Eyeless in Lebanon - and Israel

8 September 2006.

  • Jonathan Cook, a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, has published an article, entitled How Human Rights Watch lost its way in Lebanon and which one can't help wishing that all those whose views on the Israeli war on Lebanon's population would read with the attention it deserves - fat chance ! - on Information Clearing House in which he not only details the intellectual somersaults which Human Rights Watch has been forced to perform in its reporting on that war, but also who the lion tamers are that have put the organisation through its paces. Inevitably, the influence of the Israeli lobby is discussed and its attack on Human Rights Watch when the latter's report pointed out the Israeli targeting of civilians, which led directly to the acrobatics, as in the following example :
    Rather than concentrating on HRW’s findings of war crimes in Lebanon -- the focus of the research -- Bouckaert [senior HRW researcher, Peter Bouckaert in a New York Times interview made after the organisation's recent report «Fatal Strikes» was released] digresses: “I mean, it's perfectly clear that Hezbollah is directly targeting civilians, and that their aim is to kill Israeli civilians. We don't accuse the Israeli army of deliberately trying to kill civilians. Our accusation, clearly stated in the report, is that the Israeli army is not taking the necessary precautions to distinguish between civilian and military targets. So, there is a difference in intent between the two sides. At the same time, they are both violating the Geneva Convention.”


    First, how does Bouckaert know that Israel’s failure to distinguish between civilian and military targets was simply a technical failure, a failure to take precautions, and not intentional? Was he or another HRW researcher sitting in one of the military bunkers in northern Israel when army planners pressed the button to unleash the missiles from their spy drones? Was he sitting alongside the air force pilots as they circled over Lebanon dropping their US-made bombs or tens of thousands of “cluster munitions”, tiny land mines that are now sprinkled over a vast area of south Lebanon? Did he have intimate conversations with the Israeli chiefs of staff about their war strategy?

    Of course not. He has no more idea than you or I what Israel’s military planners and its politicians decided was necessary to achieve their war goals. In fact, he does not even know what those goals were. So why make a statement suggesting he does?

    Similarly, just as Bouckaert is apparently sure that he can divine Israel’s intentions in the war, and that they were essentially benign, he is equally convinced that he knows Hizbullah’s intentions, and that they were malign. Whatever the evidence suggests -- in a war in which Israel overwhelmingly killed Lebanese civilians and is still doing so, and in which Hizbullah overwhelmingly killed Israeli soldiers -- Bouckaert knows better. He admits that both violated the Geneva Conventions, a failure he makes sound little more than a technicality, but apparently only Hizbullah had evil designs.

    How is it “perfectly clear” to Bouckaert that Hizbullah was “directly” targeting Israeli civilians? It is most certainly not clear from the casualty figures.

    It is also not clear, as I tried to document during the war, from the geographical locations where Hizbullah’s rockets struck. My ability to discuss those locations was limited because all journalists based in Israel are subject to the rules of the military censor. We cannot divulge information useful to the “enemy” about Israel’s myriad military installations -- its army camps, military airfields, intelligence posts, arms stores and Rafael weapons factories.

    What I did try to alert readers to was the fact that many, if not most, of those military sites are located next to or inside Israeli communities, including Arab towns and villages.

    At least it is now possible, because some army positions were temporary, to reveal that many communities in the north had artillery batteries stationed next to them firing into Lebanon and that from Haifa Bay warships continually launched warheads at Lebanon. That information is now publicly available in Israel, and other examples are regularly coming to light.

    I reported, for example, the other day that the Haaretz newspaper referred to legal documents to be presented in a compensation suit which show that the Arab village of Fassouta, close to the border with Lebanon, had an artiller battery stationed next to it throughout much of the war. A press release this week from a Nazareth-based welfare organisation, the Laborers’ Voice, reveals that another battery was positioned by an Arab town, Majd al-Krum, during the war. Arab member of Knesset Abbas Zakour has also gone publicly on the record: "During a short visit to offer condolences to the families of victims killed in Hizbullah's rocket attacks, I saw Israeli tanks shelling Lebanon from the two towns of Arab Al-Aramisha and Tarshiha."

    In other Arab communities, including Jish, Shaghour, and Kfar Manda, the Israeli army requisitioned areas to train their troops for the ground invasion of south Lebanon. According to the Human Rights Association, based in Nazareth, army officials justified their decision on the following grounds: "The landscape of Arab towns [in Israel] is similar to Arab towns in Lebanon."

    Aside from the fact that this effective use of Israeli civilians as human shields by the army outdoes any "cowardly blending" (in the words of Jan Egeland of the United Nations) by Hizbullah in Lebanon, it also makes any attempt at second-guessing the targets of the Shiite militia’s rockets futile. Unless Bouckaert was given a private audience with Hizbullah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, or drove around with a Katyusha rocket team, his talk is pure hot air.

    But Jonathan Cook's essay has a weak point ; it fails to take up the burning question(s) : How is that the Israeli lobby has accrued such power and influence that it can determine what views and opinions are acceptable in the mainstream media ? Who has given them this power ? In whose interests ? Admittedly, an exhaustive treatment of these questions would have been far beyond the scope of the article, but to my mind, they should at least have been adumbrated. In any event, here below my response to this important article, as posted to StumbleUpon :

A very important article by a man on the spot, which alas will go unreported by the so-called mainstream media, not merely in the United States, but also abroad. It demonstrates very clearly the contortions to which even well-meaning organisations like Human Rights Watch are constrained in order to maintain what is called their «credibility» in these media, and therewith their access to large-scale public debate (and funding). Were they to tell the plain, unvarnished truth about matters like the Israeli war on the civilian population of Lebanon (or indeed, the role of NATO in the war on Serbia in the declining years of the last century, they would, as far as the US media is concerned, become non-entities, never to be mentioned in polite society, just as Professor Chomsky has become such a non-entity. Thus, the absurd «Israel did bad things, but not deliberately, while Hezbollah did equally bad things, if not worse, and deliberately» tale that they are forced to spin. Even then, as Jonathan Cook points out, they cannot escape the ire of the Israeli lobby, for as we know Israel is constitutionally incapable of doing evil. The proof : European Nazis (of whom there were many, and not only Germans) attempted to utroot European Jewry during WW II. And those who find it difficult to accept this non-syllogistic argument are, as we frequently informed, either «anti-Semites», «Holocaust deniers», or «self-hating Jews», or (most often) a combination of all three. Che mondo cane !...

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