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‘No apologies,’ Bennett declares — and controversy breaks over his role in ’96 massacre

on 33 Comments

It’s campaign season in Israel. Here’s a video of Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister of the economy, wearing blue jeans and a tee-shirt and hanging banners for his party, Jewish Home, in apartments in Tel Aviv. His message is “No Apologies — We Love Israel,” and he has mocked those who feel defensive about Israeli conduct. “I believe in someone whose slogan is ‘No apologies,'” says a young man in a motorcycle jacket. The land is ours, we’re proud to be Jewish, are the messages of the ad. 

Meantime, a controversy, if you can call it that, has broken over Bennett’s operational role as an officer during a 1996 attack in Lebanon that killed 102 civilians, including four U.N. officials. This was the famous Qana massacre of “Operation Grapes of Wrath,” a two week incursion into Lebanon to try and stamp out Hezbollah. Bennett was then a 24-year-old captain in an elite Israeli unit when the attack on Qana took place.

Richard Silverstein covered the Bennett controversy the other day: 

The massacre, like a similar one that occurred in the same place during the 2006 Lebanon war, shocked the world and led to the end of the conflict.  However, Israel refused in both instances to apologize for the huge death toll.  Shimon Peres, prime minister at the time of the first Kafr Qana massacre said: “We regret, but we will never apologize.”  But apologize he did, in the form of bowing to the enormous pressure exerted on him by the international community, which was shocked by the carnage.  Peres quickly ended the operation, to the disgust of then-Captain Bennett.

Silverstein ran a translation of a portion of the Yedioth Ahronoth article that has has spurred the renewed scrutiny of Bennett’s past:

During Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon, Bennett was filled with contempt for a military command marked by hesitation and timidity and as cautious as the then-prime minister, Shimon Peres. Following eight days in which Bennett followed Hezbollah forces and scouted their rocket launch locations, he took it upon himself to deviate from his orders. He acted like a man with a knife in his teeth, according to a friend’s account: someone who sought action, engaging the enemy, and killing. At the time, he boasted proudly that about changing his operational mission without consulting his superiors.

He was a field commander in the mold of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, skilled, violent, daring and rash. He believed it was in his power to vanquish the enemy if he could only free himself from the limitations of the orders given him by politicians and commanders too timid for his taste. Kurtz wanted to do it his way: to kill and prevail. But it ended badly for him.

That April day, Bennett’s force met with highly effective mortar fire of a Hezbollah unit near Kafr Qana. It was then that he realized he couldn’t prevail on his own. He needed a battery of IDF 155mm howitzers [to come to his rescue], which hit a refugee camp and killed 102 civilians.

The story doesn’t seem to have much traction in Israel– Haaretz calls it a minor political storm over “stale leftovers” of a ’96 operation; Electronic Intifada points out that Bennett has bragged about killing Arabs and that while some are questioning his fitness to be Prime Minister, there is a strong undercurrent in the discussion that the matter is irrelevant. Of course civilian expulsion and slaughter are a regular feature of Israeli military operations. Rather than a bar to leadership it would seem to be a qualification: Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Tzipi Livni, Benjamin Netanyahu could/can make claim to a No Apologies approach to atrocity.

Certainly it is a measure of the world’s insensitivity that 152 civilian deaths during Grapes of Wrath was then a big deal; the event radicalized some Muslims, including Osama bin Laden. But similar massacres have been committed almost routinely since, except that the numbers get bigger. And the killing of 500 children in Gaza last summer is being rubber-stamped by western governments, when who knows what kind of rage that is seeding.

Jon Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution makes the point that Qana ’96 galvanized radical Islamists:

In Osama bin Laden’s 1996 declaration of war upon the U.S., he specifically cited Qana as part of his motivation:

“It should not be hidden from you that the people of Islam had suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed on them by the Zionist-Crusaders alliance…The horrifying pictures of the massacre of Qana, in Lebanon are still fresh in our memory.”

Bin Laden cited Qana at least four more times: in a July, 1996 interview with Robert Fisk; a November, 1996 interview with a London newspaper; a 1999 interview with al Jazeera; and an October, 2001 online interview. He specifically said his goal was to make Americans “taste what we tasted.”

In addition, Mohammed Atta signed a will at the beginning of Operation Grapes of Wrath. In Lawrence Wright’s book The Looming Tower, he writes that “According to one of his friends, Atta was enraged, and by filling out his last testament during the attack he was offering his life in response.”

Thanks to Ofer Neiman and Donald Johnson.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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33 Responses

  1. a blah chick on January 8, 2015, 2:07 pm

    He’s got a weird shaped head too.

    His killings have not “resonated” because Israel has discovered that there is no amount of slaughter that their die hard supporters won’t excuse. The aid keeps flowing, the entertainment acts keep booking, and soon the tourists will be back. The elites have let them know that they have their back. And if the rest of the world doesn’t care about these deaths why should they?

    • Pixel on January 9, 2015, 3:22 am

      “He’s got a weird shaped head too.”


    • K Renner on January 16, 2015, 10:19 am

      I’ve always referred to Bennett as “the ugly beaver”.

      It works well with Avigdor Lieberman as “the sociopathic owl” and Netanyahu is yet to be determined.

      Something that looks disgustingly smug all the time, anyways.

  2. JeffB on January 8, 2015, 2:28 pm

    IMHO the party really at fault for Qana was the UN. The UN has an obligation to break up Hezbollah attacks 200m from a UN compound. The UN cannot go around offering shelter to combatants. Safe zones mean no civilians no military operations. My feeling is it was probably intentional or semi-intentional. I wish Israel had owned it more, but I understand why they didn’t. I think the message got through either way. And I get why bin Ladin would see it among the list of things he wanted revenge for, completely understandable. bin Ladin is not a nuanced guy who sees things in shades of gray.

    Anyway. I still love the Bayit Yehudi commercial from the previous campaign.

    I can see why Bayit Yehudi message of pure unnuanced proud Zionism bothers you. Though given how popular Bayit Yehudi is in the USA with the “the Ingathering of Exiles” banners and so forth here I don’t see how the comports with your theory of young Jews abandoning Israel.

    • Donald on January 8, 2015, 3:42 pm

      “Safe zones mean no civilians no military operations. My feeling is it was probably intentional or semi-intentional. I wish Israel had owned it more, but I understand why they didn’t. I think the message got through either way. ”

      This is fascinating in a train-wrecky sort of way. Western attitudes towards terrorism are a never ending source of doublethink. On the one hand there’s this pretense that we’d never kill innocent civilians as a way of sending a message but every now and then some official or military type will blurt out the truth, or someone like you will say it. And you’re probably right. The doublethink comes in when people pretend, most of the time, that Western countries would never deliberately kill civilians when it’s obvious that they do sometimes.

      • JeffB on January 8, 2015, 4:31 pm


        We agree on something! Countries uses violence as a way of influencing the political opinions of their opponents. The definition of power correlates closely to the ability to use violence. Countries that are exerting hard power usually do so by harming civilians. As western countries are some of the world’s most powerful they are quite often some of the world’s most violent. There are exceptions like the RCD (Rally for Congolese Democracy) who are incredibly violent and not all that powerful but they are exceptions. There are also countries that are able to deploy lots of power without the use of much violence, China in the last 50 years being a prime example. But mostly they heavily correlate.

        BTW a vastly more clear cut case was George W Bush hitting Oxfam and the RedCross when they refused to coordinate with the USA during the Afghan war. They insisted they had the “right” under international law to operate trucks without military coordination. Bush disagreed, those 2 agencies didn’t listen and they learned rather clearly that there rights in a USA theatre of operations was whatever the Pentagon liaison told them they were international law be damned. No one gave a damn and it is hard to think of more sympathetic victims.

        Or to pick larger cases during Vietnam the USA infantry cleared areas with intentional killing. Estimates of civilians are 2-3.5m dead, 11m displaced. 0 people have ever been charged.

        Which is why I lost patience with all this talk about international laws which the major powers obviously do not and will not support.

        Just to nitpick I wouldn’t classify the Qana as terrorism since it happened during a war. Terrorism is this sort of act falling short of a war.

      • Donald on January 8, 2015, 9:04 pm

        If I recall correctly, I sometimes do think your analyses are at least partly right. I can’t always quite remember who says what around here. But in this case (and probably others, but my memory is vague), you seem to be not just saying that Israel hit civilians to send a message, but actually approving of what they did. We don’t agree on the approval part.

      • OyVey00 on January 8, 2015, 9:22 pm

        Just think of the tens of thousands of civilians killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan.

      • Mooser on January 9, 2015, 12:12 pm

        “Just think of the tens of thousands of civilians killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan.”

        Now, I ask you, is this US-Israel relationship special or what?

        So, I gotta ask, “OyVey00” do you make that statement about “tens of thousands of civilians killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan” out of your avowed “anti-Jewish sentiment” (verbatim) or out of ‘pro-Jewish sentiment’?

      • annie on January 9, 2015, 12:52 pm

        do you make that statement about “tens of thousands of civilians killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan” out of your avowed “anti-Jewish sentiment” (verbatim) or out of ‘pro-Jewish sentiment’?

        since it’s an untruth he’s either mocking or setting up ‘pro-Jewish sentiment’ to refute it.

    • Marnie on January 8, 2015, 5:31 pm

      Bennett is a good representation of everything wrong with Israel – prideful, arrogance, unwillingness to admit to mistakes, negligence or wrongdoing, no matter how big or how small. I find him incredibly disgusting, along with the “pure unnuanced proud Zionism” that is especially revolting as only ubernationalism can be. The combination of Bennett and Shaked speaking English to their intended audience of idiots about the zionist racist state of Israel is actually nauseating. Why would refusing to apologize be considered something to aspire too? Zionism is a disease that ultimately destroys its host by rot of the soul.

  3. chet on January 8, 2015, 2:32 pm

    Kudos to Richard Silverstein for his dedication to the Palestinian cause and for his relentless efforts to expose Israeli brutality, racism and hypocrisy.

  4. Walid on January 8, 2015, 3:53 pm

    Silverstein has another good take on the Charlie Hebdo story. He dishes blame on many parties starting with France for its failure to keep a watch on the nutjobs, on the Muslim community and on Charlie Hebdo for having gone overboard in its provocation for the sake of provocation:

  5. DaBakr on January 8, 2015, 6:11 pm

    “no traction in Israel”…maybe because the whole fictitious Col Kurtz/Marlow angle- who evidently commanded an army of indigenous warriors and engaged in wild ritual is pretty far-fetched even for Israeli public. Many young commanders/ captains/sargents in special brigades bristle at commanding officer and especially political limitations. nothing that unusual and has existed for ever in military command/control structure.

    • Mooser on January 9, 2015, 12:15 pm

      “Many young commanders/ captains/sargents in special brigades bristle at commanding officer and especially political limitations.”

      Those are the guys that help you sleep at night, right, Dabkr? Well, don’t worry, if the usual trajectory is followed, they may end up warlords of their areas where they’re stationed. Wouldn’t that be great?

      • DaBakr on January 9, 2015, 9:04 pm


        depends. in general- the greatest warriors are usually the ones that want to go home. some would say this is the strength of the Palestinians as well.

      • CigarGod on January 10, 2015, 8:32 am

        That is a thoughtful response, Dabakr.
        Perhaps a complimentary wisdom might be a paraphrase twist from a wise man of football: It’s hard to talk and shoot at the same time.

  6. JLewisDickerson on January 8, 2015, 7:45 pm

    RE: “Bennett was filled with contempt for a military command marked by hesitation and timidity” – Yedioth Ahronoth article

    ● FROM TED RALL, 07/22/10:

    [EXCERPT] . . . Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay “Eternal Fascism” describes the cult of action for its own sake under fascist regimes and movements: “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.” . . .

    SOURCE –

    ● FROM ROGER COHEN, 2/13/12:

    [EXCERPT] . . . Netanyahu — raised in the Jabotinsky strain of Zionism by a father who viewed Arabs as “semi-barbaric” and rejected an “emasculating moralism” in favor of a new warrior breed of Jew. . .

    SOURCE –

    ● ALSO SEE: “Eric Garner, the Torture Report, and Authoritarian Psychology”, by Todd E. Pierce,, December 12, 2014

    [EXCERPTS] What do the NYPD arresting officers of Eric Garner, the CIA officials responsible for the crimes detailed in the Torture Report and US foreign policy officials all have in common? They are all agents of institutions that have adopted an “authoritarian psychology.” So what does authoritarian psychology mean?

    Alexandre Kojeve, a French fascist in Vichy France, and lifelong close friend of Neocon Godfather Leo Strauss, explained authority as follows: “Authority is the possibility of an agent acting upon others without these others reacting against him, despite being capable to do so, and without making any compromises. Any discussion is already a compromise.”

    This is anathema to the authoritarian because it means their absolute authority or of the institution they represent has been lost, even if only to an imperceptible degree. That is the nature of authoritarian psychology and authoritarian government by Kojeve’s and fascist logic. . .

    . . . Finally, the United States, through Dick Cheney while he was Secretary of Defense in 1991, created a global authoritarian order with the declaration that all nations must hereafter comply with US military orders, as explained here. Not surprisingly, the Clinton administration didn’t spurn that gift, and Madeline Albright and Hilary Clinton eagerly put it to use in the Balkans.

    But the doctrine required Cheney’s return in 2001 to be fully revealed as US authoritarianism applied to the world. This was expressed in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) where it identified as a “threat” to the United States what was described as “anti-access and area denial threats.” These were exactly as the plain words stated, the United States saw as a threat to itself nations that might deny it access to their territory regardless of how nefarious our purpose maybe.

    This would be explained further by its conception as an enduring national interest, our “freedom of action,” which can only be understood in an Orwellian sense. Finally, to bring that home, in some military reading in the 2002-2003 timeframe, I came across the best explanation of what that all might be: the U.S. will not tolerate any nation even having the ability to make us hesitate in our decision making. In other words, if another nation doesn’t immediately submit and comply with our order, we have to “take it to the next level” lest our authority and intimidation capabilities come to be questioned.

    * FROM WIKIPEDIA [Iron Wall (essay), as of 12/09/13]:

    [EXCERPT] . . . [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky argued that the Palestinians would not agree to a Jewish majority in Palestine, and that “Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population – behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.”[1] The only solution to achieve peace and a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, he [Ze’ev Jabotinsky] argued, would be for Jews to unilaterally decide its borders and defend them with the strongest security possible. . .

    SOURCE –

    ENTIRE ‘IRON WALL’ ESSAY: “The Iron Wall (We and the Arabs)”, By Vladimir Jabotinsky, 1923 –

    P.S. ALSO SEE: “The Ethics of the Iron Wall”, By Vladimir Jabotinsky, 1923 –

    • JeffB on January 8, 2015, 11:31 pm


      Netanyahu — raised in the Jabotinsky strain of Zionism … rejected an “emasculating moralism” in favor of a new warrior breed of Jew.

      That is all Zionism. That predates Herzl that diaspora had turned Jews into emasculated shadows of men that a reconnection with land and country would allow Jews to be rather than cogitate, “the tragedy of our passivity”. Jabotinsky was one of our first modern leaders to use violence and not just sing it praises but no he doesn’t get the credit for rejecting the emasculation of the diaspora.

      As for authoritarian psychology, you don’t see that in terrorists groups. Rule followers are generally not drawn to the Jabotinsky’s of the world. Nor would they be drawn to a Bennett with his belief in intellect, breaking convention and his view of man as an economic animal: i.e. economic incentives rather than church and state authority. So I think you are off on that one.

      As for Jabotinsky and unilaterally moving towards borders rather than negotiating them. That’s fair though I’d say Sharon’s example is probably the more relevant case.

  7. JeffB on January 8, 2015, 11:03 pm


    If I recall correctly, I sometimes do think your analyses are at least partly right. I can’t always quite remember who says what around here. But in this case (and probably others, but my memory is vague), you seem to be not just saying that Israel hit civilians to send a message, but actually approving of what they did. We don’t agree on the approval part

    We agreed on an earlier discussion as well about country formation in particular the Tutsi / Hutu analogy.

    Anyway I don’t either approve of disapprove of Qana. Being able to see some of the positives and negatives falls far short of knowing how they balance out snd thus being able to make a judgement as to whether the act makes sense. I don’t know enough to approve or not. IMHO one of the downsides of Israel’s culture of secrecy about military operations is that Israelis really can’t assess the costs vs. benefits of many of their actions. So I’m not sure anyone has had the ability to calmly reflect on what was likely a spur of the moment choice. That being said I do give Israel the benefit of the doubt when it comes to mass casualties. In my experience they are if anything overly reluctant to kill. But for example if this were petty cruelty and not mass murder I’d go the other way. Israel tends to use petty harassment a great deal in ways that are often inappropriate. Not shockingly, given that I’m American, I tend to think the way the USA does military operations is better.

    I know in general you tend to be more opposed to violence to achieve political ends than I am. So I don’t have any problem with you being able to decide that Qana is almost invariably something you disapprove of. Where I’m ambiguous I get how you are an easy no.

  8. Taxi on January 9, 2015, 2:44 am

    Is the article saying Bennett is the very man behind the Qana war crime?

    A pathetic Sharon wannabe!

    • Walid on January 9, 2015, 4:56 am

      “Is the article saying Bennett is the very man behind the Qana war crime?”

      Bennet may be trying to get the credit for Qana I, but the actual criminal behind the whole war in 1996 was Shimon Peres. Israel’s general elections had been scheduled for May 29th that year and Peres had been nominated to replace the assassinated Rabin in the interim for only 5 months and his chances of getting elected were poor. That’ s when Peres, like all Israeli leaders, decided he needed a heroic deed for the elections, started the Grapes of Wrath War in mid-April, 6 weeks before Israel’s elections. He still lost out to Netanyahu. So Bennet may have had a hand in the vicious bombing of Qana, but the ultimate guilty person is Peres that wanted to appear the hero to his people to be elected. BTW, I was at Qana 2 or 3 days after the massacre while what was left of the Fiji Battalion’s compound building was still smoldering. The spookiest moment on that trip was the crossing of the highway north of Saida where the Israeli ship was taking shots at cars trying to cross. that stretch of highway. Burned cars that had been hit littered the small stretch of exposed highway of less than a km long. I returned about 10 days later for the funeral.

      • a blah chick on January 9, 2015, 7:28 am

        If you want to be the leader of Israel you have to have your Arab heads and pelts on the wall to show the public that you can be trusted with their security.

      • Marnie on January 9, 2015, 11:30 am

        So an Israeli leader trying to make a good impression on the voters chooses carnage over say, the economy, jobs, education, helping the poor, elderly, disabled……..

  9. Pixel on January 9, 2015, 3:19 am

    Rather than a bar to leadership it would seem to be a qualification:…

    A qualification. I’d say it’s a huge selling point.

    I don’t care what this guy’s done. He’s balls to the wall. Get it done. No more screwing around.

    I’m up out of my stadium seat cheering him on! Tell me where and I’ll send a donation.

    If this guy gets any power, things are going to begin to move — fast — and for me, the faster the better.

    I want to get this thing out on table, like yesterday. I want all of this to become so transparent that things come roaring to a head so this insanity can have any chance of being stopped.

    While you’re at it, give me Schmuley’s address. I’ll toss him a couple of bucks, too.

    Anything that ups the crazy.

  10. Taxi on January 9, 2015, 3:20 am

    I’m a survivor of The Grapes of Wrath. I happenstance was a mere 19 kilometers from Qana when it was suddenly attacked by israel. Seeing live footage of headless babies on Lebanese TV that afternoon was the most shockingly evil thing I had ever seen in my life. The tens of thousands of israeli bombs that fell in that week are still ringing in my ears. Needless to say, it took me 16 years to be able to visit Lebanon again.

    What people who’ve never been to a war zone don’t realize is that the incessant thunder of exploding bombs alone can haunt and jitter you up for life, let alone seeing with own eyes all kinds of human flesh ripped off bones.

    War truly is the scourge of mankind and must be avoided if possible. Unless you’re being physically invaded, like what the isrealis have been doing to the the surrounding natives for 65 years, there really is no need to go to war.

    • Pixel on January 9, 2015, 3:31 am

      Geez, Taxi. That stops me in my tracks.

      There are no words…

    • CigarGod on January 9, 2015, 10:52 am

      Thanks for that, Taxi.
      My mind went immediately to the memory of natalie abou shakra, a young lebanese woman who live blogged from gaza as an ism volunteer. Eventually being driven to and blogging…from a caved in cellar in the 2008/2009 gaza assault…with orphans huddled around her…with out food and water, for days. She reported from that cellar as bombs rocked her cellar until her phone went dead. I spoke with her until the end. Her passionate words while under assault with the orphaned survivors in the dusty darkness will stay with me forever. They survived…and has since described herself as a child of war. She survived the war you were in, as well. There is more to that event than i am at liberty to share, but perhaps you already know the rest of the story.

      • Taxi on January 9, 2015, 1:29 pm

        Thanks for sharing the memory of Natalie Abou Shakra. Heartbreaking…

    • Marnie on January 9, 2015, 11:37 am

      Taxi, I’m glad you are here today. What horror. I don’t think I could ever sleep again with those images in my head.

      My dad was a 19-year-old sailor in Okinawa 1944/45. The only thing he ever said about his experience was summed up in a single word, “horrible”. War is the last thing we should ever inflict on each other.

      • Taxi on January 9, 2015, 1:39 pm


        Your good father is right.

        But unfortunately, some wars are necessary – wars that aim to liberate the occupied often cannot be avoided for the incessant and unrelenting violence of the occupier – israel here being an example of a criminal occupier that must be met with armed resistance.

  11. K Renner on January 16, 2015, 10:22 am

    I don’t think anyone would expect Bennett to suddenly become a half-decent person magically overnight after spending his entire adult life as someone decidedly not so.

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