Professor Bell’s Update

by Kevin Jon Heller

Once again Professor Bell misstates the August 16 New York Times article on which his argument about Hezbollah fighters depends. The article makes it excruciatingly clear that “43 people” refers not to the total number of casualties in Sreifa during the war, but to the number of casualties in the August 13 attack alone:

Just days ago, Israeli warplanes pounded the town again as Hezbollah fighters moved into the area to face off with Israeli troops who landed in the hills nearby. Fierce fighting and bombing continued even into early Monday morning, until the United Nations cease-fire took hold at 8 a.m., residents said.


Mr. Kamaleldin, the Sreifa official, estimated that up to two-thirds of the town’s homes and buildings were demolished, leaving more than 43 people buried in the rubble. A majority of them were fighters belonging to Hezbollah and the allied Amal Party, residents said.

Because “43 people” refers only to the number of casualties during the August 13 attack, the New York Times article in no way contradicts Human Rights Watch’s estimate that 23 civilians were killed in Sreifa during the July 13 and July 19 attacks. It does, however, contradict Professor Bell’s claim that we can conclude two Hezbollah fighters were killed during the first two attacks by comparing the number of civilian casualties in those attacks to the number of civilian casualties in the August 13 attack, because — again — the casualty figures have nothing to do with each other.

Finally, it worth noting that Professor Bell selectively quotes Human Rights Watch when he says, regarding the organization’s brief visit to Sreifa on July 31, that “[t]he researchers saw no signs of Hezbollah military activity in the village…” The ellipsis is revealing: the full quote is that “[t]he researchers saw no signs of Hezbollah military activity in the village, such as weapons, military equipment, or trenches.” That statement is in no way inconsistent with the presence of Hezbollah fighters in Sreifa on July 31; it simply points out that, if they were there, they were not specifically enaged in military activity. That is a distinction with a difference: given that Human Rights Watch’s visit to Sreifa was “brief,” the researchers would have had time to look for outward manifestations of Hezbollah military activity, but would not have had time to conduct the interviews necessary to determine whether unarmed (or not visibly armed) Hezbollah fighters were present in the area. Hence the limited — and precise — nature of Human Rights Watch’s claim.

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