Israel repeatedly lied during its war on Lebanon last summer to justify airstrikes on civilians, their homes and their neighbourhoods. That is the conclusion of a year-long investigation by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) group.
In a devastating report, Why They Died: Civilian Casualties In Lebanon During The 2006 War, HRW investigated half the instances of civilian and military casualties.
The organisation, which has been very critical of Palestinian and Lebanese reistance organisations in the past, demolished a series of lies put out by Israel to try and justify its attack on Lebanon.
The Lebanese resistance group Hizbollah used civilians as “human shields”.
The report says, “HRW investigated over 94 separate incidents of IDF (Israel Defence Forces) air, artillery, and ground attacks that claimed 510 civilian lives and those of 51 Hizbollah combatants, or almost half of the Lebanese deaths in the conflict.
“Israeli officials contend that the reason for the high fatality rate was not indiscriminate targeting, but the Hizbollah military’s allegedly routine practice of hiding among civilians and using them as ‘shields’ in the fighting.
“The evidence HRW uncovered in its on-the-ground investigations refutes this argument.
“We found strong evidence that Hizbollah stored most of its rockets in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in uninhabited fields and valleys.
“In the vast majority of cases Hizbollah fighters left populated civilian areas as soon as the fighting started. Hizbollah fired the vast majority of its rockets from pre-prepared positions outside villages.
“Responsibility for the high civilian death toll of the war in Lebanon lies squarely with Israeli policies and targeting decisions in the conduct of its military operations.
“In the vast majority of cases documented in this report, Israeli airstrikes hit near or on civilian objects, killing numerous civilians in their homes or vehicles.
“There were instances in which civilian deaths were ‘collateral damage’ from legitimate attacks on military targets. During the vast majority of the deadly air strikes we investigated, we found no evidence of Hizbollah military presence, weaponry or any other military objective that would have justified the strike.
“Women and children account for a large majority of the victims of Israeli air strikes that we documented. Out of the 499 Lebanese civilian casualties of whom HRW was able to confirm the age and gender, 302 were women or children.”
Israel fired cluster bombs to halt Hizbollah missile attacks.
The report says, “The IDF has stated that it mostly fired cluster munitions at military objectives in open areas, and only fired near built-up areas ‘toward particular locations from which [Hizbollah] missiles were being launched against Israel, and after significant measures were taken to warn civilians to leave the area’.
“HRW’s field research showed that the Israeli military launched many of its cluster munition attacks at or near towns and villages, in some cases against Hizbollah forces, but in many other cases with no evident military objective.
“Cluster munitions struck wide swathes of southern Lebanon, particularly during the last three days of the conflict when both sides knew a settlement was imminent.”
Everyone who remained in south Lebanon and the suburbs of Beirut was linked to Hizbollah, and therefore a legitimate target of attack.
The report says, “During the war, Israel repeatedly sent warnings to the population in southern Lebanon to evacuate the area south of the Litani River.
“There is evidence to suggest that Israeli officials knew that their assumption was erroneous.
“In some instances, Israel seemed to know exactly how many people remained in a village. On 24 July, Dan Halutz, the [Israeli army] chief of staff, estimated that 500 residents remained in [the village of] Bint Jbeil despite IDF warnings to leave.
“Even if those who remained did so out of support for Hizbollah – a claim that HRW’s research disproves – as most who remained behind stayed because they were too old, poor or sickly to leave – Israel would not have been justified in attacking them.
“Throughout the conflict, Israeli warplanes targeted civilian vehicles on roads and homes, apparently assuming them to be Hizbollah military movements.”
Field investigations found that “a simple movement of persons or vehicles was often enough to cause a deadly airstrike”.
Some of the instances highlighted in the report include:
- 13 July: Warplanes destroyed the home of Sheikh Adil Muhammad Akash, a cleric believed to have a religious affiliation with Hizbollah, killing him, his wife, their ten children and their Sri Lankan maid.
The report says, “There is no evidence (and the IDF has not publicly alleged) that Akash was involved in Hizbollah military activities.”
- 16 July: Air strike on a apartment bloc in the city of Tyre killed 14 civilians.
Israel claimed the building was “Tyre Hizbollah headquarters”. HRW found it was the headquarters of Lebanon’s civil defence offices.
- 4 August: Israeli strike on a fruit farm in the northern Bekaa Valley kills 25 Kurdish labourers.
- 7-8 August: Attack on the town of al-Ghaziyeh kills 26 civilians.
The full report is available at » hrw.org/reports/2007/lebanon0907