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Amnesty International: Israeli War Crimes

By Dave Caddell
September 3, 2006

On Wednesday, August 23, 2006, Amnesty International published their findings from a month long investigation into whether Israel deliberately attacked civilian targets during their strikes against Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Their clear and unambiguous answer to this question is, “yes.”  Concluding that there should be a full blown investigation into the culpability of both sides—Israel and Hezbollah—for war crimes during their brutal attacks on each other over the last month, the committee determined that “Israel conducted attacks throughout Lebanon from land, sea and air, killing some 1,000 civilians.” 

The investigation, according to the report, is based on “first-hand information from a field mission which has visited Lebanon; interviews with dozens of victims from the attacks; official statements and press accounts; discussions with U.N, Israeli military and Lebanese government officials; and talks with Israeli and Lebanese non-governmental groups.” 

The findings from the investigation are direct and poignant.  The report states, “During more than four weeks of ground and aerial bombardment of Lebanon by Israeli armed forces, the country’s infrastructure suffered destruction on a catastrophic scale.”  Painting a picture of the destruction, the report continues:

Israeli forces pounded buildings into the ground, reducing entire neighborhoods to rubble and turning villages and towns into ghost towns, as their inhabitants fled the bombardments.  Main roads, bridges and petrol stations were blown to bits.  Entire families were killed in air strikes on their homes or in their vehicles while fleeing the aerial assaults on their villages.  Scores lay buried beneath the rubble of their houses for weeks, as the Red Cross and other rescue workers were prevented from accessing the areas by continuing Israeli strikes.  The hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who fled the bombardment now face the danger of unexploded munitions as they head home.

The investigation also reveals the massive amount of artillery and weaponry used by the Israeli government during their attacks.  The report notes that the Israeli Air Force launched over 7,000 air attacks against Lebanese targets and the Israeli Navy engaged in approximately 2,500 bombardments. 

These attacks no doubt have left Lebanon—its people and its infrastructure—grasping for hope.  The human toll, according to the report, consists of an “estimated 1,183 fatalities, about one third of whom have been children, 4,054 people injured and 970,000 Lebanese people displaced.”  The report explains that homes, supermarkets, grocery stores, auto service stations and petrol stations were targeted with precision-guided missiles.  According to the report, “The bodies of some of those who had been killed when their homes were destroyed in the second and third week of July, remained under the rubble when Amnesty International delegates visited on 1 August.”  Yousef Wehbe, an entrepreneur who has lived in Latin America for years, explained the hell that his family faced while inside Lebanon during the attacks.  He states:

Twenty three neighbors were sheltering in my father’s house, as it was a more solid house than others in the area.  I had spoken to my father on the phone earlier that day and he had said: ‘I am 85 and have lived through all the wars but none were ever like this one; I don’t know where all of these bombs come from; it is like hell.’  A few hours later, the house was shelled by the Israeli army and he was killed and my sister’s husband was injured; luckily he survived.  But a neighbor who went over to the corner of the room where my father was struck was also hit and killed.   

Aside from the tragic human toll, the Lebanese infrastructure was also significantly damaged during the attacks, which will ultimately contribute to human suffering.  The report states that the Lebanese government estimates that 31 “vital points,” which includes airports, ports, water and sewage treatment plants, and electrical facilities, have been completely or partially destroyed.  This is in addition to approximately 80 bridges and 90 roads.  Even worse, the report claims that two Lebanese government hospitals were completely destroyed and three others were seriously damaged.  Furthermore, “The Lebanese Ministry of Public Health estimated that around 60% of the country’s hospitals had ceased to function as of 12 August due to fuel shortages.”  And eight Lebanese hospitals were forced to close because “bombs were falling all around them daily.” 

The Israeli government insists that their attacks were aimed only at Hezbollah positions and support facilities.  They even go further to claim that any civilian casualties were “collateral damage,” and only brought on by Hezbollah’s use of civilians as “human shields.”  But according to the Amnesty International report, “the pattern and scope of the attacks, as well as the number of civilian casualties and the amount of damage sustained, makes the justification ring hollow.”  The report also reveals statements made by Israeli government and military officials that undermine this justification.  According to the report, “On 13 July, shortly after the air strikes began, the Israeli Defence Force Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Dan Halutz noted that all Beirut could be included among the targets if Hezbollah rockets continued to hit northern Israel: ‘Nothing is safe [in Lebanon], as simple as that,’ he said.” 

Amidst all of this human tragedy, Amnesty International recognizes that both sides of this battle carry responsibility.  The report states, “Over the many years of the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, both sides have repeatedly committed grave violations of international humanitarian law without any accountability,” rightfully noting, “If respect for rules of war is ever to be taken seriously, a proper investigation of their violation by both parties of the recent conflict is imperative.”