Saturday, August 05, 2006

An atrocity too far

August 5, 2006
Eli Stephens

Yesterday, Israel brutally murdered 33 Syrian farm workers in the town of Qaa in Lebanon, firing U.S.-made and supplied missiles from U.S.-made and supplied jets. A massacre, a war crime of the first order, quite possibly committed with weapons supplied by the U.S. since the shooting began. So how did the media, saturated with similar atrocities occuring nearly every day, treat this news?

The New York Times has a front page article on the assault on Lebanon. It's headline says "Israeli Air Raids Destroy Bridges North of Beirut," giving no hint of the massacre in Qaa. The lead sentence does mention the death of "more than 30 people in other areas," but we don't actually learn of the Qaa massacre until paragraph ten, where this is the sum total of the coverage:

In the Bekaa Valley, hard against the Syrian border, an airstrike killed at least 28 seasonal farm workers, most of them Syrian Kurds, loading fruit and vegetables into a truck.

Ali Yaghi, the head of the rescue service in the tiny village of Qaa, told reporters that others might be buried in the rubble. Israel has frequently fired upon vehicles it suspected of carrying fighters or weapons, but has also hit vehicles with water drilling rigs, convoys of medical supplies and minivans of fleeing civilians.

The Washington Post could only manage page 12 for the story, but did manage to fit the farmworkers into a subhead: "Israeli Warplanes Hit Lebanon's Christian Areas - 30 Farmworkers Also Die; Rockets Kill Three Israelis." Once again, after a brief mention of the 30 dead in the first sentence, the Post has more important things to get up near the top of the article. Paragraphs five and six tell us about each of the three Israeli victims, but not until the 19th paragraph do we return to the Qaa massacre, along with a generously supplied excuse:

The farmworkers who died in Lebanon, some of them Syrians, were killed by Israeli missiles near the village of Qaa in the northernmost corner of the fertile Bekaa Valley, just beside the border with Syria, as they loaded fruit and potatoes on trucks for transport to markets, according to Lebanese media reports quoting local officials. The number of deaths was estimated at between 28 and 33, with more than a dozen people wounded, the reports said.

Qaa Mayor Nicola Matar, in a telephone interview with Lebanon's Future TV, put the death toll at 31. Lebanese television stations showed rows of bodies, blackened and distorted by the blast, lined up on the ground where the missiles hit.

An Israeli military spokesman, Capt. Jacob Dallal, said Israeli planes attacked a building in Qaa suspected of "being used as a weapons depot of some sort." By his account, Israeli forces identified a truck that entered the building, remained an hour, then returned across the border to Syria.

Syria has long been the main transit point for Hezbollah weapons and money supplied by Iran. But despite frequent attacks by Israeli warplanes in the area, some trucks loaded with missiles and other munitions are still getting through, according to a Lebanese source with access to military intelligence.

The Los Angeles Times has the most appropriate coverage. Although the headline takes the tack that others do - "Airstrikes Hit Christian Area North of Beirut" - the lead sentence reads, "Israeli forces killed 33 agricultural workers Friday in northeast Lebanon in a wave of airstrikes that also pierced the country's Christian heartland for the first time and severed its last major highway link to the outside." Like the others, they don't return to Qaa for many paragraphs, but when they do, they report the important details that the Times and the Post left out:

The worst reported violence Friday in Lebanon was in the village of Qaa, in the Bekaa Valley about three miles from the Syrian border, where Israeli officials said they launched strikes against what they believed to be a weapons storage site. Truck traffic was observed between the area and the Syrian border, said an Israeli military official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But town administrator Saadeh Tawm said the site was a refrigerated agricultural storage facility where farmworkers, including a number of Syrian Kurds, were loading fruit for transport elsewhere.

In a telephone interview, he said about 40 workers were loading fruit onto trucks when two missiles struck about 10 minutes apart. "The first strike hit, and there were lots of casualties. People came to help them out, but then another strike hit, and there were even more casualties," he said.

The town has no hospital, and previous airstrikes had blocked roads, preventing rescuers from taking the wounded to nearby Lebanese hospitals, so they were taken across the border to the Syrian town of Homs, Tawm said. A total of 33 bodies had been recovered, he said.

But they too will likely drop the story as we move on to today's massacre, or tomorrows. Coverage on the network and cable channel news shows I've seen have generally mentioned the massacre, but only with about a sentence or two. I guess they don't have good enough footage. Sorry, guys. Your families will remember you, and probably most of the Arab and Muslim world, but rest assured that the American public, the ones who even know you once existed, will have forgotten about you by tomorrow. The media (and the U.N., which will ignore this massacre just like all the others) will see to that.

There is a general lesson which can be drawn from this incident which, needless to say, you won't be hearing any of the wise pundits making. This story provides a quintessential example of the kind of "intelligence" upon which the Israelis are murdering people in Lebanon, just like the American are murdering people in Iraq and Afghanistan. A large building. A truck headed toward Syria. What more evidence do you need, for goodness sake? Do you want Colin Powell to spell it out for you with a nice PowerPoint presentation?

Guilty until proven innocent isn't just the standard for prisoners in Guantanamo. It's pretty much the standard for the entire world when it comes to the decision to drop U.S. bombs and commit another massacre.

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