At the outset of the July/August 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Israel enjoyed the support of many countries in the West, especially the United States and Britain. As the war continued, the media’s and human rights NGO’s reports of Israeli human rights violations began to erode that support. The incident at Qana was the watershed moment at which the efforts of Western countries were directed at bringing the war to a speedy close, at Israel’s expense. Israel ended up agreeing to a cease-fire that fulfilled few of her demands at the outset of the war- the kidnapped soldiers were not returned, and Hezbollah remained armed and intact. The skewed information received in Western governments had a direct impact on Israel’s ability to achieve her objectives.
The reports from NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International contributed to the growing idea that Israel targeted civilians indiscriminately in her pursuit of Hezbollah. The NGOs employed a double-standard when criticizing Israel and Hezbollah, giving Hezbollah the benefit of the doubt, and downplaying Iran and Syria’s role in Hezbollah’s instigation of the conflict.
The organization NGO Monitor released a report documenting the biases of the NGOs in their treatment of the Second Lebanon War. The full report is available here.
The report examines some of the shoddy, inconsistent methods used by the NGOs to portray Israel as the aggressor. These include the use of unsubstantiated claims by Lebanese ‘eyewitnesses’, the dismissal of the implications of Hezbollah’s use of human shields, and the exaggeration of Lebanese civilian casualties.
Here are some of the highlights-
During and following the 2006 Lebanon war, international human rights NGOs issued an extraordinary number of public statements and reports, the bulk of which condemned Israel’s prosecution of the war as violating international law and showing a disregard for human rights (see Appendix A: NGOs in the Lebanon War – Update: Covering July 12 through September 10). These accusations were often based on unsubstantiated, highly questionable “eye witness” testimony, and exhibited a clear political bias against Israel. This politicized agenda was also manifest in the NGOs’ comparative coverage of Hezbollah’s actions during the war. Not only did Hezbollah’s widespread use of Lebanese civilians as human shields go largely unreported, but several prominent NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, claimed to have found no evidence of such activities. Even after numerous media reports,1 and the detailed study by the Intelligence and Terrorism Center at the Israeli Center for Special Studies, showed widespread use of human shields by Hezbollah, NGOs such as Human Rights Watch continue to claim otherwise.
• Claims that international law does not distinguish between aggressor and defender (i.e. moral equivalence between Israel and Hezbollah which ignores Hezbollah’s initial cross-border attack, rocket fire and abduction of soldiers) This common NGO portrayal of international law is selective, incomplete, and self-serving. Under international law, the only legitimate uses of force are for purposes of self-defense or pursuant to Security Council authorization under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Article 51 of the UN Charter, for instance, states: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.” Under Article 2(4) of the Charter, States are prohibited from engaging in illegitimate use of force: “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” As international law precedents make clear, militias like Hezbollah, given de facto authority by the government of Lebanon, are bound to follow the legal commitments of the state. Lebanon is a signatory of the UN Charter, and Hezbollah, whose officials are also members of the cabinet, is obligated to abide by Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. Therefore, Hezbollah’s attack on Israel was illegal under any interpretation of international law, and there is both a moral and legal basis for distinguishing between aggressor and defender under the laws of war.
Judgments and claims regarding “military targets” in the context of asymmetric warfare that most humanitarian and human rights NGOs are not equipped to make. Condemnation of Israel’s targeting of bridges, major roads and the Beirut Airport as “collective punishment,” despite the clear
military rationale of sealing off air and sea ports, roads and other such targets to prevent the re-supply of arms from Syria and Iran.
On August 1, 2006, after an Israeli strike against Qana in southern Lebanon, Human Rights Watch immediately issued a press release based entirely on unverifiable “eyewitness claims,” labeling the bombing “indiscriminate” and a “war crime” before any such determination could be reasonably made, and declaring that “at least 54 civilians have been killed.” HRW issued this statement even though its own “official on the scene” and a Red Cross statement put the death toll at 28. In fact, Lucy Mair, HRW’s researcher at the time, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times stating that HRW disregarded the Red Cross estimate in favor of the higher estimate of 54 provided by an alleged “survivor”. HRW later acknowledged the correct casualty figure, and repeated the allegations of “war crimes” and the absence of Hezbollah elements (rockets, fighters, etc.), based on claims made by people possibly connected to Hezbollah. Indeed, on December 5, the Center for Special Studies in Israel (C.S.S.) issued a detailed report on “the extensive military infrastructure positioned and hidden by Hezbollah in populated areas.” (see Appendix B attached). The report documented a significant Hezbollah presence in and around Qana: 3 rockets were fired from within civilian houses, 36 within a 200 meter radius, and 106 within a 500 meter radius of the village. However, as the study published by Harvard University notes, “Most reporters used the higher of the two [casualty] estimates, some describing the scene as a massacre. It made for more sensational copy.” The report also showed an aerial photograph of a weapons storehouse located next to a mosque in Qana. Overall, the report shows While NGOs focused on the plight of Lebanese civilians effected by the fighting, few of these NGOs called for the release of the two abducted Israeli soldiers, and there was little attention given to Israeli IDPs (internally displaced persons) numbering approximately 500,000, or to Israeli victims of Hezbollah rocket attacks.