The Jerusalem Post tells us that tomorrow Human Rights Watch, that bastion of ill-will toward Israel, is going to tell the world, yet again, that Israel fired at civilians in Lebanon indiscriminately and killed Lebanese civilians for no good reason. Its evidence? Well, they seem to indicate that Hizbullah uses civilian targets, including UN sites, for “shielding” and that Hezbollah fighters do not wear uniforms and blend in with civilians. It’s just that according to HRW this does not matter at all.
According to HRW, when a fighting force targets a sovereign nation’s civilians with rockets, that nation may not defend itself if the attacking force uses civilian areas and civilians as shields. HRW has not indicated how such a war is to be fought.
I say HRW lost all of its credibility regarding Israel in Durban in 2001 but what can one do other than to shake one’s head in disbelief once again and simply ignore this troupe of comedians?
Human Rights Watch said it investigated 94 cases of Israeli air, artillery and ground attacks “to discern the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 510 civilians and 51 combatants,” about half the death toll in Lebanon in the conflict.
The group said simple movement of vehicles or people, “such as attempting to buy bread or moving around private homes,” could trigger a deadly IDF attack. The group charged that IAF aircraft targeted vehicles carrying fleeing civilians.
Roth said that Hizbullah guerrillas did not wear uniforms, making it hard to pick them out from civilians, but that did not justify the IDF’s failure to distinguish between them. He said the laws of war dictate “if in doubt to treat the person as a civilian.”
The report said the investigation “refutes the argument made by Israeli officials that most of the Lebanese civilian casualties were due to Hizbullah routinely hiding among civilians.” It said Hizbullah “did at times fire rockets from, and store weapons in, populated areas and deploy its forces among the civilian population.”
However, the human rights group said it “found no evidence in these cases of separate legal violation of shielding, which is the deliberate use of civilians to render combatants immune from attack.” Also, it said, Hizbullah conducted most of its activities and stored most of its weapons away from civilians.
The report found that Hizbullah used hilltop UN positions for shelling Israel, which it said might be shielding, but said that required further investigation.
They can stop investigating, they are fools.
I should stress that I don’t think Israel acted perfectly (and I’m not discussing Israel’s performance against Hizbullah here) and I have a particular problem with the defective cluster bombs that were used in significant quantities at the end of the war. It is also sad and maddening that any civilians at all had to be killed in this war when it should have been fighters and soldiers only. Some of the civilian losses in Lebanon are heartbreaking, as is the distance from peace between the two nations that has resulted from this war.
On the other hand, the Hizbullah propaganda machine has distorted the number of their dead fighters; many of the civilians who were killed had been killed because Hizbullah fired rockets or had fighters near their homes; there was no way to distinguish between fighters and civilians; and tunnels and ammunition/rocket caches were stored in or very near villages. Also, Israel did send numerous warnings to civilians to move on, although many found it difficult to flee.
Make no mistake, this is Hizbullah’s strategy. Having civilians near targets makes fighting more challenging for the Israelis precisely because they care about avoiding such victims. We all saw that idiotic Youtube video in which Israeli soldiers go into a house where two Hizbullah men are waiting in ambush. Soldiers get injured during the fight and the Hizbullah men die. The Israelis could have just destroyed the house, but they actually try not to, even at risk to themselves. Shades of Jenin, 2002. Hizbullah uses civilian deaths as a cudgel against Israel, often with the support of the media and naive “human rights” groups. When the civilians don’t die and fighters die, Hizbullah lies about their numbers or their status as fighters. It places Israel in a difficult and untenable position from a moral, not to mention public relations, perspective.
Kenneth Roth, HRW’s executive director, said,
“Israel wrongfully acted as if all civilians had heeded its warnings to evacuate southern Lebanon when it knew they had not, disregarding its continuing legal duty to distinguish between military targets and civilians…Issuing warnings doesn’t make indiscriminate attacks lawful.”
In other words, the warnings are meaningless, the attempts to hit targets from which Hizbullah men are firing are immoral, the fighting against an army wearing civilian clothes which causes civilians wearing civilian clothes to be harmed is improper, and unless the Israelis are staring at a tank with a uniform-wearing, bearded, Islamist noshing on some Syrian figs and Iranian pistachios, they shouldn’t fire. Even as rockets rain down on their Northern cities.