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Human Rights NGOs Drop the Ball on Human Shields

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A mere two days after Israel called off a military strike on Gaza to avoid harming Palestinians human shields protecting wanted terrorists, Amnesty International published a report accusing Israel of targeting civilians indiscriminately.

The juxtaposition of the two events underscores the continued failure of major human rights NGOs to take a clear and sober look at the human shields issue from the perspective of its victims. NGOs ignored - and even denied - the issue throughout the war in Lebanon. Three months later, they continue to view the matter exclusively through the lens of Israeli military activity, as though Hezbollah fighters hiding in areas unaffected by the war were any less guilty of war crimes.

According to Amnesty's report, "Out of All Proportion," published on November 21, both Israel and Hezbollah are culpable for firing on civilians. In Israel's case, however, the issue is complicated by claims that Hezbollah is responsible for Lebanese casualties because Hezbollah fighters fired missiles at Israel from populated areas - a war crime under Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions. The report examines this claim, as well as accusations that Hezbollah stored arms and rockets in civilian areas, including schools and mosques.

Amazingly, given how well documented Hezbollah's use of human shields has been in the media, Amnesty failed to turn up sufficient evidence to make a clear assessment. "The available evidence suggests that in at least some cases Katyushas were stored within villages and fired from civilian areas, but it is not apparent that civilians were present and used as "human shields,-- the report states, giving no explanation for why Hezbollah would choose to operate from civilian areas if not to exploit the local population.

"With almost 4,000 rockets fired on Israel and very little undisputed information about where they were actually stored and fired from, the extent of such conduct and its qualification in terms of international humanitarian law remains unclear," the report continues.

Cases where clear evidence was discovered are dismissed as irrelevant. "While the presence of Hezbollah's fighters and short-range weapons within civilian areas is not contested, this in itself is not conclusive evidence of intent to use civilians as "human shields", any more than the presence of Israeli soldiers in a kibbutz is in itself evidence of the same war crime," the report states.

Ludicrous comparisons aside - Hezbollah did not distinguish between military and civilian targets in its attacks - one wonders why these "uncontested" facts go unexplored in Amnesty's 70-page report. It would seem as though only Israel is capable of violating Lebanese human rights. Hezbollah's role, judging by Amesty's report, was to protect, not endanger, the Lebanese public.

But the real question concerns the role NGOs play in reporting on armed conflicts. If Amnesty really cared about universal human rights, it would investigate every instance where Hezbollah fighters hid among the public or concealed weapons in public buildings - not only those connected to Israel. Each case is an individual war crime against the local population. And it would condemn those crimes as clearly and specifically as it condemns any of Israel's actions.

By failing to do so, Amnesty demonstrates yet again that when it comes to Israel, politics come before human rights. Amnesty continues to exploit the rhetoric of human rights to maintain its "halo effect" and avoid real scrutiny. Indeed, the IDF showed more concern for the rights of Palestinian human shields in Gaza than some so-called human rights NGOs.
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Alex Margolin is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem.
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Human Rights NGOs Drop the Ball on Human Shields

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