Thursday, July 20, 2006

The civilian question

Over at another site I was asked point-blank whether I believed that Israeli forces "intentionally" target civilians during the current Mid-East crisis. Such a question deserves a straight answer, even if it is really two questions rolled into one.

If by "intentionally" one means that Israel's objective is simply to kill civilians, then the answer is no, generally speaking. Many times more casualties than those reported would obviously have been inflicted otherwise. (That does not mean, however, that some evidently intentional killing is not going on: see below.) But if by "intentionally" one means that Israel knows that civilians will be killed in large numbers by its actions, and ploughs ahead anyway, then the answer is just as plainly Yes.

The oft-repeated assertion is that Hisbollah deliberately hides among civilians, thus making civilian deaths inevitable. This is a staple, in fact, of pro-Israeli arguments that seek to rationalize those deaths. Allegedly, rockets are placed within civilian populations in the south, and arms have been stored in Beirut suburbs, for example. But this strongly-made claim has been equally strongly contested.

In Beirut, there has been talk of Israeli use of banned anti-civilian weapons, although this has not been confirmed by anything like an impartial source. Banned or not, though, Israeli weapons have so far killed more than 300 Lebanese, mostly civilians. Israeli civilian deaths currently number fifteen.

More troubling, perhaps, is what has been happening in Southern Lebanon. Villages continue to be demolished, with terrible loss of civilian life. Worse--far worse--are reports like this one:

Israeli air strikes and a naval bombardment on the Christian town of Srifa near Tyre overnight killed more than 30 people.

With many of the dead believed to be civilians, those still in the south are being presented with a dangerous choice.

Israel's army has ordered residents of dozens of villages near the border to leave their homes. But the United Nations peacekeeping force in South Lebanon says virtually every civilian or humanitarian convoy that's chanced the roads has come under Israeli fire.

Marwaheen, it seems, was not an isolated occurrence. Civilians are being ordered by the IDF to leave their villages and then fired upon. Lots of "intention" there, I'm afraid.

Hisbollah, for its part, has recently been firing anti-personnel rockets into northern Israel, something that Human Rights Watch has correctly called "serious violations of international humanitarian law and probable war crimes." Clearly this is something for which they should be brought to account. Now, if only our hopelessly biased media commentators would apply the same standards to Israel's current conduct.

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