Amnesty International Accuses Israel of War Crimes – Should We Care?

by Julian Ku

As the NYT reports, Amnesty International issued a blistering report yesterday accusing Israel (and particularly the Israel Defence Forces) of committing war crimes during their recent military action in Lebanon. Is there any credence to their charges?

AI is not, at least in my view, the most credible or fair-minded human rights organization out there (see my posts on their previous charges against the U.S. government below). And I’m still waiting on their report on Hizbulluh/Iranian/Syria war crimes. Still, whether or not AI ignored war crimes on the Hizbulluh/Iran/Syria side, their charges about Israel must be taken seriously. Here is the crux of their charge, that Israel committed disproportionate attacks against civilian targets:

3 Responses

  1. Should we care? Yes and no…but mostly no. On the yes side, AI is a powerful idea merchant that has a lot of agenda-setting power. It’s certainly not a good thing for states to be on the wrong side of AI’s line.

    However, there are two things that make me believe that “no” outweighs the yes. First, Israel, more than most other states, doesn’t really care about international opinion. Israel is already at the bottom of the stack in most eyes, be it those of states, NGOs, or international organizations. What difference will it make to Israel if AI accuses it of war crimes?

    More importantly, however, it shouldn’t matter because NGOs should not and cannot be in the business of determining what is appropriate force in conflict. Do we know what criteria and metric AI uses to distinguish appropriate force from a war crime? How heavily does Hezbollah’s tactics of hiding among civilians affect that? I would wager lots and lots of money that AI has no methodology for determining this; thus, the accusation must be given no weight. And outside of the conspiracy-theory minded Arab nations, it won’t be.

  2. Professor Weinberger might rather have said that ‘Israel, more than most other states, doesn’t really care about international law.

    To quote Marko Milanovic: ‘One view of IHL is that the military is regulating itself, with soldier ethics and honour providing the impetus for respecting the laws of war. The other is, however, that we, as ordinary people, who do not have to fight in wars, still can pass moral and rational judgments on the people who do. The current Middle East conflict is a case in point.’

    As to ‘Hezbollah’s tactics of hiding among civilians,’ please see, for instance, Mitch Prothero’s piece, ‘The “hiding among civilians” myth,’ at

  3. Let’s not forget the situation in the Occupied Territories….

    Please see: The B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

    Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

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