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Editorial Page Column

USS Liberty and Qana Compared

By Mark Genrich

The Phoenix Gazette, June 5, 1996

On June 8, 1967, Israeli air and naval forces attacked the "USS Liberty," a research ship, in the Mediterranean Sea.

The recent Israeli shelling of a United Nations refugee camp in Lebanon had striking similarities to an Israeli attack on a non-combatant American ship sailing in international waters 29 years ago. On June 8, 1967, Israeli air and naval forces attacked the "USS Liberty," a technical research ship, that was peacefully sailing off the Sinai Peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea. The Israelis used torpedoes, napalm and machine-gun fire to kill 34 Americans and wound 171 others.

Just as the Israelis claimed the shelling of the refugee camp was an accident, so too, did they claim that the attack on the "USS Liberty" was an accident.

There were other similarities:

1. The use of extraordinary brutality.

The April 18 shelling struck a U.N. peacekeepers' compound in south Lebanon killing more than 100 men, women and children. Knight-Ridder Newspapers reported that survivors were overcome by the magnitude of the killing.

"Grown men staggered around the blood-soaked compound, weeping uncontrollably. Wailing women threw themselves onto the burned and mangled corpses of relatives. As they weaved among rows of bodies shrouded with blankets, stepping over scattered body parts, even some battle-hardened U.N. soldiers were in tears."

During the attack on the "USS Liberty," the Israelis used unmarked aircraft, jammed the ship's radios on both U.S. Navy tactical and International Maritime Distress frequencies, destroyed by machine-gun fire life rafts that had been dropped over the side by crewmen preparing to abandon the ship, and refused to offer immediate aid upon cessation of hostilities.

2. The claim Israelis do not target innocent non-combatants.

Reported Associated Press writer Greg Myre, "Israel says it does not intentionally target civilians...But the gray gunboats off the port city of Sidon, 25 miles south of Beirut, fire day and night at civilian cars heading south on what is normally the country's busiest highway. Since Friday, three cars have been destroyed after being hit by shrapnel, and three more have skidded off the road and crashed in high-speed attempts to evade the Israeli fire."

According to Human Rights Watch, an organization that tracks human-rights abuses worldwide, Israel has displayed "indiscriminate and disproportionate" shelling of villages in southern Lebanon. While the human-rights report appropriately condemns Hezbollah guerrillas for indiscriminately firing Katyusha rockets into Israel, it also documented Israel's manifest violations of international law including, "Targeting whole villages without specific military objectives and without regard for civilian casualties; specifically targeting the civilian infrastructure, including power stations and water reservoirs; deliberately creating a refugee crisis to put pressure on the Lebanese government; and deliberately targeting ambulances and civilian vehicles."

A "USS Liberty" survivor, Lt. Cmdr. David Edwin Lewis, says, "The Israelis obviously had sufficient time to plan their armament load. There were apparently heat-seeking missiles used to take out the tuning coil of every antenna, there were fragmentation bombs used to take out the parabolic dish fore and aft. On the first strafing run virtually all communications and all means of survival were destroyed. If it was an accident, it was the best prepared accident on Earth."

3. The Israelis deny the attack was deliberate.

An investigation by Maj. Gen. Franklin van Kappen, a Dutch military adviser to the United Nations, concluded, "While the possibility cannot be ruled out completely, it is unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors."

The "Los Angeles Times" reported, "The most damaging point of the report - and to Israel's case - has been proof that Israel flew surveillance aircraft over the camp while the firing was going on. Contrary to repeated denials, two Israeli helicopters and a remotely piloted vehicle were present in the Qana area at the time of the shelling...Israel denied this to the United Nations and publicly until the British newspaper "The Independent" reported the existence of an amateur videotape showing an Israeli pilotless reconnaissance aircraft - the kind used by artillery spotters to perfect their aim - over Qana during the shelling." Once aware of the videotape, Israel changed its story.

Finally, the most recent unbiased research into the assault on the "USS Liberty" was conducted by Dr. John Edgar Borne at New York University. His detailed analysis concludes that "the account of the attack given by the Liberty men is the correct and truthful one" and that the attack "was deliberate and that all available evidence points to this conclusion."

(E-mail Mark Genrich, deputy editorial page editor, at MLGedit or [email protected])

(Copyright, Phoenix Newspapers Inc.)  


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