In antiquity, Pliny wrote of the cliffs of Bayada. The chalk runs down to the Mediterranean in an almost Dover-like cascade of white rock, and the view from the top – just below the little Lebanese village of Chama’a – is breathtaking. To the south lies the United Nations headquarters and the Israeli frontier, to the north the city of Tyre, its long promentary, built by Alexander the Great, lunging out into the green-blue sea. A winding, poorly-made road runs down to the shore below Chama’a and for some reason – perhaps because he had caught sight of the Israeli warship off the coast – 58-year-old Ali Kemal Abdullah took a right turn above the Mediterranean on the morning of 15 July. In the open-topped pick-up behind him, Ali had packed 27 Lebanese refugees, most of them children. Twenty-three of them were to die within the next 15 minutes.
The tragedy of these poor young people and of their desperate attempts to survive their repeated machine-gunning from the air is as well-known in Lebanon as it is already forgotten abroad. War crimes are easy to talk about when they have been committed in Rwanda or Bosnia; less so in Lebanon, especially when the Israelis are involved. But all the evidence suggests that what happened on this blissfully lovely coastline two and a half months ago was a crime against humanity, one that is impossible to justify on any military grounds since the dead and wounded were fleeing their homes on the express orders of the Israelis themselves.