Smokin' Mirrors: Murder, by any other name
A report released in August by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) bombing of Lebanon has pointed out what anyone with any common sense can conclude: that Israel is in violation of international humanitarian law. It is, in its most basic form, strong evidence for the United Nations to pick up the pace in calling for an immediate ceasefire.
"Since the start of the conflict, Israeli forces have consistently launched artillery and air attacks with limited or dubious military gain but excessive civilian cost," states the HRW report. "In dozens of attacks, Israeli forces struck an area with no apparent military target. In some cases, the timing and intensity of the attack, the absence of a military target, as well as return strikes on rescuers, suggest that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians."
According to Noureddine Ait Messaoudene, a Member of the Movement of the Society of Peace (Algerian Political Party) and a Professor at the University of Blida (Algeria) in her August 5 article, "A Letter to Robert Fisk", the IDF even bombarded a milk factory near Beyrouth. A curious choice of target. Does the IDF want to deny Hezbollah their daily calcium intake?
Since the air strikes began on 12 July 2006, over 1000 people have been killed in Lebanon - the vast majority of which are civilians. Hezbollah's retaliation has brought the Israeli casualty total to 100 at the time of writing (see below up to the minute figures). While Israel has accused Hezbollah of using civilians as human shields, the HRW report suggests there is no evidence of such claims, although Hezbollah are guilty of storing weapons near civilians or UN observers, which is a serious violation of the law that states all feasible precautions must be taken to protect civilians. But the report goes on to say that: "In none of the cases of civilian deaths documented in this report is there evidence to suggest that Hezbollah forces or weapons were in or near the area that the IDF targeted during or just prior to the attack."
However, Hezbollah has been in violation of other laws, particularly because it has no precise targeting for its missiles, and therefore has indiscriminately fired missiles into areas where civilian safety cannot be assured. In addition, they have been firing missiles that spray ball bearings across a wide area, increasing the likelihood of civilian casualties.
In what is looking remarkably similar to tactics used by US officials in Iraq, Israeli officials have been blurring the lines between combatants and civilians. The HRW report stated: "On 27 July, Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon said the Israeli air force should flatten villages before ground troops move in to prevent casualties among Israeli soldiers fighting Hezbollah. Israel had given civilians ample time to leave southern Lebanon, he claimed, and therefore anyone remaining should be considered a supporter of Hezbollah. "All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah,h he said."
Unfortunately for the poor, the sick or the elderly, who are the majority of people left behind in the blasted area of Southern Lebanon, Israeli warnings for civilians to leave went hand in hand with air strikes on roads and even vehicles attempting to leave. "Others civilians came under attack in their cars as they attempted to flee the fighting in the South," wrote HRW. "This report alone documents twenty-seven civilian deaths that resulted from such attacks. The number is surely higher, but at the time the report went to press, ongoing Israeli attacks on the roads made it impossible to retrieve all the bodies."
International law states that ample warning must be given to civilians prior to an attack where conditions allow, but warnings spewing forth from officials' mouths while cluster bombs are being dropped can hardly constitute a legitimate attempt to allow civilians to leave. To add insult to injury, those unable to leave are now being slotted into the "Hezbollah Supporters" category, and therefore are now legitimate targets in the eyes of the IDF.
The HRW report concludes that the pattern of attacks during the Israeli offensive in Lebanon "suggests that the failures cannot be explained or dismissed as mere accidents; the extent of the pattern and the seriousness of the consequences indicate the commission of war crimes."
Yesh Gvul ("There's a limit!"), is an Israeli peace organization that backs the decision by Israeli military personnel who do not wish to participate in either the oppression of Palestinian people or the guarding of settlements. "Yesh Gvul arose in response to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, as growing numbers of soldiers grasped that the campaign, with its bloodshed and havoc, was an act of naked and futile aggression in which they wanted no part," they state on their website. According to the organisation, approximately 168 service men and women were jailed during that time for refusing to fight. The numbers of conscientious objectors is thought to be much higher, as the army backed down when the numbers rapidly increased. According to the group's estimates, there are already over a dozen IDF soldiers refusing to fight in the latest invasion of Lebanon. Capt (Res) Amir Pasteur has become the first refuser to be imprisoned for his objection to participation he deemed to be "contrary to the values" on which he was brought up. He will serve a jail sentence of 28 days. Yesh Gvel has an ongoing campaign against the second invasion of Lebanon, and was the principle force behind a massive demonstration in Tel Aviv on August 5th.
There can be no doubt that both sides of this fight have their own violations to answer to, but it is a cold, hard fact that, right now, Israel has the power to call for a cease fire. The United Nations should also be brought to task, as it continues to allow itself to be ineffectual as long as the US holds the power of veto in the Security Council. While they hide behind their collectively blinding long fringe, Lebanese civilians are the victims of indiscriminate bombing on a mass scale. There is no time to suggest negotiations ein a week or two'. It is clear that civilian casualties will not stop while Israel believes the majority of the world is in support of its offensive. eOffensivef is the only aspect to any of the rhetoric which is in any way linked to reality. Murder, by any other name, still has the stench of death.
Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/
Note: Up to date lists of casualties can be found at:
The Coffin Counter: http://www.moiz.ca/coffin.htm
Yesh Gvel: http://www.yeshgvul.org/index_e.asp
Save Lebabon Organisation: http://www.saveleb.org/
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