Friday, August 04, 2006

On Human Rights and Wrongs

The spiraling conflict between Israel and Hizbullah has produced numerous violations of human rights by both sides. All of Hizbullah’s rocket attacks on Israel constitute indiscriminate targeting of civilian populations that are not directly participating in the hostilities. These attacks violate every international standard; they are criminal and cannot be justified as appropriate retaliation for Israel’s attacks on Hizbullah or other Lebanese targets.

“Israeli forces have systematically failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians in their military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon,” according to a Human Rights Watch report released yesterday. The pattern of attacks, the report argues, cannot be “dismissed as mere accidents and cannot be blamed on wrongful Hezbollah practices. In some cases, [the] attacks constitute war crimes.” The report rejects the standard Israel exculpation that all the civilians killed by Israel were, in effect (or perhaps after the fact), used as human shields by Hizbullah. “In the many cases of civilian deaths examined by Human Rights Watch, the location of Hezbollah troops and arms had nothing to do with the deaths because there was no Hezbollah around.”

IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz’s insensitivity to human rights was well known before his appointment and prompted calls in Israel for blocking the appointment. (Of course, the same must be said of Nasrallah.) But Halutz’s leadership only incrementally worsens a tradition of human rights abuse that Israel developed in 40 years of occupying the West Bank and Gaza and 18 years of war and occupation in Lebanon. During this entire period, IDF investigated and punished almost none of the thousands of documented human rights abuses. As military columnist Yossi Melman noted in this morning’s Haaretz, during the first week of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, IDF killed between 6,000 – 10,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, the majority of them civilians. Since in three weeks of fighting, Israel has killed only 800 civilians, Melman concludes this war is being more carefully managed and constrained.

Melman’s argument, however, reminds me of Amos Oz’s sad reflection in The Slopes of Lebanon, a book about that first invasion: “We used to say we are a light unto the nations. Now we say we’re no worse than anyone else. So shut the fuck up."


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