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Israel Kills 57 in Lebanon: Arbour Warns War Crimes are Prosecutable

by juan cole (reposted)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Israel Kills 57 in Lebanon
Arbour Warns War Crimes are Prosecutable

The Daily Star reports,
' Israeli fighter-bombers also destroyed nearly 20 residential homes and buildings in Lebanon in the early morning hours of Wednesday and continued air raids in the South, the Bekaa and Beirut's southern suburbs. At least 12 Lebanese, including children, were killed and 30 wounded in an Israeli air strike that destroyed several homes in the Southern village of Srifa, residents said. '

In fact, Israel "flattened" several Lebanese villages in the south with indiscriminate air strikes. One entire village section of 15 homes was destroyed, with a high civilian death toll. It is not possible that all 15 civilian residences were legitimate military targets. This is just state terror.

Food and medicine are running low for the vast displaced population, some 500,000 persons, raising the specter of a vast humanitarian crisis.

Israeli troops and armor fought with Hezbollah inside Lebanese territory on Wednesday. Hezbollah claimed to have destroyed two Israeli tanks.

The Lebanese government says that the Israelis have now killed more than 300 persons, all by a handful innocent civilians. Some of the military personnel killed were Lebanese army troops hundreds of miles from the Hizbullah positions in the South, who were not doing anything that threatened Israel. In fact, Israeli officials keep saying that want the help of the Lebanese army to curb Hizbullah. But then they bomb the Lebanese army. Say what?

Israeli war planes fired on two parked trucks in the Christian Ashrafiyah district of Beirut. These innocuous trucks in a Christian area were clearly not legitimate military targets in a struggle against Hizbullah. The message the Israeli air force is trying to send with such actions is that Lebanese should stop driving trucks for a while, or else they will be targets.

And this is my problem with Israel's war on Lebanon. The Olmert government wants to clean Hizbullah's katyusha rocket emplacements out of the area above its northern border with Israel. That may or may not be a realistic goal. Larry Cohler-Esses at the Jewish Week reports that a lot of military experts think Israel's military plan is impossible to accomplish. But it is legitimate for the Israeli government to fight Hizbullah and to attempt to destroy the missiles, once Hizbullah showered Israel with missiles (and even thought the missiles have mostly failed to hit anything).

But the Israeli military from the beginning of this conflict did not limit itself to fighting Hizbullah or to hitting its arsenal. The Israeli air force bombed Beirut airport (and bombed it again on Wednesday), and bombed the sea ports of Tripoli, Jounieh, Beirut, Sidon and Tyre. It bombed civilian neighborhoods and villages and killed whole families.

That kind of broad gauge approach is not allowed by the modern laws of warfare. If you have good reason to think that a truck is carrying weaponry to Hizbullah, you can bomb it. But just bombing any old civilian truck is a war crime.

So, the Israelis could have attempted to surveil trucking and where they had good reason to think that a truck was transporting weapons, they could have hit it. But just blowing up random trucks is criminal.

Israel has fought a lazy war, both morally lazy and militarily lazy. It is work to surveil enemy shipments. So, you just blow up the airport and the ports and roads and bridges, regardless of whether you have reason to believe that any of them is used by Hizbullah for their war effort. Just in case. It is a just in case war. You bomb Shiite villages intensively, just in case they have military significance to Hizbullah. Maybe they don't, and you've just blown up a civilian neighborhood and killed whole families. Where blowing up things has no immediate and legitimate military purpose and harms innocent civilians, it is a crime. It can be prosecuted, especially in Europe.

Louise Arbour of the UN High Commission on Human Rights made this point Wednesday, according to the Daily Star story linked to above:
' UN human rights chief Louise Arbour suggested Wednesday that the military operations being carried out in Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories could be considered war crimes. The obligation to protect civilians during hostilities is entrenched in international law, "which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity," Arbour said in a statement. "The scale of the killings in the region, and their predictability, could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control," she added. '

Here are the relevant statutes according to the Big News Network:

' The Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibits "collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism ..." (Article 33). According to Article 147 of the Convention, "extensive destruction ... not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly," hostage-taking and "torture or inhuman treatment" are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and constitute war crimes. All state parties to the Convention are required to search for and ensure the prosecution of perpetrators of grave breaches of the said Convention.

Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions codifies the principle of distinction, a customary rule of international humanitarian law: "In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operation only against military objectives." (Article 48). International Humanitarian Law strictly prohibits attacks against civilians and civilian objects. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) includes as war crimes: "Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities", and "Intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects" (Article 8 2 (b) (i) and (ii)). '

But the same article also conveys the Israeli response
' The Israeli chief of staff, Brig.Gen. Dan Halutz, noted in public remarks that senior Hizbullah leaders live and work in southern Beirut, and said Beirut could be targeted if Hizbullah continued to fire rockets into northern Israel. "Nothing is safe [in Lebanon], it's as simple as that," Halutz said. '

That is collective punishment. It is holding millions of innocents hostage and threatening them with death. It is state terror. I don't think the Israelis get it.

Meanwhile Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora had this to say:

' "As I speak, the trauma, the desperation, the grief and the daily massacres and destruction go on and on. The country has been torn to shreds.

"Is the value of human life in Lebanon less than that of the citizens of other countries? Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by Israel is inflicted on us?

"Will you allow innocent civilians, churches, mosques, orphanages, medical supplies escorted by the Red Cross, people seeking shelter or fleeing their homes and villages to be the casualties of this ugly war?

"Is this what the international community calls self-defense?

"Is this the price we pay for aspiring to build our democratic institutions? Is this the message to send to the country of diversity, freedom and tolerance?

"Only last year, the Lebanese filled the streets with hope and with red, green and white banners shouting out: Lebanon deserves life!

"What kind of life is being offered to us now?

"I will tell you what kind: a life of destruction, despair, displacement, dispossession, and death.

"What kind of future can stem from the rubble?

"A future of fear, frustration, despair, financial ruin and fanaticism.

"Let me assure you that we shall spare no avenue to make Israel compensate the Lebanese people for the barbaric destruction it has inflicted and continues to inflict upon us, knowing full well that human life is irreplaceable.

"You want to support the government of Lebanon? Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, no government can survive on the ruins of a nation.

"On behalf of the people of Lebanon, from Beirut, Baalbek and Byblos, to Tyre Sidon and Qana, to each and every one of the 21 villages at the Southern border, declared a no-go zone by Israel, to Tripoli and Zahle, to every other town, I call upon you all to respond immediately without reservation or hesitation to this appeal for an immediate cease-fire and lifting of the siege, and provide urgent international humanitarian assistance to our war-stricken country. '

Fouad, I just wouldn't hold my breath while waiting for Bush and Condi to respond, if I were you. You aren't really their friend, you were just a prop in an exhibit designed to get Republicans elected. You and your country are expendable from their point of view.

Tom Hayden gives some insights on why.
Related Categories: Palestine | International
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