I have absolutely no problem with Kathleen Peratis (Washington Post, Weds August 30 - posted below) saying that you cannot counter the arguments against Israel put forward by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty simply by an emotional response accusing them of bias and disseminating misinformation. In fact I agree with her. Nor is there anything to be gained at personalised mud-slinging and name calling. However what can be used against HRW and Amnesty are unchallengeable and well-documented facts, and a charge of guilt by omission.
Both organisations have issued very lengthy statements accusing Israel of deliberately targeting civilians and "war crimes", with little or no matching condemnation of Hizbollah, the guilty party in starting and prolonging this latest conflict, speaks volumes for their objectivity and tunnel vision.
The fact that HRW's report speaks of "Israel's Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon," charging Israel with war crimes in its conduct of the war in Lebanon, yet seems to totally disregard the fact that every single rocket or missile launched by Hizbollah was an indiscriminate attack on civilians, should be enough evidence to back up an accusation of extreme bias.
There have been many examples of false reporting during the Lebanon conflict with CNN, AP, Reuters the BBC and others all admitting that they have misled, in some cases printing doctored photos, and in others reporting totally exaggerated casualty figures. This happened in Kana and in another village where the first report claimed there were around 60 dead when the actual total turned out to be one casualty. There is pictorial evidence of staged pictures including a man arriving at the alleged scene of a attack with a suitcase of toys which he proceeded to place emotively amongst the rubble for the photographs to have the desired effect.
It is not only possible that witnesses lied as Kathleen Peratis concedes, there is strong documentary evidence and video to prove they did, yet HRW and Amnesty are not interested in proof that does not fit their agenda. She suggests it stretches the imagination to suggest that witnesses deliberately misled Human Rights Watch researchers. With respect, how incredibly naive and gullible can you be. Of course they have been deliberately misled or at best have been very willing to be fed the stories they wanted to hear.
As for challenging the fact that Hizbollah hid among civilians and fired their car-mounted missiles from crowded residential areas, near schools and hospitals before dismantling them and running off to hide while leaving the civilians to suffer the inevitable Israeli response, that simply beggars belief. Again, there are photos and video footage providing indisputable evidence.
Equally important are the figures released of alleged 'civilian' casualties in Lebanon. It should not be overlooked that Hizbollah deliberately fight in civilian clothing so it is not only likely, but virtually certain that many of the terrorist casualties are listed as civilians.
Contrary to Ms Peratis's allegation, no-one in Israel or any supporter of Israel outside the country believes Israel should be exempt from the rules of war. I would challenge her to provide any evidence that backs up this point. All we ask that the same rules are applied to Israel by the media and Human Rights and charity organisations who support the Palestinian cause, as those applied to the terrorist organisations Hizbollah and Hamas, and to Lebanon, Syria and the main sponsor of this latest war, Iran. At no time has Israel abandoned its moral principle in this conflict. On the contrary it is because of its moral principles that it lost a large number of its soldiers, because it refused to adopt the tactic of indiscriminate bombing. Had they done so and had they not risked the lives of its soldiers by sending them in to try to root out the terrorists on the ground rather than cause unnecessary civilian casualties, then the death toll would have been very much higher.
Every life lost is a tragedy, especially in the case of women and children, but Hizbollah's cynical use of these defenceless people, preventing them from escaping from the warned danger areas, is what should be coming in for HRW and Amnesty condemnation, not Israel for responding to stop her northern cities being targeted in a way that took no account of the civilians it would kill The only reason the death toll in Israel is relatively low is that hundreds of thousands of people left their homes in the north to seek shelter in the centre and south of Israel. Those who remained took to the shelters and thus saved their lives. The same could have been true for many Lebanese if Hizbollah had not prevented that. Joy WolfeDiversionary Strike On a Rights Group
By Kathleen Peratis
Wednesday, August 30, 2006; Page A19
In early August Human Rights Watch issued a 49-page report, "Fatal Strikes: Israel's Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon," charging Israel with war crimes in its conduct of the war in Lebanon. Many of the Lebanese civilian casualties could not be explained by Hezbollah soldiers' hiding among civilians, Human Rights Watch charged. Although Hezbollah fighters did hide among civilians, the rights group discovered that in about two dozen instances, involving about a third of the civilian deaths, there had been no Hezbollah presence at the time of the attacks and the targets had little or no military value.
The report was based on the same methodology that Human Rights Watch has used for more than 20 years in situations in which many witnesses have an incentive to lie: face-to-face probing and on-site inspections -- in this case in Beirut and southern Lebanon.
The critics of reports on this subject -- Amnesty International made similar charges -- have been ferocious. They have not merely deployed the common defense of accusing the accusers of getting the facts wrong. They have gone much further and accused the accusers of bad intent. For example: NGO Monitor, echoing other critics, claims that "central in the strategy" of Amnesty International is "to delegitimize Israel."
But the real vitriol has been reserved for Human Rights Watch and its executive director, Kenneth Roth. Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel has called Roth "loathsome." An editorial in the New York Sun accused Roth of "de-legitimization of Judaism" because his group condemned Israel's strategy as "an eye for an eye." Rabbi Aryeh Spero in Human Events Online referred to Roth as a "human rights impostor," and likened him to "Nazis and Communists." On Sunday, the Jerusalem Post published an op-ed by NGO Monitor's Gerald Steinberg titled "Ken Roth's Blood Libel."
Is it possible that some of the witnesses lied? Sure it is. It's even possible, though it's something of a stretch, that many of the witnesses deliberately misled Human Rights Watch researchers. But it simply will not do to "rebut" a detailed report such as the group produced by accusing Human Rights Watch or its executive director, whose father fled Nazi Germany, of anti-Semitism (or other bad motives) and let it go at that. Indeed, the critics barely mention, much less discuss, the 24 incidents described in the report. Generally they merely assert the undisputed fact that Hezbollah did often hide among civilians. Steinberg broadly asserts, without citing any actual evidence: "When the details were examined by NGO Monitor's research staff, or Prof. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard University, the claims have often been shown to be false or unverifiable." Often? Where? When? He does not say.
No one expected the Anti-Defamation League and others to applaud the Human Rights Watch report, but one is entitled to expect something more serious by way of a response. "You're biased" is not a rebuttal.
At least some of the report's critics seem to believe that Israel should be exempted from the rules of war. Thus, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, who has accused Human Rights Watch of "immorality at the highest level," says: "The moral issue, the human rights issue that overrides everything else in this conflict is that if Hezbollah, Syria and Iran don't understand that they will pay an overwhelming price for these rocket attacks on Israel, then eventually these rockets will be armed with chemical weapons and the warheads with nuclear weapons. In other words, the Holocaust would be in the works."
In other words, if the "overwhelming price" Israel causes the enemy to pay is indiscriminate under the rules of war, Israel must do it anyway. And Human Rights Watch is worse than naive to expect otherwise.
I don't think Foxman and NGO Monitor and others who want selective exemption of Israel from the rules of war have faced the implications of getting what they wish for, such as: Who will decide when the law can be ignored? And: If the law is mowed down, where will we find refuge when the devil turns on us?
America's security has not been enhanced by its violation of human rights principles, from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay. Israel's strength lies not only in its might but in its moral principle, which it should not abandon, even in a time of war.The writer, a lawyer in New York, is a member of the board of Human Rights Watch and a regular columnist for the Forward, a national Jewish newspaper.
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