Thursday, August 03, 2006

Debunking the Myth

Ever since the war in Lebanon began three weeks ago, Israel and its supporters worldwide have claimed that the killing of Lebanese civilians with Israeli bombs and missiles is Hezbollah's responsibility, not only because Hezbollah supposedly started the whole thing in the first place, but even more so because the group uses children, women and the elderly as "human shields." The problem, until very recently, was that it was extremely to prove or disprove that contention. Entire Lebanese families were wiped out (a mother, father and five children in Al Jamaliyeh again yesterday), Israel is always "deeply sorry," but in the same sentence it informs us that the household had been used by Hezbollah, either to store weapons or to fire rockets. In the past few days, following unpardonable remarks made by a Vancouver rabbi and the Canadian minister of foreign affairs, pundits all over the country have repeated, with no critical assessment whatsoever, the "human shield" theory. Hezbollah, they claim, wants Lebanese people to be killed. Case in point, the so-called Israeli military inquiry into the Qana bombing of a "suspicious structure," in which 56 civilians—more than half of them children—were killed, has found Hezbollah responsible. Israel says so, so it must be true.

But this is all based on faith, in a belief (and people want to believe) that whatever Israel tells us is true. Never mind its track record of the past 39 years of killing civilians en masse. Were all those Palestinians hiding weapons in their houses? Are minivans filled with Lebanese civilians fleeing a scene of destruction, or people on bicycles, some new versions of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices that somehow will take flight and destroy Israeli F-16s in mid-flight?

As I have mentioned countless times in these pages, Israel's intelligence apparatus, whether we look at its civilian or military component, is very often off the mark, the unfortunate result of sheer paranoia and the attendant casting of far-too-wide a net. Racism and the dehumanization of the enemy, along with the deresponsibilization of being part of a system of orders from above, nevertheless makes it easy to fire, destroy, and kill without compunction.

According to Human Rights Watch, which has researchers on the ground in Lebanon, Israel has yet to provide a single proof of a civilian building that was used by Hezbollah either as storage or as a site from which to fire missiles at Israel. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed, hundreds of civilians killed, but in not a single instance was there a Hezbollah presence warranting an attack, let alone making the collateral militarily acceptable. No rockets or Hezbollah equipment were found at the obliterated sites. (I am sure there must be exceptions to this, and in some instances the Lebanese being interviewed may have hidden the fact that Hezbollah was there; but hundreds of times, not only in Lebanon but also in Palestinian territories? No.) In a report released today, HRW notes that "the pattern of attacks in more than 20 cases investigated by Human Rights Watch researchers in Lebanon indicates that [Israel's] failures cannot be dismissed as mere accidents and cannot be blamed on wrongful Hezbollah practices." (Readers can access the full report at Based on this, most such bombings were therefore crimes of war, for which the Israeli leadership should be held accountable.

Ironically, if Israel were so good, as it claims, at determining where Hezbollah is hiding its arsenal—so proficient, in fact, that it even knows what's concealed inside civilian homes—then how do we explain the fact that yesterday the group was able to fire a record number of missiles into Israel (more than 230)?

This is what Israel has, its order of battle, if you will. A powerful modern military backed and supplied by the most formidable military force in history; terrible (in effectiveness and morality) intelligence apparatuses; and a well-oiled propaganda machine that makes it all possible.

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