A Commentary by Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 17 (April 1997)

Anniversary In Black: The Qana Tragedy Remembered

Al Jadid Commentary April 18, 1996: It is the 17th day of the infamous Israeli "Grapes of Wrath" offensive against South Lebanon. At the clearly marked United Nations peacekeepers' camp at the village of Qana, some 800 civilian refugees ( men, women and children )- have gathered in what they believe is a safe haven from the continuing shelling and bombing.

In a few minutes, that safe haven is turned into the heart of the war zone by Israeli shells. Over 100 of the refugees are killed; over 300 are wounded. The United Nations investigation rules out the possibility of Israeli "mistake." Amnesty International and other human rights groups condemn the attack. The tragedy is over. History moves on.

But the 100 dead remain at Qana. They are in the small, muddy cemetery that has become a national shrine in Lebanon. It has been lovingly enhanced with a new wall and marble headstones in preparation for the anniversary of the tragedy -- and the crime -- that has both moved and bewildered the Lebanese people, that continues to haunt the national consciousness as it haunts the personal memories of the survivors.

The people of Qana, and all of Lebanon, continue to ask how such a thing could happen. There is no answer from the fading photographs along the wall. No answer echoes from the blasted walls and blackened rubble of the shelled camp, continually decorated with wreaths of flowers from those who mourn and wonder.

Reporters from Reuters news service recently spoke with members of the Ismael family who live in a simple home across the road from the former U.N. camp. 18 members of this family were lost in the Israeli attack. Among them Gada, the sister of 23-year-old Leila, the daughter of 46-year-old Nawal, two women who say they will wear mourning the rest of their lives.

When reporters asked if they could forgive the Israelis, Nawal replied, "No. How can you ask? They killed our children for nothing." Near her played her three-year-old grandson Hussein, who was taken for dead after the massacre and zipped up in a body bag. Another member of the family, searching among the dead, saw the bag move. And so one child was spared among the so many lost.

So many children, like the dead little girl in a hospital morgue who went unclaimed, forever know only as Child X. Hussein survived, but must be held every night until he can fall asleep. And always with the light on. The lingering fear of the child seems to mirror the lingering grief, bewilderment and outrage of all Lebanon on the occasion of this dreadful anniversary. When U.N. peacekeeping force spokesperson Timor Goskel told United Press reporters, "The Qana massacre was the most horrific and tragic thing I ever witnessed since I came here," he seemed to express the thoughts of many throughout Lebanon, a nation which has seen so much tragedy.

The massacre of Qana, on this first anniversary, seems already to have become the single event which most profoundly represents the grief for the past and fear for the future that continues to haunt Lebanon, and which should occupy, trouble and, indeed, haunt the conscience of the entire world.

For now, the anniversary is honored and the site of the tragedy remains a place of pilgrimage, of contemplation, of silences, and yet of ever echoing questions: Why did this happen? Why can this happen?



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