Saturday, August 12, 2006

Media Lies and Hezbollah's Human Shields

Media Lies and Hezbollah's Human Shields
By Jacob Laksin | August 10, 2006

Those seeking evidence of the far-Left's "see-no-evil" approach to the war on Islamic terrorism generally and Israel's war against the genocide-minded Hezbollah in particular need only consider the case of Last week, the magazine published a dispatch ostensibly debunking the "myth" that Hezbollah hides among civilians, thereby incurring Israeli fire and endangering Lebanese civilians. This claim, according to author Mitch Prothero, "is almost always false."

What is immediately striking about the report is not merely that it is untrue, but that from the onset it gives the lie to its own thesis. Setting the scene, Prothero writes:

The locals knew that the 10-story apartment building had been the office, and possibly the residence, of Sheik Tawouk, the Hezbollah commander for the south, so they had moved their families out at the start of the war. The landlord had refused to rent to Hezbollah when they requested the top floors of the building. No matter, the locals said, the Hezb guys just moved in anyway in the name of the "resistance." Everyone knew that the building would be hit eventually.

From the evidence that a top Hezbollah fighter had chosen a civilian residence for his base of operations, over the persistent objection of his fellow tenants, Prothero concludesŠthe exact opposite: "Although Israel targets apartments and offices because they are considered 'Hezbollah' installations, the group has a clear policy of keeping its fighters away from civilians as much as possible," he writes. In yet another spasm of cognitive dissonance, Prothero records a visit to a Lebanese village where he finds that a "handful of people in the town include some from Hezbollah's political wing." Improbably, this detail only fortifies Prothero's conviction that Hezbollah takes pains to "avoid civilians." Further on Prothero assures the reader that Hezbollah would never mix with noncombatants because its leadership recognizes "that letting their fighters near outsiders of any kind -- journalists or Lebanese, even Hezbollah supporters -- is stupid." At the same time, Prothero admits that Lebanese with "the look of Hezbollah always found me." Stupidity does not begin to cover it.

Lest one doubt his expurgated account of the terrorists' tactics, Prothero states that "[e]very other journalist I know who has covered Hezbollah has had the same experience." If so, he might consider broadening his professional horizons. While Prothero was busily suppressing evidence of the Islamists in his midst, a number of news reports confirmed what longtime observers of Hezbollah already knew: The Shiite terrorist faction intentionally positions itself amid civilians. It does so, moreover, in the knowledge that converting civilian areas into makeshift battle stations, complete with
rocket emplacements and command centers, is a sure-fire way of prompting Israeli counterattacks and the inevitable civilian deaths that serve as the group's most effective weapon in its propaganda war against the Jewish state. Consider the following list of news items:
    *       Throughout the current fighting, Hezbollah has prevented civilians from leaving their villages prior to Israeli military strikes.
       *       Hezbollah has used mosques as weapons depots, using them to stockpile weapons and ammunition and to launch ambushes on IDF forces. Senior IDF officials have further revealed that Hezbollah, acting on the conviction that Israel would not attack Lebanese residential areas, has taken to concealing long-range rockets in specially-designed rooms built in houses in southern Lebanese villages.
   *       Hezbollah has repeatedly fired rockets from civilian population centers. Aerial footage collected by the IDF unmistakably shows Hezbollah rockets being fired from civilian areas near Qana, the site of the July 30 air strike that was widely condemned as an unprovoked attack on civilians by Israel.
        *       A New York Times story on Christians fleeing Lebanon quoted a young Christian man, Fayad Hanna Amar, from the village of Ain Eben, deploring Hezbollah's tactics. "Hezbollah came to Ain Ebel to shoot its rockets," Amar told the Times. "They are shooting from between our houses." Amar said that Hezbollah fighters had poured into his village in groups of two and three in order to launch rockets, forcing the Israeli army to return fire.
    *       A July 28 press release [pdf] by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) noted that "Hezbollah fired from the vicinity of five UN positions" in southern Lebanon and explained that a "number of troops in some Ghanaian battalion positions is somewhat reduced because of the increased safety risk for the troops due to frequent incidents of Hezbollah firing from the vicinity of the positions" and Israeli retaliation.
    *       Mere days before he was killed in an Israeli strike on a UN post in Lebanon, an unarmed Canadian United Nations observer had written privately that Hezbollah was using the post to fire rockets into Israel. Of Israeli bombings, Maj. Paeta Hess-von Kruedner wrote that "[t]his has not been deliberate targeting, but rather due to tactical necessity." As a former UN commander told the Ottawa Citizen, "What that means is, in plain English, 'We've got Hezbollah fighters running around in our positions, taking our positions here and then using us for shields and then engaging the (Israeli Defence Forces)."
   *       After touring south Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland demanded that "Hezbollah must stop this cowardly blending...among women and children." Added Egeland: "I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this. I don't think anyone should be proud of having many more children and women dead than armed men."
        *       Israeli troops freshly returned from battling Hezbollah fighters in the village of Taibeh this weekend gave the following reason for the terrorists' tenacity: "We can never beat them completely because we have to obey certain rules. They operate from within civilian populations, and can do whatever they like."
*       One need not rely on news reports alone. The most powerful proof that Hezbollah wages war amid civilians comes in the form of photographs smuggled out of Lebanon and published by Australia's Herald Sun newspaper, and which show armed Hezbollah fighters deployed in the center of a residential district.   
The above list is by no means exhaustive. What's more, Hezbollah's disregard for civilian life antedates the current conflict--a fact corroborated by some of Israel's harshest critics. In her largely sympathetic 1997 portrait of the terror group, Hezbollah, Arab journalist Hala Jaber extensively detailed that Hezbollah not only does not shun civilians, as its apologists allege, but it is very much dependent on their support. "The continued presence of civilians in the area [southern Lebanon] is vital for the movement and protection of Hezbollah fighters: the success of the Islamic Resistance depends upon the cooperation and hospitality of the villagers for their support," Jaber wrote. "Hezbollah therefore demands that civilians remain in their homes and villages in the face of Israeli threats and reprisals. In return, it guarantees them assistance and ensures that they are provided with all the requirements necessary for their-day-to-day survival." [1] (It goes nearly without saying that those who now denounce Israel for imposing "collective punishment" on the Lebanese people cannot be troubled to address this inconvenient history.)
No less a critic of Israel than the journalist
Robert Fisk pointed out in his 2001 book, Pity the Nation, that Lebanese on more than one occasion accused Israeli forces of targeting civilian areas when in fact they were striking back at Hezbollah. Fisk recounted that in the aftermath of the 1996 Israeli strike on a UN compound near the Lebanese village of Qana, in which over 100 civilians were killed, the "Lebanese would drift from the truth -- claiming that there was no Hezbollah men firing from the village," and that the Israelis had deliberately targeted civilians. The facts told a different tale: Hezbollah guerillas had purposely fired Katyusha rockets in the vicinity of the base. "It was not the first time the guerillas had fired their missiles at the Israelis from near a U.N. position," Fisk observed. [2]
But facts did not survive the bombing. Although Hezbollah had instigated the attack by firing missiles, Israel alone reaped the world's opprobrium. In his book Faith At War, Wall Street Journal reporter Yaroslav Trofimov, who covered Israel's fitful fight against Hezbollah in the 90s, noted that international outcry at the 1996 attack forced Israel to halt its offensive, granting Hezbollah a diplomatic reprieve, and, not least, furnishing grist for Osama bin Laden's murderous sermonizing: "Qana took pride of place in Bin Laden's speeches justifying jihad against crusaders and Jews." [3]
There can be little doubt that Israel's failure to defeat Hezbollah would have the same effect on the jihadists and their sponsors throughout the Middle East. And yet, by attributing the blame for civilian deaths solely to Israel, that is precisely the end that many on the Left, echoed by European plenipotentiaries and Arab potentates, have in mind.
In their efforts is a profound irony. Whereas Israel makes every effort to avoid civilians, Hezbollah not only does not have a similar policy but actually regards attacks on civilians as a legitimate strategy--even when those civilians are Muslims. As Hala Jaber has noted, "Religious scholars have, according to Hezbollah, deduced that if the enemy uses Muslims as human shields, then Muslim fighters can kill them in their quest to eliminate the enemy." Hezbollah has justified its own use of human shields on similarly utilitarian grounds, reasoning, in Jaber's summary, that "any action which constrains the enemy and foils their schemes is permissible under Islam." This of course is a direct violation of Geneva Convention, which states in Article 51: "The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the subject of attack."
Not that critics are eager to publicize the fact. Listening to some of the detractors of Israel's military campaign against Hezbollah, one might think that Israel alone has violated international law. Certainly that has been the emphasis of groups like Human Rights Watch, which has issued a 50-page report tendentiously titled "Fatal Strikes: Israel's Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon," charging the Israeli military with a "disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians." Not to be outdone, Amnesty International has claimed that Israeli bombs "fall indiscriminately on women, children, ambulances, rescue workers and other innocent victims of this escalating conflict. These deliberate attacks violate international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes." Parallel with their denunciations of Israel, these groups continue to downplay the fact that Hezbollah has turned civilian areas in southern Lebanon and south Beirut into a private war zone, while equating Israel's accidental attacks on civilians with the deliberate campaign of slaughter waged by Hezbollah.
As in the past, the undisguised intent of this critical barrage is to bring international pressure to bear on Israel and force a premature end to Israeli military operations. Instead of capitulating to these demands, Israel will be far better served by heeding the counsel of Hezbollah's 1985
manifesto, which features a section headed "The Necessity for the Destruction of Israel." "Our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated," the manifesto states. "We recognize no treaty with it, no cease-fire, no peace agreements." Only by adopting the same logic and disregarding the attacks of those who hope, yet again, to rescue Hezbollah from a war of its own making, can Israel prevail.
[1] Hala Jaber, Hezbollah: Born with a Vengeance. (Columbia University Press, 1997.) p. 156.
[2] Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War. (Oxford University Press, 2001.) pp. 670-673.
[3] Yaroslav Trofimov, Faith At War: A Journey on the Frontlines of Islam, from Baghdad to Timbuktu. (Henry Holt and Company, 2005.) p. 231.

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