The voice of Mohammed Shalhoub, 61, a farmer from Qana, still quivers with shock and exhaustion. He was in a basement shelter with more than 60 relatives when two Israeli bombs hit, killing at least 28, including 16 children. As I interview him in hospital, relatives arrive with more news of the victims. A woman starts screaming as she looks at the pictures of the dead and Mohammed’s eyes well up with tears.
But his voice turns cold with impotent fury when I ask if there were Hezbollah fighters near the home when the bombs fell. “If the Israelis really saw the rocket launcher, where did it go?” he asks. “We showed Israel our dead; why don’t the Israelis show us the rocket launchers?”
The world doesn’t seem to put much credence in the testimonies of Lebanese civilians, preferring to buy generic Israeli statements about Hezbollah using civilians as human shields, “precision strikes” at terrorist targets, and a “proportionate” bombing campaign. But after days of contradictory statements about Qana, the Israeli military was reported as saying it had no indication of rocket fire or Hezbollah presence in Qana on the day of the strike, and had bombed the area in retaliation for rockets launched days earlier.
Israel’s claims about pin-point strikes and proportionate responses are pure fantasy. As a researcher for Human Rights Watch, I’ve documented civilian deaths from bombing campaigns in Kosovo and Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq. But these usually occur when there is some indication of military targeting: high-ranking members of Saddam Hussein’s regime present in a house just before it is hit, for example, or an attack against militants that causes the collateral deaths of many civilians.