Hiding Behind Civilians

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In the early part of the current Israeli campaign in Lebanon, we heard macho noises indicating that the IDF would be relying on the “kill ’em all let God decide” school of military tactics in its fight against Hizbullah. Israeli Minister of Justice, Haim Ramon, declared on 27 July that: “All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah”. This meant basically tough luck to those thousands of south Lebanese civilians too poor to leave, or too sick, or with nowhere to go, or stranded because the IAF had destroyed their roads and bridges, or scared to leave in case they met the same fate as the convoy from Marwaheen that followed the IDF’s instructions to flee north only to get killed by the IDF as they fled. Apparently they were all fair game.

It’s all very well being gung ho and going into battle proclaiming:

“Over here, everybody is the army… Everybody is Hezbollah. There’s no kids, women, nothing.”
“We’re going to shoot anything we see.”

But it’s kind of embarassing when the dust settles, and it turns out that large numbers of those “Hizbullah operatives” you have been killing turn out to be real-life flesh-and-blood women and children after all. Because then you find yourself having to back-track rapidly, and manufacture excuses why all those hundreds of civilian deaths really aren’t your fault. The first thing you can try is the “blame the victims” strategy: after all, they knew it was a war zone, so why didn’t the stupid saps get out? (And what a strange new chapter in Zionist logic that is. In 1948 and 1967, they told us that refugees who flee a war zone deserve to lose their homes. In 2006, refugees who fail to flee a war zone apparently deserve to die).

The other argument you can use is to claim that really you were aiming for military targets, but killed the civilians because the military targets were hiding among them. We’ve heard a lot of claims from Israel’s apologists in the last few weeks, blaming Hizbullah for using civilians as human shields, even though to seasoned observers on the ground that accusation doesn’t hold much water. Peter Bouckaert, an experienced researcher for Human Rights Watch, reported from Tyre in south Lebanon:

I’ve documented civilian deaths from bombing campaigns in Kosovo and Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq. But these usually occur when there is some indication of military targeting: high-ranking members of Saddam Hussein’s regime present in a house just before it is hit, for example, or an attack against militants that causes the collateral deaths of many civilians.

In Lebanon, it’s a different scene. Time after time, Israel has hit civilian homes and cars in the southern border zone, killing dozens of people with no evidence of any military objective.

And via jews san frontieres, reporter Mitch Prothero – formerly the UPI bureau chief in Baghdad, now based in Beirut – pointed out that hiding among civilians is very much at odds with Hizbullah’s usual modus operandi:

Throughout this now 16-day-old war, Israeli planes high above civilian areas make decisions on what to bomb. They send huge bombs capable of killing things for hundreds of meters around those targets to destroy them, and then blame the inevitable civilian deaths — the Lebanese government says 600 civilians have been killed so far — on “terrorists” who callously use the civilian infrastructure for protection.

But this claim is almost always false. My own reporting and that of other journalists reveals that in fact Hezbollah fighters — as opposed to the much more numerous Hezbollah political members, and the vastly more numerous Hezbollah sympathizers — avoid civilians like the plague. Much smarter and better trained than the PLO and Hamas fighters, they know that if they mingle with civilians, they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators — as so many Palestinian militants have been.

Whether or not it is true of Hizbullah, it cannot be denied that there really is a long-standing and well-documented tradition of soldiers in the region using civilians as human shields.

24 August 2003

Photo: An Israeli soldier leans his hand on the back of a handcuffed unidentified Palestinian resident as he is made to enter before the soldiers inside a building during a search operation in the Old City of the West Bank town of Nablus, in this Sunday, Aug. 24, 2003 file photo. Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005, banned the military’s practice of using Palestinian civilians as ‘human shields’ in arrest raids, saying it violates international law. The court ruled in response to petitions by human rights groups. (AP/Nasser Ishtayeh)

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