Twelve years later, families of the Pan Am flight 103 victims can finally have some sense of closure, though I’m sure nothing can ever ease their pain. President Bush is right to demand that those responsible pay restitution to the families of the victims. Perhaps he can now apply that standard to other acts of terrorism, like the massacre at Qana in 1996 that killed 107 innocent civilians seeking shelter in a UN compound.
On April 18, 1996, the eighth day of attacks on Lebanon, Israeli artillery pounded a clearly marked United Nations peacekeeping compound literally packed with refugees.
Robert Fisk, veteran correspondent of the The Independent (London) reported from the scene: “It was a massacre. Not since Sabra and Shatila 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. 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. [they] were wrong.”
Swedish UN Captain Michael Lindvall was there for the clean up. “I couldn’t count the bodies. There were babies without heads. there were people without arms and legs” he said. Time Magazine quoted another UN trooper as he sobbed hysterically trying to find someone still alive. “Look at my boots!” he shouted, “they’re covered in meat!”
Speaking of the grisly scene, Fisk recalled a a stunned UN officer who raised the corpse of a tiny child and held it aloft in front of the television cameras. It’s head had been ripped off by a piece of shrapnel. The child was 17-day-old Mohammed Balhas. A distraught mother clutched the dismembered and blackened body of her son. Another woman, her dress soaked with blood, cradled her dead child and rocked slowly back and forth. An old man deep in his family’s remains looked to the skies and howled: “I want to be made into a bomb and blow myself up amid the Israelis.”
Israel would later claim that it was an “accident.” Major General Frank Van Kappen of the Netherlands was dispatched by the UN to investigate. The preliminary findings indicated that “it is unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors.” The evidence, including an amateur video shot by a UN officer, showed an Israeli drone (a “spotter” used for aim precision). According to news reports of the time, Timur Goksel, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force UNIFIL, said the video not only did “contradict Israeli statements, but it also, more importantly, shows how the U.N. base was targeted.” After the first explosion, “we asked Israel several times to stop firing on the Fijian [UN] headquarters, telling them that we had civilian victims, but in vain,” Goksel said.
Though the evidence mounted that Israel knew it was hitting a UN compound full of civilians, the investigators asked Israel to provide them with anything that might exonerate it. Israel did not cooperate, Butros Butros-Ghali, then UN Secretary General, resigned shortly after, and the United States has since prevented any further investigation into the matter. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution demanding that Israel pay a meager $1.2 million in restitution for it’s “mistake.” Out of 118 counties, only two voted against the resolution, Israel and the United States.
In the end, it was the familiar tune: Israel killed Arab civilians with impunity. There was no apology, no compensation. Clinton did not demand accountability. Instead, that year, Israel received a gift from the American tax payer of $200 million for its Arrow Missile project, $25 million for its Nautilus technology, millions more of US military hardware and training projects.
One UN officer from a NATO country told Fisk that “…even if it means the end of my military career, I’ll never say this was an accident. The Israelis knew they were firing at innocent people.”
On the one year anniversary of Qana, the Daily Star wrote about the survivors. Adil Balhas, a 53 year old farmer, confessed that he cannot show his true feelings in front of his family. “I cannot cry in front of my wife and daughter so every day I go to my fields and cry on my own. I always see in front of me the bodies of my son and my grandchildren. It is a sight I can never forget.”
Agnes, 30 year-old Christian explained “It’s a cry we want the whole world to hear. Innocent children, women and old people were killed. The whole world is responsible.”
But the world is quiet. Thankfully, for the bombing of Pan Am 103, at least one Libyan was brought to justice. Now will our new President find the courage to, at the very least, allow the UN to complete it’s investigation into the massacre at Qana? Those victims deserve no less than the victims of Pan Am 103.