Robert Fisk Articles: The Truth of British P remiers Urgent Diplomacy
- The Truth of British Premiers Urgent Diplomacy
Robert Fisk, The Independent
Saturday, 29, July, 2006
I dropped by the hospital in Marjayoun this week to
find a young girl lying in a hospital bed, swathed in
bandages, her beauty scarred forever by some familiar
wounds; the telltale dark-red holes in her skin made
by cluster bombs, the weapon we used in Iraq to such
lethal effect and which the Israelis are now using to
punish the civilians of southern Lebanon.
And, of course, it occurred to me at once that if
George Bush and Condoleezza Rice and our own sad and
diminished prime minister had demanded a cease-fire
when the Lebanese first pleaded for it, this young
woman would not have to spend the rest of her life
pitted with these vile scars.
And having seen the cadavers of so many more men and
women, I have to say from my eyrie only three miles
from the Israeli border that the compliant, gutless,
shameful refusal of Bush, Rice and Lord Blair of Kut
Al-Amara to bring this bloodbath to an end sentenced
many hundreds of innocent Lebanese to death. As I
write this near the village of Blat, which has its own
little list of civilian dead, its quite clear that
many more innocent Lebanese are being prepared for the
slaughter and will indeed die in the coming days.
What was it Condoleezza Rice said? That a hasty
cease-fire would not be a good thing? What was
Blairs pathetic excuse at the G-8 summit? That it was
much better to have a cease-fire that would last than
one which might break down? Yes, I entirely
understand. Blair and his masters we shall give Rice
a generic title to avoid the obvious regard
cease-fires not as a humanitarian step to alleviate
and prevent suffering but as a weapon, as a means to a
Let the war last longer and the suffering grow greater
let compassion be postponed and the Lebanese (and,
most laughably, the Hezbollah) will eventually sink to
their knees and accept the Wests ridiculous demands.
And one of those famous American opportunities for
change i.e. for humbling Iran will have been
created. Hence, in the revolting words of Lord Blairs
flunky yesterday, Blair will increase the urgency of
diplomacy. Think about that for a moment.
Diplomacy wasnt urgent at the beginning. Then I
suppose it became fairly urgent and now this
mendacious man is going to increase the urgency of
diplomacy; after which, I suppose, it can become
super-urgent or of absolutely paramount importance,
the time decided no doubt by Israels belief that
it has won the war against Hezbollah or, more likely,
because Israel realizes that it is an unwinnable war
and wants us to take the casualties.
Yet from the border of Pakistan to the Mediterranean
with the sole exception of the much-hated Syria and
Iran, which might be smothered in blood later we
have turned a 2,500-mile swath of the Muslim world
into a hell-disaster of unparalleled suffering and
hatred. Our British peacekeepers in Afghanistan are
fighting for their lives and apparently bombing the
innocent, Israeli-style against an Islamist enemy
which grows by the week. In Iraq, our soldiers and
those of the United States hide in their concrete
crusader fortresses while the people they so
generously liberated and introduced to the benefits of
Western-style democracy slash each other to death. And
now Lord Blair and his chums following Israeli
policy to the letter are allowing Israel to destroy
Lebanon and call it peace.
Blair and his ignorant foreign secretary have played
along with Israels savagery with blind trust in our
own loss of memory.
It is perfectly acceptable, it seems, after the
Hezbollah staged its reckless and lethal July 12
assault, to destroy the infrastructure of Lebanon and
the lives of more than 400 of its innocents. But hold
on a moment. When the IRA used to cross the Irish
border to kill British soldiers which it did did
Blair and his cronies blame the Irish Republics
government in Dublin? Did Blair order the RAF to bomb
Dublin power stations and factories? Did he send
British troops crashing over the border in tanks to
fire at will into the hill villages of Louth,
Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal? Did Blair then demand an
international, NATO-led force to take over a buffer
zone on the Irish, not the Northern Ireland side, of
Of course not. But Israel has special privileges
afforded to no other civilized nation. It can do
exactly what Blair would never have done and still
receive the British governments approbation. It can
trash the Geneva Conventions because the Americans
have done that in Iraq and it can commit war crimes
and murder UN soldiers like the four unarmed observers
who refused to leave their post under fire.
And what of the Hezbollah and its leader Hassan
Nasrallah? I have long believed that its attack across
the Israeli border was planned months in advance. But
Ive now come to realize that Israels assault on
Lebanon was also planned long in advance as part of
the American-Israeli project to change the shape of
the Middle East. The idea that Nasrallah is going to
kneel before a NATO general and hand over his sword
that this disciplined, ruthless, frightening guerrilla
army is going to surrender to NATO is a folly beyond
But Blair and Bush want to send a combat force into
southern Lebanon. Well, I shall be there, I suppose,
to watch its swift destruction in an orgy of car and
suicide bombings by the same organization that
yesterday fired another new longer-than-ever range
missile that landed near Afula in Israel.
The Lebanese government democratically elected and
hailed by a US administration which threw roses at its
prime minister after the US State Department claimed a
Cedar Revolution has just caught the Americans off
guard, producing a peace package to which the
Hezbollah has reluctantly agreed, starting with an
immediate cease-fire. Can Washington ignore the
decision of a democratic government? Of course it can.
It is encouraging Israel to continue its destruction
of the democratically elected Hamas government in Gaza
and the West Bank.
So stand by for an increase in the urgency of
diplomacy and for more women with their skin torn
open by cluster bombs.
On a Red Cross Mission of Mercy when Israeli Air Force
ICH -- Robert Fisk-- It was supposed to be a routine
trip across the Lebanese killing fields for the brave
men and women of the International Red Cross. Sylvie
Thoral was the "team leader" of our two vehicles, a
38-year-old Frenchwoman with dark brown hair and eyes
like steel. The Israelis had been informed and had
given what the ICRC likes to call its "green light" to
the route. And, of course, we almost died.
Trusting the Israeli army and air force, which are
breaking the Geneva Conventions almost every day, is a
Their planes have already attacked - against all the
conventions - the civil defence headquarters in Tyre,
killing 20 refugees. They have twice attacked
truckloads of refugees whom they themselves had
ordered from their villages.
They have already attacked two Lebanese Red Cross
ambulances in Qana, killing two of the three wounded
patients inside and injuring all the crew - a clear
and apparently deliberate breach of Chapter IV,
Article 24 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
But the ICRC must put its trust in the Israeli
military and so off we sped from southern Lebanon for
Jezzine to the sound of gunfire, under the crumbling
battlements of the crusader castle at Beaufort,
through the ghostly, shattered streets of Nabatiyeh,
bomb craters and crushed buildings on each side of us.
To cross the Litani river, we had to drive through the
water, listening for the howl of airplane engines, one
eye on the road, one on the sky. Sylvie and her
comrades - Christophe Grange from France, Claire
Gasser from Switzerland, Saidi Hachemi from Algeria
and two Lebanese colleagues, Beshara Hanna and Edmund
Khoury - drove in silence.
There were fresh bomb craters on the highway north of
Nabatiyeh - the attacks had come only a few hours
earlier, a fact we should have thought more about.
Pieces of ordnance littered the roads, shards of
wicked shrapnel, huge chunks of concrete. But we had
had that all-important "green light" from Tel Aviv.
The ICRC teams may be the only saviours on the
highways of southern Lebanon - their reticence in
criticising anyone, including the Israelis and
Hizbollah is a silence worthy of angels - although
their work can attack their emotions as surely as an
air strike. Only a day earlier, they had driven to the
village of Aiteroun scarcely a mile from the Israeli
army's disastrous assault on Bint Jbeil. In each
"abandoned" village on the way, a woman would appear,
then a child and then more women and the elderly, all
desperate to leave.
There were perhaps 3,000 of them and, last night,
Sylvie Thoral was trying to arrange permission for an
evacuation convoy. The Israelis are promising the
Lebanese much worse than the punishment they have
already received - well over 400 Lebanese civilians
dead - for Hizbollah's killing of three Israeli
soldiers and the capture of two others. But still the
Israelis have suggested no "green light" for Aiteroun.
"They were begging us to take them with us and we had
no ability to do that," Saidi says with deep emotion.
"Their eyes were filled with tears."
ICRC workers in Lebanon travel without flak jackets or
helmets - their un-militarised status is something
they are proud of - and driving with them in the same
condition was an oddly moving experience.
They live - unlike the Israelis and their Hizbollah
antagonists - by the Geneva Conventions. They believe
in them when all others break the rules. But
yesterday, when we reached the town of Jarjooaa, the
ICRC in Beirut told us to turn back. The Israelis were
bombing the road to the north and so we gingerly
reversed our cars and started back down the hills to
Arab Selim. The highway was empty and we had almost
reached the bottom of a small valley.
I was reflecting on a conversation I had just had on
my mobile phone with Patrick Cockburn, The
Independent's correspondent who has just left Baghdad.
Our guardian angels were working so hard, he said,
that he was fearful they would form a trade union and
go on strike.
That's when five vast, brown, dead fingers of smoke
shot into the sky in front of us, an Israeli
air-dropped bomb that exploded on the road scarcely 80
metres away with the kind of "c-crack" that comic
books express so accurately, followed by the scream of
a jet. If we had driven just 25 seconds faster down
that road, we would all be dead.
So we retreated once more to Jarjooaa and parked under
the balcony of a house where two women and three
children were watching us, waving and smiling.
Sylvie was silent but I could see the rage on her
face. The Israelis, it seemed, had made an "error".
They had misread the route - or the number - of our
little convoy. "How can we work like this? How on
earth can we do our work?" Sylvie asked with a mixture
of anger and frustration. On all the roads yesterday,
I saw only three men whom I suspect were Hizbollah -
no respecters of the Geneva Conventions they - driving
at high speed in a battered Volvo. They can cross the
rivers of Lebanon at will - just as we did - by
circling the bomb craters and crossing the rivers. So
what was the point in blowing up 46 of Lebanon's road
An old man approached us carrying a silver tray of
glasses and a pot of scalding tea. Generous to the
end, under constant air attack, these fearful Lebanese
were offering us their traditional hospitality even
now, as the jets wheeled in the sky above us. They
asked us in to the house they had refused to leave and
I realised then that these kind Lebanese people -
unarmed, unconnected to Hizbollah - were the real
resistance here. The men and women who will ultimately
But before we abandoned our journey and before Sylvie
and her team and I set off back to their base in the
far and dangerous south of Lebanon, a man carrying a
bag of vegetables walked up to Beshara Hanna. "Please
move your cars away from my home," he said. "You make
it dangerous for us all."
And the shame of this shook me at once. The Israeli
attack on the Qana ambulances - their missiles
plunging through the red crosses on the roofs - had
contaminated even our own vehicles. He was just one
man. But for him, the Israelis had turned the Red
Cross - the symbol of hope on our roofs and the sides
of our vehicles - into a symbol of danger and fear.
The laws of war
The laws of war, as the Geneva Conventions are
sometimes known, often may seem like a lesson in
absurdity. But for centuries countries have adhered to
central principles of combat.
At the start of this conflict, the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said:
"Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a
foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians."
The rules of war state:
* Wars should be limited to achieving the political
goals that started the war (and should not include
* Wars should be ended as quickly as possible.
* People and property should be protected against
unnecessary destruction and hardship.
The laws are meant to :
* Protect both combatants and non-combatants from
* Safeguard human rights of those who fall into the
hands of the enemy: prisoners of war, the wounded, the
sick and civilians.
* Prohibit deliberate attacks on civilians. But no war
crime is committed if a bomb mistakenly hits a
* Combatants that use civilians or property as shields
are guilty of violations of laws of war.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited