Opinion: Israel Deserved ″War Crime″ Label | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 24.08.2006
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Opinion: Israel Deserved "War Crime" Label

DW's Peter Philipp says Amnesty International's criticism of Israel's actions in Lebanon was well deserved -- and overdue. Now, he hopes Hezbollah gets its due.


Amnesty International has come under heavy fire. During its 34-day war with Lebanon's Hezbollah, Israel committed war crimes, the rights organization said. They called for the United Nations to examine the situation. Amnesty accuses Israel of systematically bombarding Lebanese civilian targets, in clear violation of martial and international law.

No spokesman for the Israeli regime can deny these charges, or gloss over them. Naturally, Israel attacked actual, and supposed, Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon, from which rockets had been launched. At the same time, the Israeli air force reduced to ashes the overwhelmingly Shiite neighborhoods on the southern edge of Beirut, and destroyed nearly all of the country's infrastructure.

Awaiting Hezbollah account

They said they had to do this in order to cut off Hezbollah's supply lines, but in reality, they did it without taking the civilian population into account. The bombardment of the Beirut airport and the roads that could allow people to flee to safety from the south, as well as the maritime blockade all fall in the same category: collective punishment, in violation of international law.

So Amnesty was correct in its charges. But it would have made things much easier for the organization if Amnesty had released its critiques of Hezbollah's actions in the war alongside those of Israel. It says it will release its comments on Lebanon separately, but has so far managed to put off doing it.

Yet one thing is already clear: Israel is not the only party in this conflict to have broken international conventions. Hezbollah shot rockets at civilian targets in Israel -- and not just in this conflict, but long previously.

Hezbollah even used its own population as a defensive shield. Not, as Israel claims, by shooting rockets "out of apartment buildings." But because they did, in fact, shoot rockets from residential areas, including gardens, courtyards and very nearby apartment buildings.

State's disadvantage

But it is going to be hard for Amnesty to criticize Hezbollah for this behavior. In contrast to Israel, Hezbollah is not an organized state, but a hard-to-define militia. It is a further example for the imbalance of an "asymmetrical conflict": States always get a worse deal than non-states. Has there ever, in the history of the world, been a militia that has obeyed international laws? It is not meant as an excuse for Hezbollah, but the fact is, a state like Israel -- which sees itself bound by international law -- will be judged differently than a militia in such situations.

Unfair? Perhaps. But it represents the increased responsibility that comes with being a recognized state. Especially one that repeatedly uses international law in its own interest. Israel needs to learn that it will be measured against the same standard that it uses to its own ends.

Finally, as imbalanced as Amnesty International's statements are, they are nonetheless a beginning. The latest war against Lebanon was not the first time Israel broke international conventions, especially international law. In the Palestinian territories, such transgressions are an almost daily occurrence. But the protests mostly go unheard.

Middle East expert Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent (jen).

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