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Arming Illegal Combatants with Legitimacy and Sanctioning their Aggression
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has a lot of explaining to do. This critique is only the tip of the iceberg.
On July 30, 2006 it reported:
"Today's strike on Qana, killing at least 54 civilians, more than half of them children, suggests that the Israeli military is treating southern Lebanon as a free-fire zone," said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. "The Israeli military seems to consider anyone left in the area a combatant who is fair game for attack."[i]
HRW's Executive Director Kenneth Roth unequivocally affirmed to FOX News on August 4, 2006:
"We did the most extensive study, by far, on the ground..." and "It is the only one [report] out there. And I will guarantee you it is accurate -- I can vouch for the accuracy of that investigation."
No wonder, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan followed with a statement[ii] to the Security Council, in New York on July 30, 2006:
"We meet at a moment of extreme gravity -- relying on the Lebanese authorities -- Preliminary reports say that at least 54 people have been killed, among them at least 37 children" and he "urges the Security Council to condemn Israel."
So, how reliable were Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, and Kofi Annan? Not that reliable. HRW revised its original "extensive study -- on the ground" and "reliable" report to read: "Israeli air strike in Qana found that 28 people are confirmed dead thus far, among them 16 children."
Kenneth Roth's original charge was based on bogus, inflated, unproven, and inflammatory figures provided by a "reliable" source, which HRW blindly adopted and disseminated under its own name. Due to Human Rights Watch's perceived prestige as a neutral, reliable source, news of the "Israeli war crime" was picked up by countless newspapers, websites and TV news outlets, including the major networks of FOX, BBC, and CNN and became the leading source of the world's incitement against Israel.
Human Rights Watch is in hot water. HRW's document made public on August 5, 2006 pretends to investigate the plight of Israeli civilians in the "second Lebanon war" launched by Hezbollah in early July 2006.[iii] In fact, the document is a frantic and pathetic attempt to stem criticism of HRW's blatantly biased "report" on the IDF[iv] that prompted sharp criticism from NGO Monitor and other observers, and even triggered a scathing editorial in The New York Sun.
When Human Rights Watch turns its attention to Israel, it consistently loses all semblance of objectivity. Hell-bent to place blame, time and again it slaughters its own credibility in its zeal to uncover Israeli sins in the use of force -- real and imagined. Yet, in the wake of Hezbollah's massive unprovoked attack on Israel's home-front, HRW has literally "gone ballistic" -- not only twisting realities on the ground to demonize Israel and brand it a "war criminal" (as it did unjustly and wrongly in Jenin in 2002 and on other occasions.)
This time Human Rights Watch has adjusted the very rules of war to accommodate Hezbollah as a legitimate force. Human Rights Watch innocently claims:
"In accordance with its institutional mandate, Human Rights Watch maintains a position of strict neutrality on these issues of jus ad bellum [EEH 'just wars'] because we find it the best way to promote our primary goal of encouraging both sides in the course of the conflict to respect international humanitarian law..."
This would be admirable if it was true. Actually, in the same breath, in the same document Human Rights Watch does just the opposite: In its opening salvo against Israel -- a document entitled "Questions and Answers on Hostilities Between Israel and Hezbollah," published July 30, 2006 and updated on August 2, 2006 -- Human Rights Watch recklessly attempts to change the very "rules of the game" of war and peace, and universally-accepted definitions of aggression.
First, Human Rights Watch cheerfully declares Hezbollah a legitimate combatant: It defines it as "an organized political Islamist group based in Lebanon, with a military arm and a civilian arm" -- dry neutral language that belies its long violent history, such as the 1992 and 1994 attacks on the Argentinean Jewish community. Hezbollah's "military arm" is then granted the status of a "non-state combatant" or one of the relevant "parties" or merely "a group," which makes it sound like a troop of Boy Scouts. These benign terms reign throughout all HRW's reports.
Human Rights Watch simply turns a blind eye to the fact that Lebanon itself and the UN Security Council have labeled Hezbollah an illegal militia and demanded total dismantling of its military arm under Resolution 1559.[v] In a mad dash to establish moral equivalency, Human Rights Watch put on an equal footing the Israel Defense Forces -- the legitimate armed forces of the State of Israel which is subject to civil control of Israel's democratically-elected Government -- and Hezbollah, an out-of-control outlaw extremist terrorist organization that recognizes no civil authority, Lebanese or other, not to mention international organizations, or humanitarian law and the Law of Nations.
For good measure, to keep the equation viable, Human Rights Watch ignores the fact that Hezbollah chose to launch a war against Israel "on behalf of Lebanon" (or on behalf of the Arab nation as a whole, together with Iran and Syria) from Lebanese territory without Lebanon's consent. (In fact, Hezbollah does not care if Lebanon survives, because one of its goals is a pan-Islamic polity to replace the "profane" modern nation-state.) HRW adds insult to injury by crowning Hezbollah with respectability as simply "a party to the armed conflict" -- rather than calling Hezbollah the aggressor that it is. This new neutral term "party to the armed conflict" on Israel's northern border with Lebanon can now go hand-in-hand with talk of "the cycle of violence" with the Palestinian Authority.
Human Rights Watch takes another step towards the abyss by declaring:
"The targeting and capture of enemy soldiers is allowed under international humanitarian law. However, captured combatants must in all circumstances be treated humanely."
This seemingly "enlightened statement" blindly ignores that Lebanon and the international community considers any "conflict" that existed between Lebanon and Israel over and done with, once Israeli forces withdrew from Israel's self-declared Security Zone in southern Lebanon to the international border in the summer of 2000.
By declaring Hezbollah "a party to the conflict," Human Rights Watch empowers Hezbollah to act on behalf of Lebanon on its own accord -- empowered to cross a peaceful international border and abduct two Israeli soldiers, as long as they are treated humanely and not used as hostages.
Human Rights Watch tries to legitimize the attack by saying the two were "captured," not abducted -- a dangerous precedent for all peacetime armies or any place on the face of the globe, where an armed militia wants to pick a fight or a non-state entity wants to challenge the sovereignty of a state, and the status quo. Even the UN, hardly a pro-Israeli body, views the abduction and the deaths of another eight Israeli soldiers as a case of naked aggression from Lebanese soil by an illegitimate body and has demanded the unconditional return of the soldiers unharmed and the total disarming of Hezbollah. Human Rights Watch staunchly defends Hezbollah's right to be viewed as a legitimate "non-state player."
If this was not enough, Human Rights Watch contributes another "principle" to the cause of world chaos by legitimizing unprovoked missile attacks on a neighboring state -- as long as the targets are military and the missiles are accurate and do not harm civilians?
In its Q & A, Human Rights Watch asks rhetorically but in all seriousness: "Is Hezbollah's firing of rockets into Israel lawful under international humanitarian law"?
The reply? "Yes, provided..."
"Hezbollah has a legal duty to protect the life, health and safety of civilians and other noncombatants. The targeting of military installations and other military objectives is permitted -- Hezbollah's commanders must choose the means of attack that can be directed at military targets and will minimize incidental harm to civilians. If the weapons used are so inaccurate that they cannot be directed at military targets without imposing a substantial risk of civilian harm, then they should not be deployed."
In short, it is perfectly OK to mount massive rocket attacks on one's neighbor without provocation -- provided the human beings killed and injured are in uniform.
'If one sleeps with dogs, one should not be surprised to wake up with fleas' says a well-known Arabic idiom. This seems to be appropriate not only to Lebanese leaders and residents of South Lebanon who for six years allowed their homes to be turned into sanctuaries for Hezbollah while washing themselves of responsibility of the consequences, blaming Israel. It also applies to Human Rights Watch whose coverage of the current conflict boils down to no more than flawed or grossly biased coverage, discussed later in this white paper, because the sweeping charges against Israel and almost total exoneration of Hezbollah cannot be left unchallenged.
Much has been written about Human Rights Watch's improper use of legal issues and international conventions. But some of this group's methodology is far more devious than disagreements over legitimate or illegitimate use of force. Having decided to bed down with the aggressor, HRW needs to present Israeli cities as collateral damage, not primary targets if it is to exonerate Hezbollah of war crimes. How does it do this? Part rests on utopian principles that are totally out of whack with wartime conditions when terrorists hide among civilian populations and infrastructure. Part rests on poor investigative tools and naiveté that accepts the testimony of Lebanese witnesses without question. Part rest on unbridled bias. The least know trick is the subtle manipulation of language that is not always evident to the average reader, or even experienced commentators. This tactic needs to be exposed.
Human Rights Watch's report on Israeli infringements "explains away" Israeli casualties as unintended. All it takes is one small word to warp realities, for example:
"... [Hezbollah] launched a reported 1,300 rockets into predominantly civilian areas in Israel." "Predominantly" hints that Hezbollah was actually aiming at military targets and had no malice intent to harm civilians. After all, Human Rights Watch stresses, time and again:
"...without guidance systems for accurate targeting, the rockets are inherently indiscriminate when directed toward civilian areas, especially cities, and thus are serious violations of the requirement of international humanitarian law that attackers distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians."
Alas, nowhere in any of Human Rights Watch's copious documents on the current conflict does the organization accuse Hezbollah of deliberately aiming at civilian targets. If they are committing a war crime -- as HRW admits half-heartedly in its pathetically spotty and deceitfully "report" -- "Hezbollah Must End Attacks on Civilians,"[vi] it is because of inferior ordinance and because they are incredibly poor shots! They have only launched 3,000 out of the 13,000 missiles and rockets at their disposal. Give Hezbollah some practice and they are bound to get it "right".
Indeed, the word "deliberate" is reserved for Israel in Human Rights Watch's report entitled "Israel/Lebanon: End Indiscriminate Strikes on Civilians -- Some Israeli Attacks Amount to War Crimes."[vii]
"... Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians"
"... Israel is deliberately targeting civilian vehicles"
"... Israel apparently deliberate[ly] target[ed] ... the 'clearly marked U.N. observer post.'"
If this is not enough, Human Rights Watch blindly claims in the same massive report: "Human Rights Watch found no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields."
Deliberately targeting Israeli civilians? The idea never crossed their minds.
In its skimpy investigations of missiles against Israel, HRW Report's language is passive almost apologetic as if systematic attacks on civilian targets were unintended collateral damage. Thus, HRW reports that Hezbollah's rockets are:
"... blindly lobbed" into civilian areas -- the fault of primitive guidance systems ..."
"Fajr rockets -- have landed in the cities of Haifa and Nazareth"
Rockets "have hit homes in many northern towns" and "hit a number of workplaces directly" and the Nahariya hospital "sustained damage."
At most, rockets "seem to have been directed at civilian areas."
Not once does Human Rights Watch garner the courage and integrity to say out loud: Hezbollah aims at civilians and it does so to inflict maximum damage to their homes, businesses and public buildings, and to maximize loss of life and limb. The same document, it should be noted, speaks of the IDF's "persistent use of indiscriminate force." The only glaring exception in language is "a rocket that slammed into a train [maintenance] depot in Haifa." The general impression, deceitfully written between the lines, is that such hits are sporadic and unintentional, rather than systematic and deliberate.
This warped description of reality, being watched on TV by millions around the world, is driven home by Human Rights Watch's use of the word "reportedly": "Reportedly" 2,500 rockets have been fired at Israel, "reportedly" 200 on August 4, 2006 a term that hints to the reader that these numbers should be viewed with suspicion.
Human Rights Watch repeats the mantra of how Katyusha rockets "cannot be aimed with precision" thus mitigating the perpetrators' culpability for the "indiscriminate" nature of their attacks. Chalk up the casualties to poor technology.
Human Rights Watch has the gall to claim it has "documented a systematic failure by the IDF to distinguish between combatants and civilians" while cringing from so much as saying, outwardly and unequivocally, that Hezbollah deliberately targets cities in order to terrorize and kill as many civilians as possible. Which brings up the "T" word.
Terror. Terrorist. Terrorize. Terrorism. Terror Weapon. They do not even appear in Human Rights Watch's reports. Hezbollah is described as a legitimate political organization with a military wing -- not a terrorist organization. Human Rights Watch does use the "T" word four times, however. The first quotes a general description of article 51 of the conventions on war that states:
"...the parties to a conflict must also refrain from threats or acts of violence the primary purpose of which is to terrorize the civilian population."
Two others are one-sentence quotes from Israeli brass about the predominance of Hezbollah terrorists in Southern Lebanon, taken out of context, to support Human Rights Watch's charge that Israel recklessly "considers all people in the area of hostilities [i.e. civilians and combatants] open to attack." This is topped by reference to a Washington Post headline that reverses roles entirely: "Terror Rains Down From Sky on Fleeing Lebanese." Suffice it to say, neither the Washington Post nor Human Rights Watch report terror raining down from the sky on hapless Israelis ...
Human Rights Watch provide irrefutable proof that its Executive Director and his on-the-ground investigators are literally "bedding down with the aggressor" and are not only liable to wake up with fleas. They themselves have become a threat to world peace, worthy of further investigation.
[ii] Secretary-General, SG/SM/10580, SC/8790,
[iii] "Israel/Lebanon: Hezbollah Must End Attacks on Civilians
Rocket Attacks on Civilians in Israel Are War Crimes" August 5, 2006
[iv] "Fatal Strikes, Israel's Indiscriminate Attacks Against
Civilians in Lebanon" August 8, 2006 (18,000 word) at:
[v] Resolution 1559 (2004)
[vi] "Israel/Lebanon: Hezbollah Must End Attacks on Civilians
Rocket Attacks on Civilians in Israel Are War Crimes" August 5,
2006 (3,000 words)
[vii] "Israel/Lebanon: End Indiscriminate Strikes on Civilians Some
Israeli Attacks Amount to War Crimes"
Eli E. Hertz is president of Myths and Facts, Inc. The
organization's objective is to provide policymakers, national
leadership, the media and the public-at-large with information and
viewpoints that are founded on factual and reliable content.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was published on August 19, 2006 on the Myths and Facts website
Eli E. Hertz is president of Myths and Facts, Inc. The organization's objective is to provide policymakers, national leadership, the media and the public-at-large with information and viewpoints that are founded on factual and reliable content. Contact him at email@example.com
This article was published on August 19, 2006 on the Myths and Facts website
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