Israeli Attorney General rebuts NGO charges of ‘war crimes’ in 2006 Lebanon War

As reported in articles December 18, 2007 in The Jerusalem Post and Ynet (Yidiyot Acheronot), Attorney General Menahem Mazuz’s official statement to the Winograd Committee affirmed that Israel did not violate international law in the Qana bombing on July 30, 2006, nor is Israel guilty of war crimes or the use of "disproportionate force." His testimony refutes claims made by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and numerous other human rights organizations during and after the conflict. (NGO Monitor’s submission to the Winograd Commission, which is examining Israel’s conduct during the Second Lebanon War, highlighted NGO exploitation of human rights rhetoric and international law to promote a politicized anti-Israel agenda).

In a July 30, 2007 op-ed entitled ‘Lebanon-Qana Killings: One Year On‘, Human Rights Watch repeated their earlier claims that Israel "violated the duty to distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants. Ordering indiscriminate fire in such circumstances is a war crime."  Similarly, Amnesty International concluded in its November 2006 report, ‘Out of All Proportion‘, that according to its "findings on the ground", including at the Qana site, "Israeli forces committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including war crimes. In particular…Israeli forces carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on a large scale."

Regarding Qana, Mazuz stated that,

"The test is that if the decision was made in good faith, on the basis of certain information, and it turns out that there was a mistake [in the information], and in this sense, to the best of my knowledge, the operation in Kafr Kana [fits that description and therefore] clearly meets the rules of international law…Afterwards, it turned out there was something he did not know. It does not change the a priori normative picture… the Israeli operations were not disproportionate.’"

In an August 2006 article in the Wall Street Journal, International Law professor Orde Kittrie, presented the main legal issues regarding the Qana incident:

"… the proportionality restriction that Israel is accused of violating, involves a complicated and controversial balancing test. Geneva Convention Protocol I contains one version of the proportionality test, the International Criminal Court Statute another; neither is universally accepted. As a result, the proportionality test is governed by "customary international law," an amalgam of non-universal treaty law, court decisions, and how influential nations actually behave. It does not hinge on the relative number of casualties, or the force used, however, but on the intent of the combatant…If Israel was mistaken and Hezbollah was not firing from or hiding amongst these civilians, the legality of its action is assessed by the proportionality test. …In the absence of guidance from the courts, determining whether Israel’s military has failed the proportionality test depends on an assessment of what civilian casualties it expected, what its overall military goals are, the context in which the country is operating, and how the international community has in practice balanced civilian risk against military goals."