Hat tip to Sol Salbe for linking to the following distressing Haaretz story by Meron Rapoport. The journalist interviewed several IDF artillery officers about their experience firing cluster bombs and other indiscriminate munitions on Lebanese civilian targets:
S.is a reservist in an artillery battalion, and he is not at ease with what he did during the second Lebanon war. He fired shells, sometimes at a rate of one per minute. He and his fellow soldiers fired 200 shells one night and on other nights, “only” 50 or 80. S. doesn’t know what damage was done by the shells he fired. He didn’t see where they fell. He doesn’t even know exactly where they were aimed. Artillery gunners like him only receive coordinates, numbers, not names of villages. Even those commanding the team or the battery don’t know exactly what they’re firing at.
“Tell me, how do the villages there look? Are they all destroyed?” S. asked me after I told him that I was in contact with UN personnel who were patrolling the villages. What really made something inside S. snap was when his battalion was given an entire village as a target one night. He thinks it was Taibeh, a village in what is called the eastern sector, but he’s not sure. The battalion commander assembled the men and told them that the whole village had been divided into parts and that each team was supposed to “flood” its alloted space – without specific targets, simply to bombard the village.
“I told myself that the people left in that village must be the weaker ones, like in Haifa,” says S. “I felt that we were acting like Hezbollah. Taking houses and turning them into targets. That’s terror. My soul is important to me. When I hug my girlfriend, I want to feel good about myself. And I don’t feel good about what I did in the war. I felt like I really should have tossed my weapon and run away.”
I often write critically about the current IDF and its lax standards of respect for human rights. But it is important to acknowledge there are officers who have a conscience and who are bothered by such indiscriminate punishment of civilians. Their disagreement with orders is among the highest values of the old IDF and has, unfortunately largely been abandoned in the current army with its callous, bloodthirsty leadership under Dan Halutz.
The IDF counters all charges of possible war crimes involving the use of cluster weapons by saying that it never uses weapons which violate international law. But that all depends on how you define the law:
International law expert Dr. Yuval Shani of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem explains that there are international conventions that prohibit the use of chemical or biological weapons, of dumdum bullets and other types of weaponry, but that cluster bombs are not expressly prohibited. However, says Shani, Section 57 of the first protocol of the Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, prohibits the use of “indiscriminate” weapons, a definition that fits the cluster bombs.
“Cluster weapons cannot be used in a place where there are liable to be civilians,” says Shani. The only justification for using such bombs in an area where there are civilians is in cases when they are the only type of arms by means of which the desired military result may be achieved. “It’s hard to believe,” he continues, “that in the hundreds of instances discovered in Lebanon, cluster bombs were the only possible weapon.”
The IDF is expert at bending and twisting rule and values in order to be able to claim it is abiding by them when in fact it isn’t. This is a perfect example.
Rapoport also points out the utter hypocrisy of the State Department’s “investigation” of Israeli use of cluster bombs in Lebanon to determine if it violated a secret agreement signed in the 1970s when the U.S. first supplied them to Israel:
Israel is not the only country that has used cluster bombs. Human Rights Watch claims that the United States and Great Britain made massive use of MRLS rockets during the second Gulf War, causing hundreds of casualties among the Iraqi civilian population. The organization estimates that about 30 million of these tiny bombs were dropped on Iraq. This may make the U.S. State Department’s decision to launch an inquiry into Israel’s use of such shells and rockets in the recent war seem somewhat hypocritical. The inquiry, whose existence was revealed about a week ago by The New York Times, is supposed to determine whether Israel reported to the Americans on its use of cluster bombs and on whether the targets hit were clearly defined in military terms, in keeping with a classified agreement signed when the United States began supplying Israel with cluster bombs in the early 1970s.
How could State possibly find Israel in violation of the agreement when our own nation used 30 million of the f($*@$s in Iraq?? We’d only be condemning ourselves before the world.
I’m certainly happy that the U.S. held up that final shipment of cluster bombs at the end of the war. But isn’t it the height of hypocrisy for us to deny Israel a weapon we used 30 million times in Iraq without straining our own moral conscience in the least?
Kudos to Senators Patrick Leahy and Dianne Feinstein for introducing the Cluster Munitions Amendment which would force the Defense Department to determine that use of such U.S. weaponry would not occur in civilian areas:
“The recent experience in Lebanon is only the latest example of the appalling human toll of injury and death,” Leahy said in a joint September 5 press release issued with Feinstein.
Apparently, there are those in Washington who feel that Israel put the U.S. on the hot seat with its indiscriminate use of the mass killing weapons during the war:
…Many officials in Washington both in the administration and on Capitol Hill are unhappy about the way in which Israel used cluster bombs in Lebanon. Some believe that Israel may have violated an American-Israeli agreement, the details of which never have been published, regarding the terms of the use of the munitions, sources said. Some government officials are concerned about the impact on America’s image abroad of the continued explosions of small American-made bombs in civilian neighborhoods in an Arab country that the Bush administration considers friendly to America.
Gosh dern it, BushCo. didn’t seem much concerned about Israel dropping them in those same civilian neighborhoods and on that same friendly Arab country DURING the war. Why did it all of a sudden “get religion” on this right before the end of the war? I guess if our government wants to have a moral conversion on this issue I should accept it gracefully and without too much cynicism. But I just can’t bring myself to tamp down that cynicism.
You can be damn sure that the AIPAC lobbying juggernaut went into overdrive on this one. They’re wheeling out that huge steamroller now to trample this piece of sound and moral legislation into the legislative dust.