HOME July-August 2006 Featured Stories Background Information News On The Web



by Boris Celser


Move over Clausewitz and Sun-Tzu, here comes the "Roth War-Management School", with the latest on how to fight a war. Below is Kenneth Roth's article in the Jerusalem Post, courtesy of Mr. Disengagement, Chief Editor David Horovitz. It is called "Indiscriminate bombardment." Ken Roth is Executive Director of Human Rights Watch in New York.

My comments are in blue, paragraph by paragraph.

Mr. Roth writes:

Why did so many Lebanese civilians lost their lives to Israeli bombing? The government line is that the IDF was doing the best it could, but these deaths were the result of Hizbullah hiding its rockets and fighters among civilians. But that assertion doesn't stand up to the facts.

Very few Lebanese civilians died. Less than a week's death toll in Iraq or Afghanistan caused by coalition troops. Not always reported, of course. Plenty of video footage available proving where rockets and fighters were - overwhelmingly in civilian areas. Not that Hizbullah even bothers to deny.

Of course Hizbullah did sometimes hide among civilians, breaching its duty to do everything feasible to protect civilians and possibly committing the war crime of deliberate shielding, but that's not the full story.

On a scale from 0 to 100, please position "sometimes", as per your sentence above. Hizbullah never breached its duty to protect civilians, its only duty is to eliminate Israel. Pure and simple.

Human Rights Watch investigated some two dozen bombing incidents in Lebanon involving a third of the civilians who by then had been killed. In none of those cases was Hizbullah anywhere around at the time of the attack.

Prove it. If no Hizbullah were around during the bombing incidents when these civilians were killed, how come your people were not killed? Or did they just show up afterwards and asked Hizbullah where they were?

How do we know? Through the same techniques we use in war zones around the world to cut through people's incentive to lie. We probed and cross-checked multiple eyewitnesses, many of whom talked openly of Hizbullah's presence elsewhere but were adamant that Hizbullah was not at the scene of the attack. We examined bombing sites for evidence of military activity such as trenches, destroyed rocket launchers and military equipment, or dead or wounded fighters. If we were unsure, we gave the IDF the benefit of the doubt.

I see now. Were these eyewitnesses Shiites? The Green Helmet man shown in many photos saving children since the last war? Those who put Mickey Mouse and their dolls on top of rubble to indicate dead children? Can these eyewitnesses identify dead Hizbullah hiding among civilians from dead non-Hizbullah civilians? Even anti-Israel news agencies had photos of live Hizbullah fighters dressed in civilian clothes. Even a CNN reporter admitted everything they film and say must be Hizbullah-approved, or else. Is HRW immune to it? By the way, one doesn't dig trenches in building's basements, it doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? And how many Hizbullah missiles were aimed at military targets in Israel? What did your people on the ground find out about it?

The case of Kana shows how this works. After two Israeli missiles killed 28 civilians in a house there on July 30, the IDF initially charged that Hizbullah had been firing rockets from the vicinity of the targeted house. But Human Rights Watch investigators who visited Kana found that there had been no Hizbullah presence near the bomb site at the time of the attack. IDF sources later admitted to an Israeli military correspondent that Hizbullah wasn't shooting at all from Kana that day.

I see. If the enemy is not shooting from a certain place today, that place can not be targeted tomorrow, unless HRW verifies that the enemy has returned.

In some cases, the IDF trotted out video of Hizbullah firing rockets from a village. But it has yet to show that Hizbullah was in a civilian building or vehicle at the time of an Israeli attack that killed civilians. Blaming Hizbullah is simply not an honest explanation for why so many Lebanese civilians died. And without honest introspection, the IDF can't meet its duty and self-professed goal to do everything possible to spare civilians.

If blaming Hizbullah is not an honest explanation, then who should be blamed? Did the IDF dig holes for the 13,000 missiles in Lebanon? Did the IDF provide the missiles? Did the IDF kidnap and killed its own soldiers like Hitler did in order to blame Poland and start the war? Did HRW personnel kidnap the soldiers?

HIZBULLAH CERTAINLY should not be let off the hook. Human Rights Watch has conducted detailed investigations of the militia's obvious war crimes - its deliberate efforts to kill Israeli civilians by indiscriminately targeting Israeli cities. Israel had every right to try to stop Hizbullah from raining death and destruction on its people. But under international humanitarian law, just as Israeli abuses in Lebanon did not justify reprisals against Israeli civilians, so Hizbullah's war crimes did not justify Israel shirking its duty to protect Lebanese civilians.

International humanitarian law does not stop Hizbullah and their many friends to state their intended annihilation of israel. These friends include a lot of countries. You see, in my view, not finishing off Hizbullah is in itself a violation of international humanitarian law. For that, the present Israeli government will fall.

So what was the cause of so many civilian deaths? The IDF seemed to assume that, because it gave warnings to civilians to evacuate southern Lebanon, anyone who remained was a Hizbullah fighter. When the IDF saw a civilian home or vehicle that Hizbullah might use, it often bombed, even if, as in Kana, Srifa, Marwahin, or Aitaroun, there was no evidence that Hizbullah was in fact using the structure or vehicle at the time of attack. In weighing the military advantage of an attack against the civilian cost, the IDF seemed to assume no civilian cost, because all the "innocent" civilians had supposedly fled. Through these calculations, the IDF effectively turned southern Lebanon into a free-fire zone.

As per above, there were very few civilian deaths. Indeed, your paragraph above gives the impression that Hizbullah terrorists, sorry, militants, were nowhere to be found. I'm not an expert in military affairs as you are, but when you say that the IDF seemed to assume no civilian cost because all innocent civilians had fled, I disagree. I think the IDF seemed to assume that thousands of missiles were exploding on northern Israel, forcing civilians to flee without flyers being dropped in advance. But what do I know?

But giving warning, as required by international humanitarian law, does not relieve the attacker of the duty to distinguish between civilians and combatants and to target only combatants. Otherwise, Palestinian militants might "warn" Israeli settlers to leave their West Bank settlements and then be justified in attacking anyone who remained. Hizbullah might have done the same in northern Israel.

Distinguish between civilians and combatants? From the air? Do you mean the IDF should have launched a massive ground invasion to better make the distinction? I agree. How accurately does one distinguish when civilians are Hizbullah and Hizbullah are civilians? They've learned the trick from your beloved Palestinian militants. By the way, there is no Palestinian nation, it is just a 1967 invention, and the West Bank's name is Judea and Samaria. If you're going to write about the region, at least get your facts straight.

You say Hizbullah might have done the same in northern Israel? Come on, it's not their fault, they're firing from far away, not from airplanes. Otherwise I'm sure they would have done it. Principally if HRW staff are positioned on the ground in Israel.

Nor does an evacuation warning mean that all civilians did in fact flee. Many remained in southern Lebanon because of age, infirmity, inability to afford exorbitant taxi fares charged for evacuation, or fear of becoming yet another roadside casualty of IDF bombing. As a result, the IDF's indiscriminate bombardment had devastating consequences for civilians.

The IDF should be blamed for increasing inflation in Lebanon in the form of exorbitant taxi fares by...whom exacly?

SO HOW SHOULD the IDF fight such a war? By complying with international humanitarian law. That means not treating southern Lebanon as a free-fire zone. It means attacking civilian structures and vehicles only if there is evidence that Hizbullah is actually using them. Even then, it means making serious efforts to determine whether civilian structures and vehicles contain civilians, and attacking only if the definite military advantage is so powerful that it justifies their deaths.

Now that's rich. This is your sentence: "It means attacking civilian structures and vehicles only if there is evidence that Hizbullah is actually using them. Even then, it means making serious efforts to determine whether civilian structures and vehicles contain civilians, and attacking only if the definite military advantage is so powerful that it justifies their deaths." Please define "serious efforts". I guess next time the IDF should send unarmed Israeli civilians door to door in Southern Lebanon, asking who is who, what is what, and requesting that no one lies and that no one moves, until they report back and the IDF strikes. Israel should use the Kenneth Roth's cross-checked multiple eyewitnesses technique.

Above all, it means treating Lebanese civilians as human beings whose lives are as valuable as Israelis'. Protecting Israelis from Hizbullah's deadly rockets is vital, but it does not justify indifference to the taking of civilian lives on the other side of the border.

Treating Lebanese civilians as human beings whose lives are as valuable as Israeli's is what the IDF did in Lebanon and did in places like Jenin. Unfortunately. Not exactly what Clausewitz and Sun-Tzu recommend. Bad. Very bad. Besides, where on earth besides Israel are Israeli lives worth a damn?

To those who say Israel's reprisals are disproportional, I agree. I pray that next time Israel's response is as proportional as the media's coverage. I couldn't ask for more.

Boris Celser has a MBA and is also a telecommunications engineer, a lifelong traveller and an avid reader. He is a frequent contributor to Think-Israel. He lives in Canada.


Return_________________________End of Story___________________________Return

HOME July-August 2006 Featured Stories Background Information News On The Web