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Israel Commits War Crimes in Lebanon

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Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, says that "...war crimes may have been committed in Lebanon" by Israel. Her comments clearly target Tel Aviv, warning that war crimes liability is not limited to military personnel; it applies equally to the politicians who decide, direct and approve military operations.

In my opinion, there is no reason to exempt either Israel in Lebanon or the US in Iraq from liability. Her warning, therefore, was most certainly heard in Israel by backers in the Bush administration and the British government of Tony Blair. One hopes her words will resonate among people of goodwill throughout the world.

According to the BBC, Ms. Arbour is a former justice of Canada's Supreme Court. She was a chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, indicted the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. "

International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligations to protect civilians during hostilities

-Louise Arbor, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

She says that the same obligation exists in international criminal law, which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is my position that these principles, likewise, apply to George W. Bush and various members of his administration with regard to the attack, the invasion, and the disastrous, illegal occupation of Iraq.

Arbour stresses the "supreme obligation" of states to protect civilians and refers to the "scale of killings" in Lebanon, where the Israeli reaction is clearly seen to have been massive and disproportionate. The 1949 Geneva Conventions sought to prohibit, by international law, attacks which mainly targeted civilians as the Israeli bombardment seems to have done. Article 51 of the First Protocol to the 1949 agreements (updated in 1977) states:

Article 51: Protection of the Civilian Population
  • The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations. To give effect to this protection, the following rules, which are additional to other applicable rules of international law, shall be observed in all circumstances.
  • The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.
  • Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this Section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.
  • Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:

  • those which are not directed at a specific military objective;
  • those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or
  • those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol; and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.
  • -Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions, 1977

    Article 52 adds: "Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives..." Therefore, there is a war crime if civilians are specifically attacked as civilians. However, it is different if they are killed as a result of a strike against a military or a "dual-use" target. More about that in a moment.

    I venture to say that there is no reason to believe hat the government of Ehud Olmert has taken prudent measures to reduce civilian causalities. So far, Lebanese deaths have topped 300. In a mounting humanitarian crisis some 700,000 Lebanese civilians have become displaced refugees -by some estimates about 1/7 of the entire population. The reality on the ground is thus summed up: the entire nation of Lebanon is under attack and faces utter destruction of infrastructure and basic services.

    In the meantime, Robert Fisk notes the significant difference between the "pin-point accuracy" of Israeli technology on the attack and the antiquated Hezbollah defense. Israel can and does target precisely. If civilian targets are disproportionately destroyed, it would appear to be by design. In other words, Israel can -if it wishes -avoid the mass murder of innocent civilians. But as Fisk points out: "...they continue to fill Lebanon's body bags with infants, women and children." At what point does deliberate targeting become "ethnic cleansing"? Chillingly, Israel's prosecution of these attacks bears an increasing resemblance to the systematic destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto by Nazis in World War II.

    This is a war crime! The American people must demand of our illegitimate Bush administration that we join the rest of the entire world in demanding an immediate cease fire.

    Aside from US culpability in Iraq, the US -Israel's top ally -has obstructed a cease fire. Condoleeza Rice resorted to double talk about the status quo and, even here, she is wrong. Holding out hopes of a lasting but unlikely peace, her words are but a red herring -indeed, it is Rice who holds out the mirage, the "false promise" of "lasting peace". A status quote ante is preferable to the ongoing slaughter. Her "talks", therefore, are doomed to failure. One cynically suspects, that the Bush administration knows this full well. It is increasingly difficult not to believe that Condoleeza Rice has departed for the Middle East to "negotiate" in bad faith. It is also difficult not to believe that this cynical administration deliberately seeks to exploit this issue to split the "progressive" movement.

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    Len Hart is a Houston based film/video producer specializing in shorts and full-length documentaries. He is a former major market and network correspondent; credits include CBS, ABC-TV and UPI. He maintains the progressive blog: The (more...)

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