It was an average day yesterday in the Israel-Lebanon conflict. Rockets and bombs flew on both sides of the border. Soldiers on both sides fired at each other. Some died. Some were wounded. Civilians too died on both sides of the border. But far more on one side than the other. This is the story of how members of one particular family came to die.
It comes thanks to the NY Times and tells the tale of a south Lebanese family which gambled for its life and lost on the roads leading out of its village. They hoped that their journey would take them away from the danger that is currently south Lebanon and to safety in a larger and safer city. Instead, they got death for their troubles. And if Hassan Fattah, the NY Times reporter had not been on the road nearby when the disaster happened the death of this family would’ve remained an obscure statistic in a brutal, but anonymous war.
I do not usually quote entire articles in this blog but I feel I must here. The story of the Shaito family’s tragedy is illustrative of the shambles that is the Lebanon war. It is illustrative of Israel’s savagery against anything that moves in south Lebanon whether it be Hezbollah related or civilian. It is a perfect illustration of what the war crime known as collective punishment is:
SIDIQEEN, Lebanon, July 23 — Muntaha Shaito’s eyes rolled back as the paramedics screamed at her to stay awake and implored her son Ali to keep her engaged, as she teetered near death from shrapnel wounds inflicted by an Israeli rocket.
“Pray to God!,” one paramedic shouted at her as she writhed in Ali’s arms.
“Don’t go to sleep Mama, look at me!,” Ali shouted, tears streaking his bloodied face. “Don’t die, please don’t die!”
It was the scene that members of the extended Shaito family said they had feared most, the real reason they had held out for days in their village of Tireh in southern Lebanon, terrified of the Israeli bombardment, but more terrified of what might happen if they risked leaving. On Sunday they gave up their stand, and all 18 members crammed into the family’s white Mazda minivan. They planned to head north toward the relative safety of Beirut.
Within minutes they became casualties of Israel’s 12-day-old bombardment of southern Lebanon, which the Israelis say they will continue indefinitely to destroy the military abilities of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group. By the Lebanese official count, Israel’s attacks have killed more than 380 Lebanese.
An Israeli rocket, which Lebanese officials said was likely fired from a helicopter, slammed into the center of the Shaitos’ van as it sped round a bend a few miles west of their village, and the van crashed into a hillside. Three occupants were killed: an uncle, Mohammad; the grandmother, Nazira; and a Syrian man who had guarded their home. The missile also critically wounded Mrs. Shaito and her sister. Eleven others suffered less severe wounds.
The following passage illustrates the horrible irony of Lebanese civilians, essentially expelled from their native villages by the IDF, who nonetheless cooperate in their own expulsion by obeying the Israeli order to flee; only to fall prey to the IAF ”machine” voraciously seeking “targets of opportunity” in the region:
“They said leave, and that’s what we did,” said Musbah Shaito, another uncle, as his niece, Heba, 16, cried hysterically behind him for her dead father, whose head was nearly blown off. This reporter watched as paramedics struggled to remove the dead from the van, but soon gave up, as an Israeli drone hovered overhead.
“This is what we got for listening to them,” Mr. Shaito said, speaking of the Israelis.
The Shaitos came from a farming village about five miles from the Israeli border in a region known for tobacco, citrus and olive crops. They had waved a white flag from the van, signifying to Israeli aircraft that they were non-threatening, Mr. Shaito told reporters later.
What follows is the portion of this article that fills me with righteous anger, even fury, at the moral obtuseness of the IDF response to its merciless killing of Lebanese innocents:
The Israeli military said in a statement that its aircraft operations over southern Lebanon on Sunday had targeted “approximately 20 vehicles” suspected of “serving the terror organization in the launching of missiles at Israel, and were recognized fleeing from or staying at missile-launching areas.” The military did not comment on specific bombings, but cited the area south of Tyre, where the Shaitos were driving, as “an area used continuously by Hezbollah to fire missiles.”
The IDF is implying that the Shaitos must’ve been driving a vehicle “serving the terror organization in the launching of missiles.” But clearly the Shaitos were fleeing from their home and not from a missile-launching area, which gives the lie to the IDF statement. Why couldn’t the IDF, at a minimum, say: “it is possible that a civilian vehicle may’ve been accidentally targeted in this case. If this is so, we deeply regret what happened.” The fact that they such bulls(&t to the world only adds insult to injury. The IDF clearly doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the Lebanese civilians it has murdered. For that, I hope there will be hell to pay down the line for those responsible for this unnecessary tragedy.
This passage provides further confirmation that the IAF targeted civilians like the Shaitos indiscriminately yesterday:
Bombing victims, witnesses and officials interviewed in the area on Sunday said Israeli warplanes hit people escaping by vehicle from their villages at least six times in a day of fierce bombardments. Lebanese Red Cross ambulance drivers complained about narrowly avoiding Israeli fire themselves as they cleared out the wounded, and a Lebanese freelance photographer, Layal Najib, 23, was killed when an Israeli missile struck near her car, about five miles from near the scene of the Shaito family bombing.
Israeli forces have sought to clear the area of all residents, in what seemed to be an attempt to separate the civilians from Hezbollah fighters hidden in the hills and villages. Just days earlier leaflets dropped by Israeli planes warned residents to leave the area and head north of the Litani River, effectively making the area a free-fire zone.
A drive through the southern villages on Sunday morning was like a tour through a string of ghost towns, with most residents having cleared out or holed up in their homes, as Israeli aircraft continued their bombardment. Roads were bombed, making passage difficult or impossible, and fields were scorched as the hulks of bombed cars littered the roads. All but a few stores were shut, with glass and rubble littering the streets.
The families in Tireh had preferred to stay home, but with dwindling supplies and Israel’s warning to evacuate, many of them decided it was time to go.
There were only about 52 people left in Tireh when most left for Beirut in a convoy this weekend, leaving the Shaitos largely to fend for themselves. Without much food or water, the family gave up its stand early Sunday.
Family members included Muntaha Shaito and her boys, Ali, 13, and Abbas, 12; her brother in-law Mohammad and his two daughters, Heba, 14, and Kawther, 17; and several other relatives.
They packed into their van, with all their money and valuables, and raced toward Tyre, the big southern seaport about 15 miles west.
It proved a day of carnage for the Zabad and Suroor families, too, said family members and medical staff members who treated them.
The Zabad family and their relatives, the Suroors, who were desperate enough to break into shuttered stores to steal food in the town of Mansoureh a few miles away, gave up their stand, too, on Sunday.
Minutes before Red Cross ambulances carted away the Shaito family, the Suroor family barreled down the road headed toward Tyre, with the Zabad family right behind.
When the Zabads spotted a wounded man on the road, they stopped and picked him up in their Nissan sport utility vehicle. They stopped again to pick up two men who had been attacked on a motorcycle and got even farther behind the Suroors.
Suddenly a missile hit the Suroors’ Mercedes sedan, killing Mohammad Suroor, the father, and Darwhish Mdaihli, a relative, and severely burning Mohammad’s son, Mahmoud, 8, and wounding his two brothers and sister.
As soon as the Zabads saw the car hit, they sped past, hoping to get to the Najm Hospital, less than a mile away. But a minute later a missile struck near them, setting the car on fire, and the family jumped out. .
The scene was chaotic at Najm hospital, on the outskirts of Tyre, which has been flooded with wounded from the bombing campaign. Doctors rushed to X-ray several of the victims, checking for shrapnel, as others where treated for burns and other injuries. For a short while, the hospital nurses rubbed cream on an 8-month-old baby for burns until they found her mother, Mrs. Suroor.
Despite the severe burns on his face, Mahmoud Suroor turned to his mother while in the emergency room and asked where his father was. She did not respond. Then he turned again to his mother.
“Don’t cry Mama, we’ll all be O.K.,” he said.
And lest anyone be foolhardy enough to say that this is out of the ordinary behavior on the IDF’s part, read this report in today’s Haaretz:
Israel Air Force missiles struck a house in south Lebanon early Tuesday, killing seven people and wounding one other, Lebanese hospital and security officials said.
IAF jets fired a missile at the house in the market town of Nabatiyeh, destroying it and killing its owner, a man named Mohammed Ghandour, his wife and five children, the sources said. It was not immediately clear why the IAF had targeted the house.
And Condi Rice has the temerity to say the time is not yet ripe for a ceasefire. What are you doing, woman? How many more such individuals must die before the time will be ripe?? The Bush Administration is a willing co-conspirator in this Israeli-led charade.
Here is the latest expression of concern from Condi, the Johnny Come Too Lately of the Bush Administration, for “humanitarian problems” in Lebanon :
“We are concerned about the humanitarian situation,” she said. “And nobody wants to see when innocent civilians are harmed.”
Rice also spoke of the importance of a “humanitarian corridor” that Israel had promised for getting foreigners out of Lebanon, and allowing in international aid.
You’ll note there is no mention of “humanitarian corridors” for Lebanese civilians. Only for “foreigners.” Have you ever heard anything so callous? Israel is not targeting ‘foreigners.’ It is targeting Lebanese civilians. They are the ones who truly need such protection. As usual Condi, a day late and a dollar short.
And where is the loyal opposition? The Democrats are simply too afraid of bucking the pro-Israel lobby led by Aipac to mount any sort of oppositions. A week ago or so Christopher Dodd made noises of concern about the violence. No Democratic leader has been heard from since. All except the sterling Dennis Kucinich and 23 hearty Democratic representatives who’ve co-sponsored his resolution calling for an immediate cessation of hostility in Lebanon. Imagine that, you call for the end of a bloody war and only 23 members have the courage to stand up and be counted. Shame, Democrats! Shame!
As for Hassan Fattah, blessings on his head. Though I doubt he will ever get to cover the Israel beat for the Times after coverage like this. If the Times were wise they would forward this article to the Pulitzer Committee for consideration. It is worthy. At least let something positive and constructive come from such unutterable tragedy.