Naftali Bennet, Israel’s minister of education was the first public official to come out in support of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who executed Abdel Fatah Alsharif as he lay wounded in Hebron. Bennet was critical of the government of which he is a member for not standing up for the soldier. I was listening to the interview with Bennet on Israeli television where he made the argument that the government and the press judged the soldier harshly and prematurely. Then he said something I never thought I’d hear.
“Maybe the soldier did make a mistake; you know I also made a mistake. During Grapes of Wrath, Operation Grapes of Wrath I was apparently mistaken and a very difficult thing happened.” A very difficult thing happened. Interesting choice of words and interesting timing: It is exactly twenty-years since the massacre in Qana village in Southern Lebanon, a massacre for which Bennet was responsible. He then went on to explain that, “in my case, I received the full backing of the commanding general and the army chief of staff.” In fact he was backed by the entire chain of command going all the way up to the Prime Minister (and Nobel laureate), Shimon Peres.
Bennet was talking about the shelling by Israeli forces of the UN compound in the southern Lebanese village of Qana. It took place on April 18, 1996 when hundreds of local Lebanese were seeking shelter at the compound. Of the 800 Lebanese civilians who had taken refuge in the compound, a reported 106 were killed and 116 were injured. The attack occurred amid fighting between the Israeli army and Hezbollah during operation “Grapes of Wrath.” There was evidence that an Israeli drone was spying on the compound before the shelling, making the argument that this may have been an error, unlikely at best. Clearly all levels of the IDF command knew that the compound was there and that it served as shelter for refugees escaping the fighting. The building was clearly marked as a UN compound and was even marked on the Israeli maps. Bennet who was commander of an Israeli army reconnaissance unit called for massive artillery shelling of the site.
Graves just outside the UN base at Qana cb791
The BBC described the massacre as: “one of the deadliest single events of the whole Arab-Israeli conflict.” Robert Fisk who reported from the site wrote, “Not since Sabra and Chatila had I seen the innocent slaughtered like this.”
Fisk’s descriptions of what he saw are not for the weak at heart but must be read and remembered. Over and over we hear the phrase “never again,” yet Israel commits one heinous massacre after another and gets away with it, usually absolved by the US. In this case the main culprit is known, he admits his responsibility and yet not only did he go unpunished, he is unrepentant and is now in charge of the Israeli ministry of education. How ironic. Again Fisk’s description, “The Lebanese refugee women and children and men lay in heaps, their hands 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. Like the Muslims of Srebrenica, the Muslims of Qana were wrong.” And Fisk continues, “Now the Israelis are stained again by the bloodbath at Qana, the scruffy little Lebanese hill town where the Lebanese believe Jesus turned water into wine.”
SHIMON PERES – OBITUARY OF A PEACE POLITICIAN
34 YEARS AGO TODAY – THE SABRA AND SHATILA MASSACRE ISRAEL FORCES MURDER 3500 PALESTINIANS AND LEBANESE INCLUDING WOMEN AND CHILDREN
PALESTINIAN MINORS TORTURED, ABUSED IN ISRAEL PRISONS
ISRAELI RABBI CALLS FOR POISONING OF PALESTINIAN WATER SUPPLY
Naftali Bennet was quoted as saying that he had killed many Arabs in his time and feels no remorse, and in his view “a soldier in the battlefield can not commit murder.” In a speech in the Knesset Bennet said he killed many terrorists during his military service and he wishes he had killed more. Bennet never saw an Arab he did not consider to be a terrorist, and therefore fair game. “Arabs are murdering Jews every day,” he said as he defended the execution in Hebron. An important piece of information that is completely ignored is that another soldier shot Abdel Fatah first, even though he was unarmed and his hands were raised, and only later did Elor Azaria execute him. Bennet called the scene as a “battle ground” and the shooting perfectly legitimate because according to him “Vicious Palestinian terrorists are coming out every day to kill Jews.”
The result of Bennet’s call for the shelling in Qana, according to Fisk, was “The blood of all the refugees ran quite literally in streams from the shell-smashed UN compound […] in which the Shiite Muslims from the hill villages of southern Lebanon – who had heeded Israel’s order to leave their homes – had pathetically sought shelter.” Once the news of the shelling had got out, relatives started arriving from other parts of Lebanon to look for loved ones. Their grief and anger were forceful, “we had suddenly become not UN troops and journalists but Westerners, Israel’s allies” Fisk writes, and he continues, “one bearded man with fierce eyes stared at us, his face dark with fury: […] “I would like to be made into a bomb and blow myself up amid the Israelis” the man cried.
The story of the Qana massacre was brought up during the Israeli elections of 2015, because Bennet was the head of one of the parties running. Claims were made that the “incident” was evidence that he had “poor judgment.” Today, twenty years and countless massacres later a man who knowingly brought about the gruesome killing of countless innocents is in charge of educating Israeli children and is defending the execution of a young Palestinian. And yet, the one man that everyone is calling a terrorist is one who committed no act violence at all: the young Abdel Fatah Alsharif, may he rest in peace.