Hamid Ansari

Human Rights Watch has published a report that documents Israel's actions against Lebanese civilians.

IN THE information age, saturation media coverage becomes an axiom of faith. There are nevertheless lacunae. A case in point is the Human Rights Watch report published last week. It bears the title "Fatal strikes: Israel's attacks against civilians in Lebanon."

The report, covering the period from July 12 up to the Qana bombing, has done a careful compilation of incidents involving attacks on (a) civilians, and (b) civilian vehicles. "In both categories, victims and witnesses interviewed independently and repeatedly said that neither Hizbollah fighters nor Hizbollah weapons were present in the area during or just before the Israeli attacks took place." It finds, based on statements from Israeli officials and military leaders, that "at the very least, the IDF has blurred the distinction between civilian and combatant, and is willing to strike at targets it considers even vaguely connected to the latter. At worst, it considers all people in the area of hostilities open to attack."

The report's conclusion is unambiguous: "By consistently failing to distinguish between combatants and civilians, Israel has violated one of the most fundamental tenets of the laws of war: the duty to carry out attacks on only military targets. The pattern of attacks during the Israeli offensive suggests that failures cannot be explained or dismissed as mere accidents; the extent of the pattern and the seriousness of the consequences indicate the commissioning of war crimes."

On the basis of these findings (that include Hizbollah's indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilian concentrations in Israel), the report makes recommendations six of these are to Israel, three to Hizbollah.

It asks Britain to deny transit facility to arms shipments and Syria and Iran to refrain from supplying arms that may be used in violation of international humanitarian law.

Its two recommendations to the United States Government are telling: (a)"Immediately suspend transfer to Israel of arms, ammunition and other material that have been documented or credibly alleged to have been used in violation of international humanitarian law in Lebanon, as well as funding and support for such material, pending an end to the violations"; (b)"Conduct full investigation" into Israel's use of U.S.-supplied material in violation of international humanitarian law.

Furthermore, Human Rights Watch calls upon the United Nations Secretary-General to establish an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate the matter and present the inquiry report to the Security Council "for further consideration and action."

The complicity of the U.S. in the war is a matter of public record. Israel, however, may not have expected close friends like Charles Krauthammer to make revelations: "There is a fierce debate in the United States about whether, in the post-September 11 world, Israel is a net asset or liability." The war gave Israel the opportunity to demonstrate its usefulness in America's war on terror: "America's green light for Israel to defend itself is seen as a favour to Israel. But that is a tendentious, misleadingly partial analysis. The green light indeed, the encouragement is also an act of clear self-interest. America wants, America needs, a decisive Hizbollah defeat ... The United States has gone far out on a limb to allow Israel to win, and for all this to happen. It has counted on Israel's ability to do the job. It has been disappointed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has provided unsteady and uncertain leadership ... His search for victory on the cheap has jeopardised not just the Lebanon operation but America's confidence in Israel as well."

Hizbollah's resistance has impacted on Israeli morale. One aspect of it is in the rising number of casualties; a second in the creeping realisation that intelligence failure, poor preparation, and bad tactics have shattered the myth of invincibility. The Jerusalem Post considers BBC coverage as propaganda for Hizbollah and finds reporting in Norway, Mexico, South Africa, and New Zealand anti-Semitic!

An introspective article in Haaretz reflects deeper concern in some quarters. It is critical of the concept of collective punishment as a legitimate weapon, and of jingoism that has induced insensitivity, chauvinism, and blindness: "Long before this war is decided, it can already be stated that its spiralling cost will include a moral blackout that is surrounding and covering us all, threatening our existence and image no less than Hizbollah's Katyushas."

As for the U.S., its obsession with the "two-churched monster" of radical Islam and its fantasy for "a New Middle East" bring to mind the philosopher Bradley's lament about a category of human beings "whose desire to be something in the world takes the form of a desire to do something with the world and who in the end do badly what in the beginning they might have done well."