NGO’s and the south Lebanon Conflict

by Avi Bell

Another interesting false report of an Israeli war crime has popped up in the blogosphere. According to the ICRC, “on 23 July, at 11.15 pm in Cana, a village in southern Lebanon[, a]ccording to Lebanese Red Cross reports, two of its ambulances were struck by [Israeli] munitions, although both vehicles were clearly marked by the red cross emblem and flashing lights that were visible at a great distance …. As a result nine people including six Red Cross volunteers were wounded.”

A website named Zombietime, however, has collected the various photographs from the news reports. It is quite evident by the photographic evidence that the Lebanese Red Cross fabricated the reports, at least in part. As reported by Time magazine, the incident was reported by Qassem Shaalan, the transferor ambulance driver, who reported that “a missile punched through the roof of the vehicle and exploded inside.” Yet, the photographs show that the hole in the roof of the transferor ambulance was caused by the placement of ventilation covers that are placed on all Lebanese Red Cross ambulances. In addition, the ambulance in the photographs has clearly not been damaged by any explosion, missile or otherwise. Mr. Shaalan’s injuries also appear to be faked.

Needless to say, Human Rights Watch’s carefully investigated 51-page report catalogued this Israeli “war crime” too as an undisputed fact.

PS. A word on bias. Unlike HRW (and Professor Heller?), I am quite open about where my sympathies lie (Israel, if you haven’t guessed). I do not criticize Human Rights Watch for its its evident anti-Israel orientation per se; my criticism is that HRW (a) through incompetence or fabrication does not report the facts accurately and (b) pretends to be neutral when it is not. I am quite content to express my sympathies, have the facts presented accurately, and let the chips fall where they may, because I am quite confident in the strength of my case. It is a shame that HRW cannot do the same.

http://opiniojuris.org/2006/08/28/ngos-and-the-south-lebanon-conflict/

2 Responses

  1. I don’t think my sympathies are hidden in the slightest: they lie with innocent civilians of any nationality who are killed illegally and unjustly. The fact that I am a Jew and deeply committed to Israel’s continuing existence makes me no less outraged by Israel’s war crimes than by Hezbollah’s. All civilian lives are equally important and equally deserving of protection.

  2. ‘I am quite open about where my sympathies lie (Israel, if you haven’t guessed).’

    v.

    ‘I don’t think my sympathies are hidden in the slightest: they lie with innocent civilians of any nationality who are killed illegally and unjustly. The fact that I am a Jew and deeply committed to Israel’s continuing existence makes me no less outraged by Israel’s war crimes than by Hezbollah’s. All civilian lives are equally important and equally deserving of protection.’

    Well, there you have it, the part of this debate that speaks volumes. When I teach Judaism to my students, they learn about the ethical vision and understanding of the rabbinic tradition, as well as Judaism’s contribution to the European ethical tradition. It’s Professor Heller’s comment which well resonates with that tradition.

    The entire exchange brings to mind the following autobiographical story found in the Preface to Stanley Cohen’s indispensable book, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001):

    ‘In 1980, I left England with my family to live in Israel. My vintage sixties radicalism left me utterly unprepared for this move. Nearly twenty years in Britain had done little to change the naive views I had absorbed while growing up in the Zionist youth movement in South Africa. It soon became obvious that Israel was not like this at all. By the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, I was already disenchanted with the liberal peace movement in which I thought I belonged. I drifted into what in Israeli terms is the “far left”–the margin of the margins.

    I also became involved in human rights issues, particularly torture. In 1990, I started working with Daphna Golan, the Research Director of the Israeli human rights organization, B’tselem, on a research project about allegations of torture against Palestinian detainees. Our evidence of the routine use of violent and illegal methods of interrogation was to be confirmed by numerous other sources. But we were immediately thrown in to the politics of denial. The official and mainstream response was venemous: outright denial (it doesn’t happen); discrediting (the organization was biased, manipulated or gullible); renaming (yes, something does happen, but it is not torture); and justification (anyway, “it” was morally justified). Liberals were uneasy and concerned. Yet there was no outrage. Soon a tone of acceptance began to be heard. Abuses were intrinsic to the situation; there was nothing to be done till a political solution was found; something like torture might even be necessary sometimes; anyway, we don’t want to keep being told about this all the time.

    This apparent normalization seemed difficult to explain. The report had an enormous media impact: graphic drawings of standard torture methods were widely reproduced, and a taboo subject was now discussed openly. Yet very soon, the silence returned. Worse than torture not being in the news, it was no longer news. Something whose existence could not be admitted, was now seen as predictable.

    There was something like an unspoken collusion to ignore (or pretend to ignore?) the whole subject. Thousands of Israelis and tourists walk everyday down the mains street of Jerusalem, Jaffa Road, on to which backs the “Moscobiya,” the prison and detention centre in the Russian Compound. This was well known as a place where Palestinians were detained, interrogated and tortured by the Shabaq, the General Security Services. On 22 April 1995, a Palestinian suspect, Abed al-Samad Harizat, collapsed there after fifteen hours of interrogation. He died in hospital three days later without regaining consciousness. Harizat had been literally shaken to death–yanked up and down by his shirt collar. An Israeli attorney (acting on behalf of the family) petitioned to have this practice designated as illegal. No, the High Court ruled, shaking was perfectly okay.

    Pedestrians walk within a few yards of the cells where this happened. In the street and the crowded nearby cafes (in which police and Shabaq officers sit) there was no sign of anything out of the ordinary. The day after the High Court ruling, I overheard two fellow bus passengers casually arguing about what the lawyers actually meant by tilltulim, the Hebrew word for “shaking.”

    This was time of the [first] intifada–the Palestinian civilian uprising that started in 1987, after twenty years of military occupation. The television world viewed the Israeli reactions: beatings, torture, daily humiliations, unprovoked killings, curfews, house demolitions, detention without trial, deportations and collective punishments. Israel got a few bad entries in international atrocity digests, such as the Amnesty annual report. Compared with other censured countries, Israel seems a haven of democracy and the rule of law. Active human rights organizations and good journalists report critically on what happens. And public information can be confirmed by private knowledge. Nearly everyone has some personal experience, directly or indirectly, of army service. Soldiers are not mercenaries or underclass conscripts. Everyone serves or has a husband, son or neighbour on reserve duty. Very few of them keep their activities secret.

    Yet even liberals did not react in the way they “should.” I kept wanting to say, “Don’t you know what’s going on?” But of course they knew. I glibly saw this as yet another instance of denial–not the crude lying of cynical apologists, but the complex bad faith of people trying to look innocent by not noticing. Was this time for another report, press release, article or documentary driven by our touching faith in “if only they knew?” Hardly. The information had been received but not “registered,” or (a better cliche) not “digested.” It sunk into consciousness without producing shifts in policy or public opinion. Was there some deep flaw in the way we were trying to get our message across? Or was there a point at which the sheer accretion of more and better information would not have any impact?’

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