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2006-08-01

Robert Fisk Reports From Lebanon On the Intensifying Israeli Attack, Qana, Tony Blair and the Possibility of a Ceasefire

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As the Israeli Security Cabinet agrees to expand and deepen its ground attack in Southern Lebanon we return to our interview with Robert Fisk who has been covering Lebanon for the past 25 years. We spoke to him in Beirut Monday morning shortly after he returned from Tyre where the victims from Qana were brought after the attack. [includes rush transcript]

On Sunday, Israeli warplanes bombed the village of Qana at around 1 a.m. A missile hit a three-story building where relatives from two extended families were seeking refuge. Rescue workers were unable to reach the site for hours because Israeli warplanes continued to attack the area. No weapons were found in the building that was hit. In all, As many as 57 civilians were killed in the attack including 37 children. There were only eight survivors. Today, Human Rights Watch has called the Israeli attack on Qana a war crime. We air part two of our interview with the veteran war correspondent Robert Fisk. In 1996, Fisk reported on that year"s massacre at Qana, and now, in 2006, Robert Fisk is reporting from Tyre, where the victims from Qana were brought after the attack. We spoke to him early Monday in Beirut.

  • Robert Fisk. Veteran Middle East correspondent for the London Independent. He was speaking to us Monday from Beirut.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue our coverage of the Qana bombing, we turn to part two of our interview with veteran war correspondent, Robert Fisk. In 1996, Fisk reported on that year’s massacre at Qana, and now in 2006 Robert Fisk is in Lebanon to cover the current war. We spoke to him early on Monday in Beirut. He had just returned home after spending the day in Tyre, where the victims from Qana were brought after the attack.

ROBERT FISK: You heard Sharon, before he suffered his massive stroke, he used this phrase in the Knesset, you know, "The Palestinians must feel pain." This was during one of the intifadas. The idea that if you continue to beat and beat and beat the Arabs, they will submit, that eventually they’ll go on their knees and give you what you want. And this is totally, utterly self-delusional, because it doesn’t apply anymore. It used to apply 30 years ago, when I first arrived in the Middle East. If the Israelis crossed the Lebanese border, the Palestinians jumped in their cars and drove to Beirut and went to the cinema. Now when the Israelis cross the Lebanese border, the Hezbollah jump in their cars in Beirut and race to the south to join battle with them.

But the key thing now is that Arabs are not afraid any more. Their leaders are afraid, the Mubaraks of this world, the president of Egypt, King Abdullah II of Jordan. They’re afraid. They shake and tremble in their golden mosques, because they were supported by us. But the people are no longer afraid. Whether this is because they’ve grown tired of being afraid — you know, they say once you lose your fear you cannot be re-injected with fear, you can’t start being frightened again — or whether it’s because our Western forces are now at war with Islamists, not with nationalists, that, I’m not sure.

You know, 30 years ago it was the nationalist secular PLO, whom the Israelis claim were the central world terror or whatever you’d like to call it. We bombed the Suez City at the time of the Suez Crisis in '56, because of Nasser's Arab nationalism. We bombed Gaddafi for his nationalism and his acts of "world terror." Now, the British and Americans in Afghanistan are fighting Islamists, British and Americans in Iraq are fighting Islamists, the Israelis are fighting Islamists in Gaza, they’re fighting Islamists in Lebanon. It’s not the same enemy, and they’re not running away anymore, and that is what is going to doom us in this crazed conflict, which we continue to provoke and which enrages us when the conflict reaches us and strikes back, because it destroys our beautiful buildings and our tube trains and our buses.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, of the Independent. He’s lived in Beirut for three decades. I asked him whether he thinks the current crisis in Lebanon can be seen as a proxy war between the United States and Iran or Syria.

ROBERT FISK: Yeah, I have no doubt, and that’s what the Americans think. Bolton keeps saying in the United Nations that Syria is behind Hezbollah. Bush said the same at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg when he was caught in his [expletive] comments by the microphone. And they’re right, but for the wrong reasons, of course. But they don’t — I think that nowadays there’s such a distance between reality in Washington that there’s no comprehension of what this means on the ground. I mean, Bolton, most Arab leaders and diplomats realize that Bolton is a bit cracked. I mean, he needs medical, rather than political, help.

But other than that, it’s very difficult to bridge the gap between the realities of terror and pain in the hospital wards and Condoleezza Rice using her honeyed words at a press conference next to Mr. Olmert. I noticed she was told she was forbidden to come to Lebanon today. Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese Prime Minister, whom I know quite well, actually, told her, "Don’t come to Lebanon. You’re not welcome anymore. We’ll tell you when you can come back." And Rice humbly said, "Well, I’ve got more work to do here in Israel." You know, I’m sure she has. I’m sure she had. But, you know, it was very interesting, last time Rice came to Beirut — she holds press conferences in Israel, but she doesn’t hold press conferences here, because she knows the questions are going to be too terrible. She’ll make statements, then she leaves.

But, you know, it’s in keeping with our [inaudible] making a comment the other day that, you know, when I grew up, the prime ministers of my country were Anthony Eden, Winston Churchill. Churchill is not my greatest hero, but these were all men who had been in the first World War and, of course, in the second. Even when I was posted to Northern Ireland as a correspondent in the '70s, the First Secretary of State was called William Whitelaw, British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and he had been in the crossing of the Rhine. These were people who had experienced war at firsthand, and they knew that it was war as an obscenity. It's about death, rather than victory or defeat.

But we have nobody now in government in the West, not in the Bush administration — well, Bush managed to avoid Vietnam, Cheney avoided Vietnam. Colin Powell was in Vietnam, but he’s no longer in the administration in Washington. But we have no one left in the Blair or Bush governments now who have any firsthand practical experience of the obscenity of war. And they think when they make these statements that they’re talking about their experience, which is of Hollywood or television movies.

I think an analyst in Britain, quite a good academic, agreed with me on this point on the BBC the other day and added that perhaps we should — I did not realize the degree to which 9/11 continues to traumatize the United States. And that may be true, although I have to say it’s time it stopped traumatizing the United States. You know, it’s time that 9/11 was placed in the context of what was actually happening in the rest of the world.

You know, we keep being told 9/11 changed the world forever. I’m not going to let 19 Arab murderers change my world and nor should you in America. I’m not going to let the 7th of July bombs on the [inaudible] in front of the Picadilly London train that blew up, I’m not going to let that change my world and allow my government to commit these outrageous abuses of human rights, torture in Guantanamo, in Bagram, in Iraq, in Abu Ghraib. But we let our leaders do these things. We let them get away with it. And so we have more wars, and we will have more.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, reporting from Beirut. He had just spent the day in Tyre, where victims of the Qana attack were taken.

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