Amnesty International Continues To Distort Human Rights Rhetoric to Attack Israeli Actions in Lebanon

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Analysis of Amnesty International‘s report: “Israel/Lebanon: Deliberate destruction or ‘collateral damage’? Israeli Attacks on Civilian Infrastructure” – August 23, 2006

Summary

Following a number of problematic statements during the war, Amnesty International published a lengthy report on August 23, 2006, consisting almost entirely of claims against Israel, reinforcing the perception that the agenda of this NGO is determined by political factors. By artificially separating Hezbollah attacks from the Israeli responses, the analysis lacks credibility, inverts the priority of core human rights values and glosses over Hezbollah’s missile attacks and use of human shields. Similarly, the authors have erased the context, including Syrian and Iranian support and provision of missiles to Hezbollah, while claiming a level of military expertise where none is evident. In addition, the conclusions are based on unverifiable evidence provided by “eyewitnesses” in Lebanon, whose may be strongly influenced by support for or threats from Hezbollah. As a result, this report is internally inconsistent, lacks credibility, and should be seen as a political statement rather than a careful evaluation of human rights issues.

Amnesty’s Main Claims

The report’s central argument is that Israel deliberately attacked civilians in its actions in Lebanon. In response to the Israeli assertion that its forces targeted military objects placed in civilian areas, the report reads:

“the pattern and scope of the attacks, as well as the number of civilian casualties and the amount of damage sustained, makes the justification ring hollow. The evidence strongly suggests that the extensive destruction of public works, power systems, civilian homes and industry was deliberate.”

The report highlights allegations of Israeli destruction of economic infrastructure, civilian homes, water facilities, electricity and fuel supply, with no mention of the links between these actions and Hezbollah missile attacks against Israeli cities.

“Houses were singled out for precision-guided missile attack and were destroyed, totally or partially, as a result. Business premises such as supermarkets or food stores and auto service stations and petrol stations were targeted, often with precision-guided munitions and artillery that started fires and destroyed their contents.”

The authors of this report do not consider or seek to verify claims that these buildings were used to launch attacks against Israel – there is not a single mention of the street fighting in Beit Jabal in when Amnesty describes the building destructions in that area.[1] The report also does not delve into the complex dilemmas created when civilian infrastructure becomes a legitimate military target due to its use in terror attacks. As Michael Erlich has pointed out, Amnesty brazenly assumes that all civilian casualties are the product of war crimes.[2] Furthermore the report confuses the issues by grouping damage to infrastructure and civilian deaths together, as possible “war crimes”. The former is clearly permissible in war (see Dershowitz below) while the latter requires independent investigation, depending on the circumstances.

Structure of the Report

The report begins with a one-page introduction that includes both Israel and Hezbollah’s role in the conflict. After stating that Hezbollah’s wrongs are addressed “elsewhere”, the report lists more than ten pages worth of allegations focusing on Israeli wrongs in the conflict. While the final section returns to a discussion of both Israel and Hezbollah, the text does not explain the reasons for Amnesty’s exclusive focus on Israel. As of September 3 2006, Amnesty International has not provided a report on Hezbollah’s violations of human rights, including the cross-border kidnapping attack, the widespread use of human shields, or on missile attacks against Israeli civilians.

Patterns and Tendencies

I. Missing Context

a. Iran and Syria

Syria and Iran are known to be the primary sponsors of Hezbollah, including providing the 10-15,000 missiles[3] (or which 4,000 were fired at Israeli civilians during the war[4] ), as well as training and funding. However, the report fails to examine this core dimension of the conflict. Syria is mentioned three times in the report, but these brief citations do not seek to analyze the connection between Syria and Hezbollah. Furthermore, Iranian support of Hezbollah, including weapons and training, is never mentioned. While an “Iranian charity” is mentioned as the source of funding for a hospital that Israel attacked, that is the sole mention of Iran.

b. Terrorism

The report never refers to Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and the authors quote the IDF Chief of Staff’s description that Hezbollah is a “‘cancer” in a cynical manner. In addition, while the report does explain that the conflict began in the wake of Hezbollah’s cross-border raid, it refers to the conflict as a “major military confrontation”, seemingly between two equal parties. This inattention to Hezbollah’s role as terrorist organization leads to a fundamental distortion of the context.

II Responses to Israeli Statements

a. Hezbollah’s Use of Human Shields

The report quotes Israeli statements that Hezbollah used human shields during the conflict, but suggests that these are partisan allegations, and fails to examine their validity. For example, the authors write that

“Israel has asserted that Hezbollah fighters have enmeshed themselves in the civilian population for the purpose of creating ‘human shields’. While the use of civilians to shield a combatant from attack is a war crime, under international humanitarian law such use does not release the opposing party from its obligations towards the protection of the civilian population.”

Thus, Hezbollah’s primary violation of international law, and massive missile attacks launched from behind the civilian population, are relegated to secondary status, while Israel’s response to these deadly attacks is incredulously elevated to the main focus of Amnesty’s analysis. In addition, despite the acceptance that military weapons hidden in civilian areas are subject to attack, Amnesty claims that “the pattern and scope of the attacks… [make Israel’s] justification ring hollow” without offering a credible military alternative. Based on the organization’s understanding of international law, Hezbollah could have continuously fired from Mosques, schools, and apartment buildings with immunity from any Israeli response.[5]

III Problematic Evidence

a. Witnesses

In several instances the report bases its contentions on claims by “eyewitnesses”, which cannot be verified by independent sources. For example, the text quotes a “plant manager” in its discussion of economic infrastructure who makes claims regarding the nature of the Israeli air attack, which may or may not be factual, and which do not provide information that is relevant to the question of whether the targets housed Hezbollah military assets.

In another instance, the authors quote Yousef Wehbe, who also claimed to provide a detailed description of an Israeli air attack, but no information regarding the presence of Hezbollah in the building or the area. In addition, the length of the quote published suggests that the authors, rather than providing the facts and exploring the complex moral dilemmas, intended to sensationalize their claims.

b. Lack of Expertise

The authors of this report make other assertions based on technical judgments that are beyond their expertise. In a section that condemns Israeli attacks on the Al Manr television facilities, the reports agrees that such installations used for “clearly military purposes” are valid military targets, while claiming that Al Manr’s broadcasts are limited to propaganda, which “does not render it a legitimate military objective.” However, many detailed reports have highlighted the Al Manr’s central role in the Hezbollah structure, including support for terror attacks, such as in a program called “Sincere Men”, which profiled suicide bombers.[6] In December, 2004, France’s Council of State passed a resolution banning Al Manr broadcasted television in light of its incitement and anti-Semitic programming.[7] Furthermore, this report does not consider the evidence that Al Manr broadcasts of live reports of the fighting in Southern Lebanon, including information on Israeli troop locations and casualties, provided a central element in Hezbollah’s communications system during the war. According to an Israeli source, “What Hezbollah did was to monitor our radio and immediately send it to their Al-Manar TV, which broadcast it almost live, long before the official Israeli radio.”[8] Thus, Al Manar, like many other Hezbollah assets attacked by Israel, was a legitimate military target, in contrast to Amnesty’s claims.

Amnesty’s report also criticizes Israel for targeting other supposedly civilian infrastructure. However, Prof. Alan Dershowitz points out that in this case, “Amnesty is wrong about the law.”[9] Dershowitz argues that preventing re-supply of Hezbollah from Syria and Iran, and stopping the movement of the captured soldiers is ample justification for attacks on infrastructure. He cites law professor David Bernstein’s explanation of how Amnesty’s human rights analysis has become skewed by its political agenda: “The idea that a country at war can’t attack the enemy’s resupply routes (at least until it has direct evidence that there is a particular military shipment arriving) has nothing to do with human rights or war crimes, and a lot to do with a pacifist attitude that seeks to make war,… an international “crime.”

Conclusion

Amnesty International’s report on the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah between July 12 and August 14, 2006 has a weak basis for its conclusions and is clearly driven by its political views. Its takes the conflict out of its larger context, dismisses Israeli claims a-priori, and relies on dubious and non-verifiable evidence.

Footnotes:

Amnesty International Continues To Distort Human Rights Rhetoric to Attack Israeli Actions in Lebanon

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