“Hiding behind civilians”

This being a brief round-up of several recent developments in the Middle East.

Firstly, a respected Israeli NGO published a report into the state’s treatment of its Palestinian citizens during last year’s Lebanon war. Readers will recall that, back in the summer of 2006, while Israel was busy destroying southern Lebanon killing close to 1,200 Lebanese civilians in the process, one of the main arguments used by its apologists to justify the atrocities was that the civilian deaths were the fault of Hizbullah, not the IDF, because the militia deliberately hid its fighters among the civilian population.

The claim was counter-intuitive, since most Hizbullah fighters were members of the communities they were alleged to be using as human shields. It seemed unlikely that Hizbullah fighters would pursue a strategy that involved making their families and friends into targets for the Israeli Air Force – oh, but of course, them crazy terr’ists will do anything, and probably enjoy it too. In any event, the assertion was investigated thoroughly by Human Rights Watch, who discovered it to be pure invention. After an on-the-ground investigation of 153 civilian deaths, a third of the total at the time, HRW “found no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack”. It concluded:

“By consistently failing to distinguish between combatants and civilians, Israel has violated one of the most fundamental tenets of the laws of war: the duty to carry out attacks on only military targets. The pattern of attacks during the Israeli offensive in Lebanon suggests that the failures cannot be explained or dismissed as mere accidents; the extent of the pattern and the seriousness of the consequences indicate the commission of war crimes.”

Israel’s apologists were undeterred, continuing to parrot the “hiding behind civilians” canard as if it hadn’t already been exposed as a fraud. So last year, HRW published a second report into the war, which emphasised once again that “Israel’s indiscriminate airstrikes” caused most of the civilian deaths, “not Hezbollah’s shielding as claimed by Israeli officials”. Apart from a few exceptions, HRW found that Hizbullah actively ordered its fighters and military equipment away from populated civilian areas as soon as the hostilities began, and thus concluded that “[i]n the vast majority of airstrikes resulting in civilian deaths…there was no Hezbollah military presence or activity to justify the attack.”

However, while acknowledging that Israel placed “certain military assets” inside civilian populations, HRW declined to investigate further, in accordance with its by now quite well documented pro-Western bias (a result primarily of successful ideological flak, which has left HRW extremely wary of appearing too hostile towards Israel, or too lenient towards its enemies).

The Israeli press, operating under military censorship, was forbidden from reporting the location of Israeli military sites during the war. Despite this, some allusions were made to Israel’s location of military personnel and equipment inside or near to civilian populations. For example, a member of the Kfar Giladi kibbutz recently told Ha’aretz,

“We deserve a medal of honor for our assistance during the war. We opened our hotel to soldiers and asked for no compensation. Moreover, soldiers stayed in the kibbutz throughout the entire war.”

Danny Young, a British Jew who moved to Israel to fight in the IDF, recalled how “[w]e were shooting missiles from the foot of this kibbutz” and were “receiving Katyushas” in return. During the conflict, British journalist Jonathan Cook reported that Israel has “hundreds of…military installations next to or inside Israel’s northern communities”, including, for example, “a large weapons factory virtually on top of an Arab town — so close to it, in fact, that the factory’s perimeter fence is only a few metres from the main building of the local junior school.” Due to Israeli censorship laws, however, he was unable to report fully on Israel’s “cowardly blending” (to borrow Jan Egeland’s unfair accusation against Hizbullah) among civilians.

Fortunately, we now have the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) report (.doc) to help clear things up. The organisation found, in a nutshell, that “the Arab towns and villages that suffered the most intensive attacks during the war were ones that were surrounded by military installations, either on a permanent basis or temporarily during the course of the war.” Israeli military facilities, both permanent and temporary, were used to fire missiles into Lebanon and were located “at a distance of just 0.5 – 2 kilometers by air from the civilian community” and in some cases actually “inside the town or village.” These distances are within the “margin of error” of Hizbullah’s katyusha rockets. As well as military equipment, HRA also found that “military exercises” involving live ammunition and explosives took place within Arab communities “before, during and after the war.”

In other words, the reason why 30% of Israel’s civilian casualties during the war were Arabs living in Arab towns and villages was not because Nasrallah was so crazy and fanatical that he didn’t care about attacking other Arabs. This was the impression conveyed by Israeli propaganda and the Western press at the time, but it was contradicted by Nasrallah’s own speeches, which apologised for the deaths and even requested that Israeli Palestinians leave Haifa so that Hizbullah could begin attacking it. (Nasrallah’s reluctance to harm Israeli Palestinians evidently did not apply to Israeli Jews, but that’s another issue). Rather, the evidence suggests that it was at least in part the result of the Israeli government choosing to locate its military facilities and equipment inside and very near to Arab population centres, “a gross violation of international humanitarian law”.

It is worth pointing out at this point that the report does not accuse Israel of deliberately using its Palestinian citizens as “human shields” – to level that allegation intent must be proved, and HRA “does not have the necessary tools” to do so. Rather, what the report shows is that Israel in fact placed its Palestinian citizens in greater danger by locating military targets among civilian populations, a violation of international law.

The report also does not seek to evaluate Hassan Nasrallah’s claim that Hizbullah primarily aimed its rockets at military and not civilian targets. Rather, it simply demonstrates that Israel not only failed to protect its Palestinian citizens during the war, but actively put them in further danger by illegitimately placing military facilities among them. It also concludes from the evidence that it is likely that Hizbullah’s attacks on Arab communities were likely not intended to kill civilians, but rather aimed at the military facilities located either nearby or among them. Finally, the report notes that Israel placed military equipment and personnel among Jewish civilians as well, but, being an NGO dedicated to defending the human rights of Israel’s Palestinian minority, it did not investigate this further.

Returning to the report: the HRA’s investigation found that, as well as increasing the risk to Israel’s Palestinian citizens by deploying military equipment among them, the government of Israel also “failed abjectly in all aspects” relating to their protection. The protection of the home front was poor in all respects, but the report found that the failure was “particularly acute in the case of the Arab communities, which have suffered ongoing and gross neglect with regard to all civilian infrastructures.” The government not only failed to request or organise the evacuation of Arab towns and villages, but it actually asked them to remain in their homes to face the rocket attacks. The result was that, with a few exceptions, only the more well-off and well-connected residents were able to leave for safety during the war. The state also “completely failed” to provide its citizens with means of civil defence, such as bomb shelters and warning sirens, and this neglect was again “particularly acute” in Arab communities. Israel’s failure to protect its Palestinian citizens during the war is particularly appalling given that a) it “initiated the war”, as a recent Ha’aretz editorial points out, and b) it further endangered those civilians by placing military equipment among them.

The investigation concludes with a series of recommendations to bring Israel’s wartime treatment of its Palestinian citizens in line with the law. They are unlikely to be implemented, at least if the IDF’s response to the report, which labelled it not only a “false representation” and “completely groundless”, but also “completely without foundation” and “malign nonsense”, is anything to go by.


It seems the IDF has returned to its illegal policy of punitive house demolitions:

“But Palestinians said the Israelis also bombed the Gaza City homes of two senior Islamic Jihad commanders whom the Israelis killed in rocket attacks a week ago or more ago.

The homes, of Karim Dahdouh and Muhammad Abdallah Abu Murshad, were bombed from the air and destroyed. At the time, Israel said they were responsible for making rockets and launching hundreds of them at Israel. Mr. Dahdouh was killed Dec. 17; Mr. Murshad was killed a week ago.

The Israelis, like the British during the Mandate, often destroy the homes of prominent enemies, usually by bulldozer in the occupied West Bank. To destroy homes from the air in Gaza, where Israel no longer keeps a permanent military presence, seems to be a new policy, intended to deter other militants by underlining the risk not just to their own lives but to the livelihood of their families.”


The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz obtained a 26-page official document signed by Gilad Sher, Photobucketbureau chief to then prime minister Ehud Barak, entitled, “The Status of the Diplomatic Process with the Palestinians Points to Update the Incoming Prime Minister.” It provides for the first time an official account of the approximate negotiating positions of each side at the Camp David talks in 2000. Needless to say, it depicts an Israeli offer that was far from “generous”.

Israel demanded the annexation of 8% of the West Bank, and the creation of an Israeli “security zone” along the Jordan Valley. The Palestinians objected, although they were willing to compromise, demanding a 1:1 land-swap involving no more than 2.3% of the West Bank. Israel demanded territorial contiguity for Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, which would have severed East Jerusalem from the West Bank and confined Palestinians living in East Jerusalem to “bubbles”. The Palestinians were willing to cede to Israel the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem. Israel demanded that the Palestinian “state” be demilitarised, that the IDF have the right to “emergency deployment” in the Jordan Valley and that the Palestinians would have no control over their air space. In all, then, the Palestinians were being offered a “state” consisting of a few ghettoes comprising roughly 14% of historical Palestine. To see what such a “state” would have looked like we need only examine the situation on the ground today (see map, pictured), for since Arafat refused to give his consent to the bantustan solution, Israel has moved to implement it unilaterally, through force.

See Jonathan Cook’s article on the topic here.


Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livny and former Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, are to form a panel to discuss the “core issues” of the conflict.


“The Housing Ministry is pushing forward with the construction of more than 1,000 residential units in East Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood on land held by “absentee” Palestinians from the Bethlehem area. The move is in violation of both an instruction from the attorney general to stop applying the absentee law in East Jerusalem and explicit promises to the U.S. not to apply that law in the capital’s eastern quarters.”

…and Ehud Olmert has appealed to President Bush to ensure that Israel’s “security interests” will be safeguarded in any future agreement. That will apparently involve ensuring that a Palestinian “state” would remain fully demilitarised, without full control of its air space, with a permanent IDF presence in the Jordan Valley and an arrangement whereby Israeli forces would be allowed to deploy in the West Bank without the permission of the Palestinian Authority.

Does no one see the contradiction here?


Photobucket Finally, a Palestinian cancer patient died on Saturday after the IDF prevented her from leaving Gaza for treatment:

“[Palestinian medical] sources said that Aisha Al Jamal, 73, had lung cancer but the army refused to allow her to leave the Coastal Region to get treatment in Israel or the West Bank.

Another Palestinian cancer patient, Mohamed Abu Taha, 45, died late on Friday night; he also was not allowed by the Israeli army to leave the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army has imposed a total siege on the Gaza Strip since June 2007, leaving the 1.5 million Palestinians living under severe conditions.

Al Jamal is the 63rd person who has died of a chronic illness since Israel placed the Gaza Strip under total siege. Among those 63 were children, the youngest was Doua Habib, who was five months old.”

The Israeli siege on Gaza continues, as does construction in the settlements (.pdf). Palestinians across Gaza will have their electricity cut for eight hours every day from today due to shortages caused by Israeli-imposed restrictions on fuel imports to Gaza. The whole “debate” over whether reducing the amount of electricity supplied to Gaza constituted illegitimate collective punishment was evidently purely an academic one.

Cross-posted at The Heathlander