Following the ceasing of hostilities in the 2006 Lebanon War fought between Israel and Hezbollah, Amnesty International issued a report excoriating Israel for its alleged violations of the rules of war, adding that they used disproportionate force, and showed reckless disregard for the lives of civilians.
To illustrate their point and underscore their charge, AI pointed to the destruction wrought on the south Lebanese town of Bint J’Bail,
“When Amnesty International visited the town of Bint J’Bail in the far south of the country, the centre of the city, where there had been a market and busy commercial streets leading from it, was devastated. Every building on the streets was destroyed, extensively damaged or beyond repair. The streets were strewn with rubble and in that rubble was clear evidence of the cause of the damage unexploded munitions, shrapnel and craters…The Israeli army seemed to have used every type of munition in its arsenal”…“Israeli artillery bombardments in Bint J’beil are considered indiscriminate.”
By reading the AI report, you would think the IDF was attacking a defenseless Disneyland at midsummer. But the truth, unmentioned by AI, was that Bint J’Bail was the chief site of Hezbollah rocket launching and artillery, and the site of one of the bitterest exchanges of the war.
On July 25, 13 days after the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, the IDF advanced on the Hezbollah stronghold of Bint J’Bail, and the defenders there had prepared a warm welcome for them. The town had been the chief rocket-launching area, and had long been a heavily fortified Hezbollah HQ. Hezbollah had reinforced the 60 man garrison in the town to about 100-150, about 40 of which included members of the Unit Nasr from the Special Forces skilled in sabotage and anti-tank defense; all were armed to the teeth. The village was booby-trapped, and well fortified, and the main roadway junction up to the village was heavily mined.
An IED explosion ignited by the Israelis brought a hailstorm of fire on the Israeli advance guard, and Companies A and C from the 51st Battalion now came under withering fire from Hezbollah fighters concealed in positions in the town’s elevated buildings, and 30 of C Company’s troops were hit, including the Deputy commander Major Roi Klein, who was killed. Company C was now in danger of being outflanked and cut to pieces; Company A now moved up to reinforce, and gave cover while Company C evacuated their wounded.
To the shock and chagrin of the IDF, Hezbollah militants were making excellent use of direct and indirect small arms and anti-tank fire from concealed positions, and were working their elaborate tunnel system to maximal effect, hitting the IDF advance guard from multiple emplacements. The Hezbollah defenders’ fire control was excellent and well coordinated.
This first firefight had lasted 5-7 bitter hours, and the IDF lost 8 killed and 27 wounded while inflicting about 20 dead on the defenders, but the IDF had gained a foothold within the town by the end of the day. (On this occasion, the IDF stretcher bearers, who traversed in and out of the killing zone for several hours while the battle raged to tend and evacuate the wounded, showed particular heroism).
The first part of the battle raged from July 25-July 30. There was a tactical withdrawal of two companies of the Golani from an exposed position in Bint J’Bail on July 25 after a bitter firefight in which some 40 Hezbollah and 8 IDF were killed. There was a Hezbollah counterattack on the 890th Battalion on Hill 850 outside the town on July 28 in which 20 Hezbollah were killed. In another engagement on the 29th, elements of the Golani once again clashed with Hezbollah in which 26 Hezbollah were killed, , and where IDF forces uncovered 5 anti-tank missiles, 30 hand grenades, 41 ammunition clips, 10 battle vests, 20 assault rifles, 15 handguns, 4 shotguns, a mine detector and equipment used to manufacture and detonate explosive devices.
On July 30th the 890th Battalion and elements of the Golani Brigade withdrew, but reentered four days later on August 3, destroyed a Hezbollah missile launcher, and discovered another cache of assault rifles. On August 5, some 8-10 gunmen were killed, IDF units discovered a cache of Katyusha rocket and Sagger missile stores, and hit another rocket launcher on August 6. On August 8, there was a fierce firefight between units of the Golani and Hezbollah when the IDF commandeered a Hezbollah command post where three IDF, and 15 Hezbollah were killed. A Hezbollah ATGM hit an IDF infantry position, wounding six and damaging a tank. In a firefight on August 9, 2 IDF paratroopers and 20 Hezbollah were killed.
The next two days would see sporadic fighting in and around the town, with areas see-sawing back and forth, and the IDF did not really secure a presence in the town until August 14, by which time the Israelis had lost 14 killed and 31 wounded, and Hezbollah had lost about 80 men killed. Bint J’Bail was the most fiercely fought battle of the war.
According to a study conducted by the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center staff of experts, headed by Dr. Reuven Erlich,
“It should be noted that Hezbollah waged fierce fighting from inside civilian houses, where the organization’s operative units were placed. The organization’s operatives used gunfire and anti-tank fire against IDF soldiers from inside civilian houses. On more than one occasion they gained an operative advantage against IDF forces that found themselves inside a “killing zone” (while moving between Hezbollah controlled houses or while remaining in buildings identified and charges explosive placed had Hezbollah organization). There were booby traps in civilian houses where it assumed the IDF would operate. Dozens of Hezbollah operatives were killed during the fighting—a relatively high number considering the limited space.”
There was thus a battle between two militaries within a major military target, not an indiscriminate slaughter and bombardment of a defenseless civilian village. Now, what is the evidence further supporting this version of events?
*IDF radar imaging evidence which found that 87 rockets were fired from within village houses, 109 from within a 200 meter radius of the village, and 136 within a 500 meter radius of the village.
*Arial photography identifying 20 bases and 5 weapons storehouses inside the village, as well as photography showing Hezbollah operatives in Bint Jbeil escaping to a mosque after an encounter with an IDF force (fire was opened from the mosque roof towards the IDF force) and anti-tank fire from a civilian house.
*Within Bint J’Bail, the IDF found and photographed small arms, magazines, guns, binoculars, vests, Russian-made Konkurs antitank missiles found in the storehouse of one of the town’s houses, a camera for intelligence collection, RPG-7 launchers, US-made TOW missiles in original container, a camera for intelligence collection, and communications devices, including a radio frequency scanner.
This is further corroborated by a news report from a Canadian National Post article, “Hezbollah’s Deadly Hold on Heartland” dated 08/06/2006:
“We’ve been preparing ourselves for this fight for the last five years. We can fight this for much longer,” said Abu Ismail, a local Hezbollah leader near thevillageofBint Jbeilwho uses a nom de guerre, like most of his fellow fighters. Residents of the cluster of villages closest to the Israeli border, where Hezbollah’s most loyal supporters helped stow the weapons away.
But as the conflict continues, there is an undercurrent of anger among some residents.
“Hezbollah are using [us] as human shields,” said Rima Khouri, gesturing overhead as Israeli warplanes sliced through the sky.
During a pitched battle in his village of Bint Jbeil last Thursday, the 48-year-old dentist watched from his kitchen window as Hezbollah fighters dragged a rocket launcher across the torn street in front of his house.
A few minutes later, he heard four successive blasts.
Kareem barely managed to cover his four-year-old son’s ears before the rockets were fired. His own ears are still ringing.
“Five minutes after they fired the rockets, the Israelis started bombing,” he recalled from the safety of a shelter in Beirut.
“They are making us magnets for the Israelis,” he said.
In converting Bint J’Bail, a village of some 30,000 civilian inhabitants, into a military stronghold, Hezbollah left no tenet of the humanitarian legal principle of distinction un-violated. All of this merely highlights AI’s cynical and disingenuous whitewashing of Hezbollah’s blatant, documented, and thoroughly corroborated war crimes. The IDF did not call Bint J’Bail Hezbollah’s “terror capital” for nothing.
Questions of proportionality, whether the use of force in an engagement was excessive or not, and whether civilian deaths and damage to infrastructure was avoidable or not, hinge critically on matters of context. Data and testimony from soldiers and commanders involved in the engagement, and how and why certain battlefield decisions and actions were taken, are crucial to the rendering of judgment on matters of the use of excessive force and negligence, not to mention the questions of intentionality needed to determine a war crime.
You will look in vain through the AI report to find any mention, discussion or analysis of Hezbollah combat positions, or its methods of defensive concealment. AI, like the Goldstone mission, simply combines notice of physical destruction and oral testimony of Lebanese civilians, who, under the watchful eye of Hezbollah, attested to Israel’s brutality and Hezbollah’s innocence, and who could count on a definite response from Hezbollah for saying differently. Then comes AI’s conclusion: the Hezbollah-suborned testimony and the destruction speak for themselves, and thereforeIsraelhas used disproportionate force and violated the principle of distinction, QED.
What possible basis has this approach in the laws of war? None whatsoever. As Dr. Avi Bell has pointed out, physical destruction from a war zone does not constitute evidence of intent. The ICRC commentary informs us that if combat between armed forces occurs in a town which is defended house by house, it is “inevitable that every house will become a legitimate military target.”
As Dr. Bell has further argued, when AI accused Israel of violating the principles of proportionality and distinction in Bint J’Bail, it overlooked the fact that when combatants hide in civilian houses, the house becomes a legitimate target, and if there are civilians in or near the house, the combatant knowingly positioning himself there bears moral and legal culpability for endangering the civilians. The same is true for combatants who store and position military hardware such as rocket launchers, AA guns, mortars, and other assorted armaments in residential areas. All violate the principle of distinction, and Hezbollah, notIsrael, is the guilty party here.
The evidence in the form of press reports (Canada Post) and from documented evidence replete with video, aerial and close-up ground photographs buttressed by declassified IDF intelligence and after action reports and corroborated by Hezbollah prisoner testimony all makes clear that Hezbollah was using the village of Bint J’Bail as a major concentration of military bases, arms, ammo, and equipment within its civilian infrastructure, and as its most prominent staging area for launching rockets against Israeli civilians long before the ground fighting began.
And this is just Bint J’Bail. Photos that were smuggled out of Lebanonon July 17, 2006 by a Melbourne journalist published in a story in the Sunday Herald Sun onJuly 30, 2006 show Hezbollah terrorists having taken up a position in the Christian neighborhood of Wadi Shahrour, east ofBeirut, on a truck mounted with a Russian ZSU-23X2 anti-aircraft cannon. The militants/terrorists were dressed in civilian clothing so they could quickly disappear among the local population.
There are other photos showing Hezbollah operatives having stationed a truck carrying ten long-range Iranian Zelzal missiles in Wadi Shahrour in order to launch missiles from there against Israeli cities. The truck carrying the missiles was targeted by the Israeli Air Force before they could be launched. Until the Hezbollah terrorists arrived with the missiles, this residential area of Beirut had not been touched by the IAF.
According to a July 25, 2006 AP report, quoting UN Humanitarian chief Jan Egeland (who is, BTW, hardly an admirer of Israel)
“Consistently, from the Hizbullah heartland, my message was that Hizbullah must stop this cowardly blending … among women and children,” he said. “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.”
According to a Nov 30, 2010-CBS/APreport drawn from the Wikileaks cache:
“Iranian Red Crescent ambulances were used to smuggle weapons to Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group during its 2006 war withIsrael, according to newly leakedU.S.diplomatic memos. The memos say the “IRC shipments of medical supplies served also to facilitate weapons shipments.” According to one of the documents, a person whose name was not published “had seen missiles in the planes destined forLebanonwhen delivering medical supplies to the plane.” The plane was allegedly “half full” prior to the arrival of any medical supplies, according to the memo.”
AI’s whitewashing aside, there is thus abundant evidence, testimony, and extensive video and photographic evidence attesting to Hezbollah’s positioning of rocket launchers and firing rockets from residential areas both inside and outside of the ground combat zone, and of Hezbollah’s positioning of military infrastructure in homes, cellars, mosques, and heavily populated residential areas, thus rendering them vulnerable to air assault—and thus violating one of the principal tenets of distinction, in direct contravention of international humanitarian law (“The Parties to the conflict shall, to the maximum extent feasible: …(b) Avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas.” — Geneva Convention (Protocol 1), Article 58)
As I pointed out in my previous post, both Gaza and South Lebanon have been converted into defacto military fortresses by paramilitary terrorist groups wedded to lunatic ideologies of violent jihad and martyrdom. When not oppressing and torturing their subjects, the bulk of their resources and activities are almost solely dedicated to the next round of martyr-making withIsrael. They are merchants of death, and nothing but. They worship it, preach it, practice it, and industriously instill it into their youth as if nothing else in the world mattered. All for Jihad. Jihad, Jihad, Jihad. For this, they will happily convert the whole of their dominions into rubble-strewn scrap-heaps of smoke and flame again and again.
The philosopher Plato could afford to admire Sparta because he did not have to live in it. I sometimes wonder: How would these legions of left-leaning NGO’s and BDS and ISM activists feel if they themselves (and their loved ones) had to actually live under the brutal jackboot of the Hezbollah or Hamas regimes in these future killing grounds, and not just observe them from a safe and comfortable distance?