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.


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  • Give me a break. The IDF knew full well this would happen if they fired at civilian areas, but instead of being cautious and taking the high road, they chose to do this and accept the consequences.

  • Guess what Ari, you can’t fight an enemy who hides among civilians and who uses civilians as a strategic asset and target without hurting civilians.

    You’re right that the Israelis could have simply avoided going to war in the first place, but that’s another issue. If you would like to propose that Israel remain gun-shy about attacking areas with potentially high civilian casualties, you can take a look at what is happening to Sderot and the Western Negev right now thanks to Palestinian attacks.

    Even though Israel has entirely exited Gaza and continues to provide electricity, water and other essential supplies Hamas smuggles tons of weapons and explosives into Gaza and the attacks on Israeli civilians and communities (not on soldiers or military targets) persist. Everybody knows that Israel needs to go in there, but they are making the choice you recommend, that of avoiding potential civilian casualties. The outcome is taking place before our eyes. Hamas is preparing and arming itself for a larger conflagration. When the confrontation finally happens, Palestinian civilians will die in larger numbers because the Palestinian terror groups will be better armed and prepared. Also, they already fight and fire from civilian areas, often wear civilian clothing, and even use teenagers to do some of their fighting.

    Someone like you will then come along and tell us that Israel had a choice about going in there and fighting; that the civilian casualties among the Palestinians are the fault of an Israei “choice.”

    Sorry, you’re wrong.

  • Uh, taking the high road like sacrificing the lives of its own citizens for a PR benefit? Gee, where do I sign up to live under a government like that?

  • These cluster bomblets were supposed to explode after dispersion and thereafter hitting the ground. There was a very high failure rate.

  • Let us remember that Human Rights Watch issued a blistering report against Hisbullah about two weeks that condemned them for starting the war, firing on Israeli civilians and fighting from among civilians. They said that the fact that more Israeli civilians did not die is because of Israeli bomb shelters and not because of lack of Hisbulluh trying. The report upset Nasrallah and others in Lebanon.

  • That’s very nice of them, Ronald, if a year late. They certainly didn’t shy away from attacking Israel during and after the war without doing the same toward Hizbullah. The influence they enjoy with the media means that the media’s coverage of the war was affected by HRW’s constant criticism of Israel and relative whitewashing of Hizbullah’s actions.

    Either way, whether you look at if from your perspective or mine, it is impossible to ignore the absurdity of their demands from Israel. “We know the enemies dress like civilians and sometimes use civilian areas to shield themselves or to fire at you, and we know you tried to warn civilians who were located in areas which you attacked, but these issues are unimportant because you can’t fight a war if civilians might be hurt.”

  • I’ll never understand this thing with human rights orgs deciding which side in war played more fair, especially in street wars involving a paramilitary guerilla groups.

    Is there, like, a ratings system? Minus two points for cluster bomb. Three points off for not wearing proper uniforms. Let’s see, after we tally it up… out of a possible 100 points for who fought the cleanest, niceste war… Israel: 23 points; Hezbollah with 25 points… and HEZBOLLAH WINS!!

    I’m sorry, war sucks. Avoid it all costs. If you don’t want people to die, don’t start one. If you do, don’t go hiding behind some so-called human rights org/slash league commissioner when it’s over.