sweet Prime Minister - went through another of his public weeping sessions
and demanded an immediate ceasefire. Lebanon's proposals must be added
to the UN draft resolution, he said between sobs, sniffles and whimpers.
Shebaa Farms must be returned to Lebanon. The Israelis must leave Lebanon.
Only then can Hizbollah abide by UN Security Council resolution 1559
and lay down its arms.
The ministers decided to
send a delegation to the UN in New York - which will have Washington
shaking in its boots - and the Saudis agreed to an Arab summit in Mecca,
but one which should not be rushed because it must be carefully prepared
- which sounded very like George W Bush's equally mendacious remark
that a ceasefire had to be carefully prepared. And that will have them
shaking in the shoes in Tel Aviv.
It was preposterous, scandalous,
shameful to listen to these robed apparatchiks - most of them are paid,
armed or otherwise supported by the West - shed their crocodile tears
before a nation on its knees. The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul
Gheit, had already said in Cairo that the Beirut meeting "is a
clear message to the world to demonstrate Arab solidarity with the Lebanese
people". In the southern suburbs - where they do not take this
nonsense seriously - Abbas was telling me of a female neighbour who
had supported the rival Shia Amal movement until her house was destroyed
by the Israelis. "She told us, 'We are all Hizbollahi now',"
And I recall that less than three years ago, we - we Westerners, we
brave believers in human rights - were saying that we were all New Yorkers
What sent Fouad Sinioura
into his bout of crying was a report that 40 Lebanese civilians had
been massacred in the village of Houla by an Israeli air strike - 18
people were confirmed buried in one house. Two other buildings in the
village collapsed. Yet there are far more terrible fears that hundreds
more may lay dead in the ruins of their homes after the Israelis had
blasted their villages, hill towns and hamlets.
According to the UN, 22,000
Lebanese are still - dead or alive - in the 38 most southern villages,
out of an original population of 913,000. In Mays al-Jabal, for example,
400 civilians are believed to have stayed out of 10,000, though no one
knows their fate. The Lebanese death toll - including the conservative
figure for Houla - is 932, almost all civilians, although it may well
have reached more than 1,000. There are 3,293 wounded.
At lunchtime, I paid a call
on Suheil Natour, a Palestinian official in the little Mar Elias camp.
His people - the Palestinians and their descendants of the 1948 flight
from Palestine - are now hosting thousands of Shia refugees from southern
Lebanon, just as those refugees' grandparents once hosted the Palestinians
of 1948. This irony is not lost on Natour who points out that the Shias
- the largest single community in Lebanon - are now spread over all
the country after their flight. "What kind of Lebanon will emerge
from this?" he asks me. "How many months have to pass before
the Shias feel they belong to the areas of Lebanon to which they have
fled - rather than to the wreckage of the homes they were forced out
of by the Israelis?"
And when I go home, I find
my landlord has treble locked the iron front door of my apartment block,
just in case the refugees decide that they belong to his building -
or that his building belongs to them.
* Israeli attacks kill at
least 45 people in Lebanon, mostly in eastern Bekaa Valley and border
village of Houla. Five die in strike on crowded area in Shi'ite-dominated
south Beirut. Israeli aircraft also hit last coastal crossing on Litani
river between Sidon and Tyre.
* UN Security Council vote
on a resolution to end conflict is delayed until tomorrow after Arab
nations object to draft.
* Three Israeli soldiers
are killed in battles with guerrillas in southern Lebanon. Hizbollah
guerrillas fire rockets into northern Israel, wounding one.
* Lebanese health minister
Mohammad Khalifeh says conflict has killed 925 people. About one-third
of the dead have been children under the age of 13.