Opinion | Columnists

Inquiry panel should probe Israeli atrocities

There is a growing demand to book Israel for war crimes. A half step has been taken in this respect. Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch have each documented Israeli atrocities against Lebanese civilians and infrastructure in Lebanon.

  • By George S. Hishmeh, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 August 31, 2006
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Reuters
  • Israel's use of cluster bombs at civilian targets has shocked many. A UN official has confirmed 289 cluster bombs locations in south Lebanon.

A couple of days ago, I saw a finger-biting Woody Allen movie called Match Point in which an upstart, a former tennis pro, marries the daughter of a rich couple. But in the meantime he falls in love with the luscious fiancée of his brother-in-law.

Realising that he could not manage his passionate trysts and his recent marriage which has brought him wealth and a position he has now come to enjoy, he decides to end the relationship.

He resorts to the unthinkable. And, as is sometimes the trend nowadays, he gets away with murdering his new attraction, now pregnant with his child, and her landlord.

This is a far cry from what Hollywood and European studios have traditionally insisted that all culprits pay the price for their crimes.

This shocking trend realistic, others may feel now seems to be likewise prevalent in world affairs.

Isn't this the case with Israel which appears to have escaped so far retribution despite its disproportionate pummelling of Lebanon for 33 days, without any of its patrons, primarily the United States, condemning its flagrant overreaction.

In fact, Israel is believed to have repeated the same pattern in Lebanon in sending its troops deep into the hilly border region as it did when it established a beachhead on the Gulf of Aqaba, now called Eilat, in March 1949, days after the armistice with Egypt began on February 24 of that year.

A half step has been taken in this respect. Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch have each documented Israeli atrocities against Lebanese civilians and infrastructure in Lebanon, not much unlike its practice of targeted assassination of Palestinians, activists and leaders, and lately the abduction of Palestinian officials including the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Assembly or parliament.

Human Rights Watch said in its initial report (http://hrw.org/) that it has investigated some two dozen bombing incidents in Lebanon involving a third of the civilians who by then had been killed.

In none of those cases was Hezbollah anywhere around at the time of the attack as Israel claimed that they were using civilians as human shields.

Amnesty International made the same observation: "The pattern and scope of the [Israeli] attacks, as well as the number of civilian casualties and the amount of damage sustained, makes the justification ring hollow."

It went on, "Statements by Israeli military officials seem to confirm that the destruction of the infrastructure was indeed a goal of the military campaign."

At another point, the report said, "The Israeli army seemed to have used every type of munition in its arsenal, with air-delivered munitions, artillery shelling and cluster bomb damage in evidence."

It is the use of these cluster bombs at civilian targets that has shocked many. A UN official confirmed 289 cluster-bomb locations in south Lebanon "and the figure is rising daily", The Washington Post reported.

In a nutshell. Amnesty asserted: "Many of the violations examined in this report are war crimes that give rise to individual criminal responsibility. They include directly attacking civilian objects and carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks. People against whom there is prima facie evidence of responsibility for the commission of these crimes are subject to criminal accountability anywhere in the world through the exercise of universal jurisdiction."

Amnesty International has asked the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council to request the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to establish a panel of independent experts to conduct this inquiry.

The State Department has begun what has been described as a preliminary investigation into allegations that Israel had violated secret US rules prohibiting the use of American-made cluster bombs in civilian areas. Whether the administration would publish its finding is not certain and no time frame has been mentioned for when the report will be available.

In turn, all Annan did on his current tour of the Middle East, is mention without any elaboration that Israel was responsible for most of the violations of the UN-brokered cease-fire. But the United Nations and the Bush administration owe it to the Lebanese people, if not all others, to come out clean and tell all. The first step should be the appointment of a UN commission of inquiry forthwith.

George Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at ghishmeh@gulfnews.com

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