Sunday, September 17, 2006

War Crimes in the Middle East

PeterP asked me to comment on the Amnesty report on Hezbollah committing a war crime in its rocket attacks against Israel.

Was the Allied bombing and sheer destruction of the German city of Dresden a war crime? What about Vietnam (with millions slaughtered) and Iraq?

The moral of the story is that the powerful writes the book and thus the verdict.

Flash forward to Lebanon recently.

Amnesty International has accused Hezbollah of acts amounting to war crimes in the conflict with Israel. It said that Hezbollah’s deliberate targeting of civilians with rockets was a serious violation of humanitarian law.

Of course Hezbollah rejected the Amnesty report, accusing it of being an outcome of US and Israeli pressure, which I would say is a bit far fetched. Amnesty doesn't kowtow to anyone.

Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said Amnesty should analyse the number of civilians killed on each side, before accusing Hezbollah of war crimes. The Israelis destroyed an entire nation with more than a thousand civilians dead, while Hezbollah’s rocket attacks killed around 43 civilians and wounded 33 or so.

But Amnesty retorted that Israel's violations didn’t justify Hezbollah's actions.

It noted that although Hezbollah had said its policy was not to target civilians, its leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah subsequently said the policy was changed in reprisal for Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilian areas. Sheikh Nasrallah had said:
"As long as the enemy undertakes its aggression without limits or red lines, we will also respond without limits or red lines."

I agree with Amnesty International's Secretary General, Irene Khan, who said:
"Civilians must not be made to pay the price for unlawful conduct on either side."

However, we need to note too that was exactly what Israel did to Lebanon, making Lebanese civilians including children pay dearly, perhaps even before Hezbollah retaliated.

Earlier, Amnesty had already condemned Israel of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, such as homes, bridges, roads and water and fuel plants. It said that the deliberate destruction of those infrastructures was an ‘integral part’ of Israel's strategy in the recent war.

Kate Gilmore, Executive Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International declared:
"The pattern, scope and scale of the attacks makes Israel's claim that this was 'collateral damage', simply not credible."

The Amnesty document detailed the ‘massive destruction by Israeli forces of whole civilian neighbourhoods and villages’, together with attacks on bridges ‘in areas of no apparent strategic importance’, on its list of supporting evidence.

It also said Israel targeted supermarkets, water pumping stations and water treatment plants, which may have broken a prohibition in humanitarian law against targeting objects crucial to civilian survival.

Incidentally the US did that to Serbia too when it deliberately destroyed the latter's infrastructure. Initially the US bombing had confined itself to military targets only, but when it saw that Serbian resistance was still very strong, it began attacking essential Serbian infrastructure.

The Amnesty report also referred to Israeli statements, like those made by Israeli Chief of Staff Lt Gen Dan Halutz that "nothing is safe [in Lebanon], as simple as that".

I saw on TV how Dan Gillerman, Israeli ambassador to the UN, arrogantly and defiantly responded to accusations that Israel had attacked in ’disproportionate’ fashion. His words (as near as I recall) during the press conference were “You’re damn right we attacked disproportionately.”

In diplomatic parlance, the term ‘disproportionate’ as in ‘attacking with disproportionate force’ means the unjustified over-the-top use of brutal barbaric violence unbefitting that of a civilised nation. It’s a very revulsive label, but the arrogance of Israel, aware that the USA would teflon-ise it, was unbelievable. It's like the Nazi Party retorting: "You're damn right we exterminated the Jews."

Amnesty repeated its call for "a comprehensive, independent and impartial inquiry" by the UN. It said those responsible for civilian suffering were "escaping all accountability".

Ms Khan said:
"Justice is urgently needed if respect for the rules of war is ever to be taken seriously."

Undoubtedly if Hassan Nasrallah were to be caught by Israeli soldiers he would be made to stand trial for war crimes, but who is going to arrest Ehud Olmert or George Bush for the most heinous war crimes in recent history?

As I had said, the powerful writes the book and the verdict.

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