Background: On July 12, Hizbollah launched an attack across the Lebanese-Israel border, killing eight soldiers and kidnapping two. In response to these blatant violations of international law, Israel launched a major military operation designed to push the Lebanese government to take control of the border and disarm Hizbollah. (In 2004, UN Security Council Resolution 1559 demanded that all Lebanese militia, including Hizbollah, be disarmed.) In the ongoing conflict, Hizbollah has launched hundreds of missiles, killing and wounding a number of Israeli civilians. The conflict has also led to deaths and injuries among the Lebanese population.
Concurrent with the outbreak of the fighting, major international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI), and Christian Aid (CA) issued statements. As in the past, these politicized statements do not distinguish between Hizbollah’s intentional attacks against civilians, and Israel’s response against strategic Hizbollah targets, many of them located in residential areas of Beirut.(Link has expired) Terms such as "war crimes", "disproportionality", and "collective punishment" are used indiscriminately to promote an anti-Israel political agenda, and the context of the conflict was distorted or simply erased.
This moral equivalence between terror and legitimate self-defense is particularly pronounced in Amnesty International’s press release of July 13. AI declared that "Israeli and Lebanese governments, and Hizbollah, must take immediate steps to end the ongoing attacks against civilians and civilian objects", describing both Israel and Hizbollah’s actions as "war crimes." Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East Programme said that Israel must "respect the principle of proportionality when targeting any military objectives or civilian objectives", without providing a standard for determining proportionality in the wake of Hizbollah’s attacks. The statement said that "Israel must put an immediate end to attacks against civilians", falsely asserting that Israel deliberately targets civilians, in a manner similar to Hizbollah.
AI also failed to mention that Hizbollah’s military headquarters are located in southern Beirut, and that the positioning of military/guerrilla installations in residential areas is considered a war crime, as defined by Protocol I (1977) to the Geneva Convention, article 51(7), relating to human shields. Hizbollah also store and launch missiles from civilian villages in southern Lebanon, but this is not criticized by AI. The NGO charged that IDF strikes on infrastructure targets constitute "collective punishment", despite the clear military rationale of sealing off air and sea ports, roads and other such targets to prevent the re-supply of arms from Syria and Iran. In contrast, Amnesty failed to condemn Hizbollah’s initial aggression or to call for the release of the two abducted Israeli soldiers.
On July 13, Human Rights Watch stated in a press release that "Israeli military officials and Hizbollah leaders traded threats to attack areas populated by civilians," erasing the facts and context. HRW’s blanket comment at the end of its statement that "international humanitarian law requires that armed forces distinguish between combatants and civilians" again serves to promote this inappropriate and unethical equivalence between aggression and legitimate response. HRW made no mention of Hizbollah’s use of Beirut’s residential neighborhoods as a human shield, expressly forbidden under international law. (In contrast, HRW ran a vocal campaign in 2002 against the alledged use of Palestinian civilians as "human shields" in IDF operations). HRW also did not call for the release of the captive Israeli soldiers.
HRW also published a seven page "Question and Answers" document on Hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah on July 17. The document makes a number of veiled accusations against Israel which are inflammatory, without foundation, and which deligitimize any Israeli response to attack. These include the charge that the IDF’s current tactics "opens the door to deliberately attacking civilians and civilian objects themselves – in short to terrorism," and that Israel’s "destruction seems aimed more at…preventing [the civilian population] from fleeing the fighting and seeking safety," This very document reports on Israel’s leaflet drops on Beirut instructing civilians to evacuate the area before IDF bombing missions, so HRW’s assertion that Israel may be attempting to prevent civilians from seeking safety is contradicted by its own report. HRW also states that the IDF’s arguments for bombing Beirut airport "are at best debatable", which follows a noticeable trend of HRW contradicting the IDF based on military expertise with dubious credibility. HRW states in a number of places that it "sets out these rules before it has been able to conduct extensive on-the-ground investigation," demonstrating the primacy of its political agenda over accurate analysis.
Christian Aid published a news report on July 13, legitimizing Hizbollah’s attack by stating that it was "an attempt to negotiate the release of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails." There was not mention of the fact that the three Lebanese prisoners (Link has expired) held by Israel are terrorists, one of whom, Samir Kuntar, was convicted by an Israeli court in 1979 of two murders, including the beating to death of a four year old girl. The CA report also claimed that the Hizbollah attack took place "on the Lebanese border with Israel", erasing the illegal cross-border nature of the incident.
Christian Aid explicitly condemned the Israeli response, claiming that the IAF targeted areas in southern Beirut without mentioning that this area is Hizbollah’s headquarters, and ignoring its use of civilians as human shields. The report also states that "52 Lebanese civilians have been killed by Israel’s offensive in the country in retaliation for the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants". The use of the term "retaliation" falsely implies that Israel has deliberately targeted civilians as a form of retribution. As in other recent CA reports, the text was emotive so as to direct the reader to a clear political agenda. The report said "days of dread and despair long-lived by the Lebanese during the war seem to have returned" but made no mention of the fears and emotions of Israeli civilians in the northern cities of Haifa, Nahariya, Acre, Tiberias and others. This selective empathy illustrates CA’s consistent partisan and politicized stance against Israel, and its exploitation of moral claims to pursue this agenda.
World Vision International issued two reports, focusing mainly on the impact of events on this NGO’s activities in Lebanon. The report of July 14 alleges that Israel has launched "a major air offensive on the infrastructure including the International Airport in the Lebanese capital, Beirut" without mentioning the initial Hizbollah attacks or Israeli casualties. A second report issued on July 14 did make mention of Israeli casualties, but again omitted the context of Hezbollah aggression.
Thus, as the violence and death toll in this conflict increased, these international NGOs continue to use the rhetoric of human rights to promote their political agendas and a highly distorted version of events.
1. There are no such documents on the HRW website for other crises such as the current armed escalation between Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers in which more than 700 people have died (Link has expired) so far this year, or Pakistan’s offensive in Baluchistan (Link has expired) which has also caused numerous casualties