Sunday, August 13, 2006

The below items are my thoughts about a report on Israeli potential 'war crimes' by Human Rights Watch. The influence of this organisation is in my view disproportionate and mainly malign. It's undemocratic and, with its apparently straightforward humanitarian approach, a useful crutch of legitimacy for organisations like the BBC and the UN. If you doubt the influence of it, look only to the UN's latest activity :

"The second special session of the Human Rights Council today strongly condemned the grave Israeli violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law in Lebanon and decided to urgently establish and immediately dispatch a high-level inquiry commission to the region."

An announcement which follows the recommendation (with a couple of minor adjustments) of HRW in the report below:

"Human Rights Watch urges the Secretary-General of the United Nations to establish an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law, including possible war crimes, in Lebanon and Israel and to formulate recommendations with a view to holding accountable those who violated the law."

Logic Lacunae

Having followed up my intention to read the HRW (an organisation the BBC places so much trust in) report, within a few pages of text I had a little anger to let out (but I forced myself to read the rest).

Tigerhawk was much too soft (though I think he intended to make a specific point about equivalence).

HRW launches its manifesto against Israel by saying that Israel has "consistently" launched attacks against targets offering "limited or dubious" military gains.

Thus does a self-proclaimed movement for human rights declare its understanding of the aims and means of warfare to be superior to the seasoned Israeli armed forces.

Of course, the usefulness of a target must depend on the overall aims of the action. Supposing Israel aimed at the total destruction of Hezbullah? What would that do to our analysis of military effectiveness? How does HRW's presupposition about a legitimate end result affect their view of legitimate military action? Absolutely, I'd argue.

Unless HRW will state what they think Israel's aims should legitimately be, they are pissing in the wind (as usual). They won't say it because it's unacceptable: total surrender to the demands of the Islamic world.

And sure, the war is (has been) retaliatory and defensive, but does that mean that only specifically retaliatory action is allowed, or are the Israelis actually allowed to aim to win? (the answer to that is obvious by now)

Tigerhawk points out that, following the figure presented by HRW, Israel would be 'guilty' of striking civilians in less than 1% of cases, yet HRW refers to their "consistent" non-military attacks. By contrast, HRW claims that only "occasionally" did Hezbullah site its military machinery in civilian locations.

The report quickly descends into contradiction. Having stated that they found no cases where Hezbullah deliberately used civilians to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack, they admit that Hezbullah did use civilian locations for storage of weapons and military sites. Uh- what? Hezbullah don't use human shields, they just locate near civilians. They also admit that hebullah have fired rockets from among civilian habitations. HRW's 'deep concern' (which they assert later on in the report) about this phenomenon doesn't prevent them making such an absurd train of logic. (update: In this context this from Volokh is a useful link)

Perhaps the biggest weakness is in the methodology where they go into Hezbullah heartlands, ask the locals if there were any Hezbullah fighters present when the Zionists Jews Israelis attacked, and then accept the results as reliable evidence of Israel war crimes. Oh, sure, if the village they're in has 'Hezbullah regional HQ' signposted in it- they think twice. They spent two days in South Lebanon, upon which they based a fifty page report.

One oppressed villager they interviewed says, "“The positions of the resistance are around the village, not inside the village.”. Oh, right, so I suppose we ignore the almost certain reality that members of the 'resistance' go home for a kip every 8 hours or so, come back refreshed and ready to confront the enemy, while their 'barracks' remain strictly non-military?

The issues of barracks, provisions, supplying and other supportive actions are simply not addressed by HRW. All very well if Hezbullah locate some of their rocket launchers outside habitations, but isn't it militarily advantageous to them to rest, heal, water themselves and feed themselves among civilian populations- many of whom will lead dual existences- eg. farmer/freedom fighter?

Another thing the report mentions but gives little reassurance over is the issue of the Civil Defence Force- so-called. One seriously wonders what this does when not 'defending' lebanon (its very title, CDF, including as it does the word 'defence', could indicate a military role). Putting the matter another way, since in elections in 2005 Hezbullah's election coalition won 35 seats mainly in the South, they could reasonably be called the local Government of choice for the region. In that case, surely the CDF would be likely to do their bidding? Again, not part of HRW's calculation. Nor, naturally, is the fact that the 05 elections produced results which indicated the South was a.o.k with a militia-government.

Another issue is that of the 'foreign nationals'. For some reason a lot of them have become casualties in the latest war while vacationing near the border of Israel. There have been German-lebanese, Brazilian-Lebanese and Canadian-Lebanese. Although some seem to have been there in family groupings, it's very odd that they would be in such a region at this time when surely their savvy in leaving Lebanon arose from the unrest there in the past, and being international types they'd be very aware of the wider context. Weird that they'd head in and stay in at a time of such tension. Why locate abroad to escape unrest yet choose such a time to be there? And why not get out quick; globe trotters of that kind can't be so short of cash or initiative.

On the issue of the non-military nature of the victims and their localities the HRW are fundamentally confused. In some cases they state that no military activity had taken place in specific locations to justify Israeli strikes, in others stating no connections whatsoever, or no likely connections, between the victims and the Hezbullah- but they never define the dividing line between military and civilian (they'd have a job, with Hezbullah), or when a location becomes 'civilianised' after having had military usage ie. how many days a location must be without military activity (whatever that is) before it's a warcrime to strike it.

Just to come to the HRW conclusions, among them is that Israel must

"Scrupulously observe the principle of proportionality. Cease launching any attack that may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof that would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated."

Notice how the principle of proportionality is to dictate the war aims of Israel, circumscribing it and giving the Hezbullah a neat and easy cut-out n' keep template by which they can predict how far Israel will go (metaphorically and physically) and construct their plans accordingly. (and, as we know from Olmert's meandering path to war goals and rather more straightforward path to the UN high table, they may have miscalculated, but not that much.)

"Sorry HRW", I want to say- "you're naive beyond belief. Credulous, cretinous, facile". But actually none of those applies- they are just on the side of Hezbullah and the deathly Western consensus against Israel.

But now, of course, comes my disclaimer. Not that the points above aren't valid, but that obviously people who are innocent get killed in wars- always have and always will. Israel has not been trying to kill those people though, and is as far from such a practice as any participant in a conflict has been.

One extra point:

Some of the problematic examples of bombing attacks are those on the roads. However, HRW's main suggestion seems to be that a vehicle with a white flag or a red cross should be immune from attack. Mmmm, very constructive for those fighting terrorists, and so insightful.

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