In Lebanon, the Qana massacre will be Peres' legacy

In Lebanon, the Qana massacre will be Peres' legacy
The wounds of the Qana massacre in southern Lebanon 20 years ago under Peres' leadership have still not healed, and leaves bitter memories for other Lebanese.
3 min read
28 September, 2016
Peres died Wednesday at the age of 93, two weeks after suffering a stroke [Getty]
As world leaders paid tribute to veteran, Polish-born Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, thoughts in Lebanon will turn to the former president's role in the country.

Following the Israeli army's ill-fated invasion of Lebanon in 1982 during the Lebanese Civil War, Peres - then leader of the Israeli Labor party - expressed some reservations about the tactics used by Ariel Sharon and Menicin Begin during "Operation Peace for Galiliee".

The unpopularity in Israel of the Likud-led invasion of Lebanon allowed Peres to tap into national unease and win an election as head of a national unity government in 1984.

Following his appointment as prime minister, Peres was responsible for withdrawing troops from Beirut to a narrow "security zone" in southern Lebanon.

The first Qana massacre

However, Peres' own "quagmire" moment in Lebanon was to come later during Israel's notorious 1996 military operation in the south.

On 11 April 1996, Operation Grapes of Wrath was launched in Lebanon two days after a barrage of rockets were fired by the Lebanese Shia paramilitary group Hizballah on Israeli towns in Galiliee.

By April 26 - when a United Nations Security Council ceasefire came into place - Human Rights Watch reported that 154 civilians had been killed.

The most bloody event took place when 106 civilians died in Israeli bombardments of a UN compound in the southern Lebanese village of Qana.

Israel claimed that anti-aircraft fire had been detected in the vicinity of the UN compound in Qana, where 800 civilians had taken shelter.

Peres expressed regret for the loss of civilian life claiming the compound had been hit due to "incorrect targeting based on erroneous data" but others were sceptical.

A UN investigation later found that it was "unlikely" that Israeli shelling on the area had been caused by a technical or procedural error, noting that an Israeli aircraft had been surveilling the area prior to the attack.

Speaking at the time Peres said that "in my opinion, everything was done according to clear logic and in a responsible way. I am at peace".

Consequently Peres launched a campaign to persuade the Lebanese that Grapes of Wrath had been launched due to Hizballah's continued presence in the south. In reality, the Israeli invasion helped to strengthen the Lebanese militia's raison d'être for existing, and solidified Hizballah's popularity in Lebanese society.

The Qana massacre - take two

Later in his career, while serving as vice president, Peres justified Israel's use of disproportionate violence against civilian areas during the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war.

"We didn't attack Lebanon. Hizballah attacked us. We never attacked the country unless we were attacked. There is a clear line. Israel is never an aggressor. We’ll never be an aggressor," he stated.

According to Human Rights Watch 1,125 Lebanese died during the 2006 conflict, with 119 Israeli soldiers and 40 civilians also killed.

Ten years after the 1996 attack, Qana once again felt the brunt of Israeli bombing.

On 30 July 2006 an Israeli air raid on the town resulted in 28 civilian deaths, including 16 children.

International outrage caused following the attack eventually paved the way for a ceasefire agreement. 

The 1996 Qana massacre is said to have cost Peres his dream job, that of UN Secretary General.

Taken together the two attacks also ensured Hizballah's growing significance as an Iranian-funded resistance force within Lebanon and outside its borders - now in Syria.

Today, a memorial to those that lost their lives lies at the scene of the Qana massacre.

It has ensured that the late Israeli statesman - often viewed as a "dove" in Israel, and a "peacemaker" elsewhere - will never be forgotten in Lebanon.