Amnesty’s Lebanon report: legitimizing “collatoral damage”?

We welcome the Aug. 23 Amnesty International report taking Israel to task for massively targeting Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure. But there is an ominous Achilles’ heel to Amnesty’s arguments. Contrasting Israel’s actions to the “lawful targeting of military objectives” implicitly loans legitimacy to the concept of “collateral damage.” In 1977, following the outcry over US carpet-bombing of Vietnam, Protocol II was added to the Geneva Conventions, with Part IV stating: “The civilian population…shall enjoy general protection against the dangers arising from military operations… The civilian population as such…shall not be the object of attack.” The concept of “collateral damage” has served as a loophole to permit the targeting of the civilian population merely de facto rather than de jure—as the Pentagon’s “Shock and Awe” plans for Iraq made nearly explicitly clear. In the actual event, the “Shock and Awe” plans were considerably scaled down due concerns about its “political consequences.” This is evidence that protest is effective—it saves lives, at least sometimes, even if it falls short of its aims of stopping military aggression completely. But we should be wary of allowing the aggressors to set the terms of the debate.

Evidence indicates deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure

Amnesty International today published findings that point to an Israeli policy of deliberate destruction of Lebanese civilian infrastructure, which included war crimes, during the recent conflict.

The organization’s latest publication shows how Israel’s destruction of thousands of homes, and strikes on numerous bridges and roads as well as water and fuel storage plants, was an integral part of Israel’s military strategy in Lebanon, rather than “collateral damage” resulting from the lawful targeting of military objectives.

The report reinforces the case for an urgent, comprehensive and independent UN inquiry into grave violations of international humanitarian law committed by both Hizbullah and Israel during their month-long conflict.

“Israel’s assertion that the attacks on the infrastructure were lawful is manifestly wrong. Many of the violations identified in our report are war crimes, including indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. The evidence strongly suggests that the extensive destruction of power and water plants, as well as the transport infrastructure vital for food and other humanitarian relief, was deliberate and an integral part of a military strategy,” said Kate Gilmore, Executive Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International.

The Israeli government has argued that they were targeting Hizbullah positions and support facilities and that other damage done to civilian infrastructure was a result of Hizbullah using the civilian population as a “human shield”.

“The pattern, scope and scale of the attacks makes Israel’s claim that this was ‘collateral damage’, simply not credible,” said Kate Gilmore, Executive Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Civilian victims on both sides of this conflict deserve justice. The serious nature of violations committed makes an investigation into the conduct of both parties urgent. There must be accountability for the perpetrators of war crimes and reparation for the victims.”

The report, Deliberate destruction or ‘collateral damage’? Israeli attacks against civilian infrastructure, is based on first-hand information gathered by recent Amnesty International research missions to Lebanon and Israel, including interviews with dozens of victims, officials from the UN, Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and Lebanese government, as well as official statements and press reports.

The report includes evidence of the following:

*Massive destruction by Israeli forces of whole civilian neighbourhoods and villages;

*Attacks on bridges in areas of no apparent strategic importance;

*Attacks on water pumping stations, water treatment plants and supermarkets despite the prohibition against targeting objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population;

*Statements by Israeli military officials indicating that the destruction of civilian infrastructure was indeed a goal of Israel’s military campaign designed to press the Lebanese government and the civilian population to turn against Hizbullah.

The report exposes a pattern of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, which resulted in the displacement of twenty-five percent of the civilian population. This pattern, taken together with official statements, indicates that the attacks on infrastucture were deliberate, and not simply incidental to lawful military objectives.

Amnesty International is calling for a comprehensive, independent and impartial inquiry to be urgently established by the UN into violations of international humanitarian law by both sides in the conflict. It should examine in particular the impact of this conflict on the civilian population, and should be undertaken with a view to holding individuals responsible for crimes under international law and ensuring that full reparation is provided to the victims.

To see the report: Deliberate destruction or ‘collateral damage’? Israeli attacks against civilian infrastructure, please go to:

Meanwhile, of course, Israel is finding its own reasons to blast the Amnesty report. From the Jerusalem Post, Aug. 24:

The Foreign Ministry slammed an Amnesty International report published Wednesday charging that Israel had deliberately destroyed civilian infrastructure in Lebanon and demanding an international investigation for what it termed war crimes.


Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev rejected the assertions contained in the report, saying that Israel steps were taken in self-defense and that any targeting of civilians areas were also being used by Hizbullah, making such attacks “very clearly” legal according to international law.

“It’s not serious,” Regev said of the report, “because you have to discuss the scope of the attacks on Israel.” The report does not devote any of its several sections to Hizbullah rocket attacks on northern Israel or any of its other actions, though Claudio Cordone, senior director for research at Amnesty, said those subjects would be addressed in future reports. He added that by Israel’s argument about acceptable civilians targets, one could suggest that Hizbullah attacks on northern Israel were reasonable because some roads and regions there were used by the military.

Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman, however, took issue with Amnesty’s decision to focus its first major report on the conflict on alleged Israeli abuses, when Hizbullah had started the war.

“They continue the pattern of biased, prejudiced, bigoted, one-sided judgments on the Israeli-Arab conflict. It’s part and parcel of putting the blame on Israel,” he said.

Cordone countered that, “There is less controversy about the abuses committed by Hizbullah, whereas there hasn’t been sufficient attention to this kind of attack,” referring to the alleged Israeli strategy of targeting civilian areas.

Cordone added that, “For those who, like Israel, have argued they’ve done everything according to the rules of war, they should have nothing to fear from a proper, impartial investigation, which is what we’re seeking.”

But Foxman said this report would create a stigma that other reports wouldn’t change. Foxman, speaking during a tour of the North where he saw the damage of the Katyushas firsthand, charged that the approach of Amnesty bordered on the anti-Semitic.

Gee, thanks a lot, Abe. This is why it has become virtually taboo to even mention anti-Semitism in progressive circles (except to dismiss it as a Zionist propaganda device)—while it should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention that the Lebanon aggression has been a windfall for the world’s real Jew-haters.

See our last posts on the Lebanon aggression and global protests it has sparked.

Note that it is the US, precisely because of its professed adherence to legality, which is at the forefront of dumbing down the Geneva Conventions.

  1. Hezbollah’s turn
    From the BBC, Sept. 14:

    Hezbollah accused of war crimes

    Amnesty International has accused Hezbollah of acts amounting to war crimes in the conflict with Israel.

    The group said Hezbollah deliberately targeted civilians with rockets in the 34-day war – a “serious violation of international humanitarian law”.

    An earlier Amnesty report accused Israel of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in Lebanon.

    Amnesty again urged a UN inquiry into violations by both sides.

    ‘No justification’

    The latest Amnesty report said: “Hezbollah’s rocket attacks on northern Israel amounted to deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, as well as indiscriminate attacks, both war crimes under international law.”

    It said Hezbollah had fired nearly 4,000 rockets into northern Israel, killing 43 civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee.

    It noted that although Hezbollah had said its policy was not to target civilians, its leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said the policy was changed in reprisal for Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilian areas.

    It quoted Sheikh Nasrallah as saying: “As long as the enemy undertakes its aggression without limits or red lines, we will also respond without limits or red lines.”

    Amnesty said Israel’s violations could in no way justify Hezbollah’s actions.

    Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Irene Khan, said: “Civilians must not be made to pay the price for unlawful conduct on either side.”

    Amnesty repeated its call for “a comprehensive, independent and impartial inquiry” by the UN into the violations and to ensure there was “full reparation” to victims.

    It said those responsible for civilian suffering were “escaping all accountability”.

    Ms Khan said: “Justice is urgently needed if respect for the rules of war is ever to be taken seriously.”