Ten years ago the Qana massacre took place. This is how people in Lebanon call Israel's shelling of the UN base where refugees from the south of the country were hiding. The tragedy killed 107 civilians and wounded over 100, and the world was appalled at the disproportionate and blind brutality of Israel, unable to tell an armed enemy from a civilian.
Obviously, Israeli leaders have not grown any wiser since then. Early last Sunday an Israeli bomber destroyed a three-storey building, killing at least 57 Lebanese refugees, 27 of them children. The Israeli authorities offered an explanation similar to the one they had given ten years before: we are sorry, but this is a tragic accident, the attack had a military target, but, alas, the cursed Hezbollah guerillas use people as human shields...
However, the UN investigation that ended in May 1996 established beyond doubt that the tragedy could not have been an accidental mistake, no matter what Israel claimed. It was established that Israeli helicopters and an unmanned scout aircraft were barraging the UN base in Qana, coordinating the fire. Moreover, Israeli artillery used shrapnel bombs that explode in the air and are designed specifically for the mass killing of people.
I have little doubt that investigations into the new Qana massacre and the killing of four UN observers on July 27 will find sufficient proof that the actions of Israeli generals, if not the government, were planned. UN officers' desperate phone calls to Israeli commanders asking them to stop the bombing will be the main evidence in future charges.
Unfortunately, these historical parallels and heart-rending details have so far brought only emotional responses from the world's political leaders. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan refused to shake hands with the Israeli ambassador. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora refused to meet U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying they had nothing to discuss unless she brought a ceasefire agreement.
But she will not bring one yet. The United States is trying to give Israeli bombers and task forces at least another 10-14 days to destroy Hezbollah's military structure. Consequently, the latest resolution of the UN Security Council, adopted under the strict supervision of the U.S. representative, John Bolton, does not even mention an immediate ceasefire, but emphasizes the importance of conditions for a "long-term and stable truce," the euphemism the U.S. and Israel use to continue the massacre in Lebanon.
However, it is no more possible to eliminate Hezbollah, a social and political movement which embraces at least 40% of the Lebanese population, than to cut out 40% of a man's body and hope that he will survive. Remarkably, on Sunday Siniora thanked Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah, for the heroic deeds of those who, as he put it, sacrificed their lives for Lebanon's independence.
One could also note that the Israeli army, one of the world's best, has been milling about a small part of Lebanese territory for the third successive week. It is unable to break through the complicated system of dugouts, underground passes and other military infrastructure that Hezbollah's military arm built during the years of the truce.
Parallels between the U.S.-led war in Iraq and Israel's war in Lebanon are remarkable. The blind and counterproductive efforts presented as a war on terrorism in fact generate more terrorism on a global scale. Moreover, they kindle hatred towards people of other races and different faiths in any Arab, no matter where he lives. Prominent British politicians and cultural figures must have realized this when they sent an open letter to their prime minister, saying that his government had isolated Britain from the rest of the world through its actions in Iraq and that they did not encourage the repetition of that disastrous foreign policy.
All this can be dwelled on at length, but it is unlikely to persuade Washington, whose position will have a great influence on the future of the Israeli-Lebanese war, which has already killed about 1,000 innocent people. Still, the U.S. administration, as well as the entire international community, can no longer ignore two very important considerations.
First of all, the second massacre in Qana has drastically changed peacekeeping priorities. The scale of the human tragedy leaves no choice as to further action: there must be an immediate ceasefire. It is no coincidence that George W. Bush's closest ally, Tony Blair, has changed his rhetoric. In a joint statement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he acknowledged that "the tragic events of today have underlined the urgency of the need for a ceasefire as soon as possible". Still, he should have acknowledged it two weeks earlier.
And secondly, the Lebanese-Israeli conflict has escalated the confrontation between the Old and New World, which had subsided since the beginning of the war in Iraq. Israel is driving a Lebanese wedge into U.S.-European relations. Washington's refusal to rein in its Middle East ally has caused outrage in European capitals and led officials and the population to fear that Muslim suburbs in Europe could explode once again.
Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ chose Qana for one of his Biblical miracles: he turned water into wine. Now everything there is turning into blood. The international community should unite its efforts in order to achieve a new goal: turning the 48-hour time-out announced by Israel into a lasting ceasefire. After all, a political settlement cannot be reached through bombing.