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Civilians as ''legitimate'' military targets, Israeli attacks on Lebanon

Astrid Essed | 12.10.2006 06:27 | Lebanon War 2006 | Analysis | Anti-militarism | London

In the july-war on Lebanon, as well as Israel as Hizbollah have committed serious human rights viollations and warcrimes against as well the Lebanese civilian population as the Israeli civilian population.
Despite the ''justifications'' by both parties, they are both subjective to International Humanitarian Law, which forbids, under all circumstances, military attacks on civilians

Civilians as ''legitimate targets'', International Humanitarian Law regarding the Israeli military attacks on Lebanon and the military reaction of Hizbollah

''"Parties to a conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare civilian population and property. Neither the civilian population as such nor civilian persons shall be the object of attack. Attacks shall be directed solely against military objectives"

This is one of the main keyrules of International Humanitarian Law

Although in most contemporary international conflicts, deliberate risks with the safety of the civilian population have been taken, not only in the recent ''july-war'', both the Israeli army and Hizbollah have made a deliberate choice of targetting civilian-goals, also this military tactic, called ''dirty war'', has been openly defended and promoted by both parties

A Israeli military attacks on Lebanon:

1 Direct cause:

Direct cause of the so-called dd 12th of july started ''july-war'' was the capture [dd 12th of july] of two Israeli soldiers, as a consequence of a Hizbollah-military attack on Israeli territory.

However, in contary to the main Western newsmedia and politicians, it was no kidnapping, since the soldiers were being captured at a military operation of one of the referred parties to the conflict, which is legitimate according International Law

Despite of that, the Hizbollah-demand of a prison-negociation with Israel regarding the releasement of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners is not allowed, since this implies the hostage-taking of the referred Israeli soldiers, which is a serious violation of International Law

2 The violation of the Lebanese right on sovereignty:

Still apart from the above mentioned direct cause, it is obvious, that the Israeli military attacks on Lebanon are a violation of the Lebanese right on sovereignty, as laid down in the UN-Charter, since it concerns a conflict between the State of Israel and a non-state party, Hizbollah and not with Lebanon as a State-party.

3 Legitimate reasons for a military attack on another country

One of the legitimate reasons for an attack on another country is as well the right on self-defense as a UN-Security-Council Mandate.

Since such a Mandate was obviously lacking, the Israeli authorities, politically supported by the USA, used the argument of self-defense.
However, such an argument can be used only, when there is a real military attack by another State, in casu Lebanon.
Since this was not the case, there was no legitimacy whatsoever for the Israeli military attacks.

Therefore it is regrettable, that the UN-Security Council, due to the opposition of the USA, has failed to condemn the Israeli military attacks on Lebanon, which seriously has undermined her moral and judicial credibility, being one of the most important UN-bodies, which has the international duty, to base itself on the articles of the UN-Charter.

4 The character of the Israeli military attacks, measured against International Humanitarian Law

From the beginning of the ''july-war'' , the Israeli military attacks were characterized by arbitrary bombings on Lebanese civilian-goals like civilian residential areas in Beiruth and especially also villages in Southern-Lebanon under pretext of the presence of Hizbollah-fighters

According to a recent Amnesty-report, in many cases, deliberate bombings on civilian areas, without any trace regarding the presence of Hizbollah, took place
As a result of these attacks, more than 1287 Lebanese civilians have been killed and more than a million people have fled from their homes

A further worriying consequence of those attacks has been the destruction of great parts of the Lebanese civilian infrastructure like bridges and water-supplies

Especially the destruction of electricity and watersupplies is a flagrant violation of International Law, since this is a serious violation of the humanitarian needs of the civilian popupation.

5 Warcrimes

According to the main important keystone of International Humaniarian Law, as being laid down in the Geneva Conventions dd 1949, by avery military attack, a strict distinction must be made between combatants (military and fighters) and non-combatants (civilians)

Deliberate military attacks on civilians and civilian-goals, when only civilians are present, is a war-crime according to International Law

When there is a less clear situation, like the possible presence of fighters in civilian-areas like cities, villages and refugee-camps, the attacking party has to take all necessary precautions to protect the civilian population.

It is obvious, that also in that case, air-bombings are unacceptable, since there can't be made any clear distinction between fighters and civilians

Considering this keyrule of International Law, the Israeli justification for the arbitrary bombings of Lebanese civilian-areas, based on the assumption of the Hizbollah use of civilians as human shields, makes no sense.

In the first place, as well Amnesty International as Human Rights Watch, have found no evident proof whatsoever of the Hizbollah use of civilians as human shields, which is also a serious violation of International Law.
However, even when there was a Hizbollah-use of civilians as human shields, Israel is under all circumstances obliged to take all necessary precautions for the protection of the Lebanese civilian population

Another important aspect, which I'll mention in underlying, is the use of weaponry in the july-war

According to International Law, conflict-parties are obliged to use weapons, which are as much as possible, limiting the risk for the civilian population.
The use of indiscriminate weaponry, which cause by their technical and chemical composition, a great number of civilan victims, is therefore unacceptable and a violation of the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks.

6 The civilian population as a ''legitimate military target''

Also very worrying has been the statements of the Israeli minister of Justice, which was supported by some high army-officials, that the Lebanese civilian population in South Lebanon, under the Litani-rover, who didn't have responded to the Israeli military warning, to leace their living areas, should have considered as a ''legitimate military target''
Although under International Law, it is an obligation for an attacking conflict party to warn the local civilian population of military attacks, it doesn't imply, that the remaining civilians should not be protected according the rules of International Humanitarian Law

Israel has the international duty, to make under all circumstances, a clear distinction between combatants and non-combatants and to take all possible precations in the protection of the civilian population.

Another astonishing aspect is, that even after the cease-fire agreement dd 14-8 with Hizbollah, after the announcement of UN-Security Council-resolution nr 1701, the Israeli military authorities have warned the refugees, who wanted to return to Southern-Lebanon, not to come back

The argumantation was, that any vehicle at the South of the Litani-river should be considered as a ''hostile'' object.
It may be clear, that this is a serious violation of International Law
However, even it has happened, that civilian people, who wanted to flee from Lebanon during the july-war and were travelling in vehicles carrying the white flag, have been bombed by the Israeli army

Those bombings also have caused the death of 4 UN observators, despite the clearly identifiable UN post and the repeated request from Unifil-soldiers, not to shoot.
Even the killing of the UN-observators didn't lead to an UN-Security condemnation of Israel

7 The use of cluster munition by the Israeli army, especially in Southern-Lebanon

1 The anti-personnel character of the clustermunitions:
Also it is of importance to mention here the Israeli responsibility for warcrimes, because of the use of the internationally forbidden clustermunitions in Southern-Lebanon

Clustermunitions are anti-personnel weapons for two reasons

In the first place because of the fact, that those munitions, after the explosion, fall apart in hundreds of deadly projectiles, which are being scattered through the wide environment, with all humanitarian consequences for the civilian population

In the second place the use of clustermunition is forbidden according the Ottawa Treaty on Landmines, because, when there is no explosion, they can be transformed into landmines, when there is being walked or trampled on

Because of those dangerous aspects, after the cease-fire, according to the most recent reports by Human Rights Watch, at least 15 people have been killed by those landmines and 83 people were wounded

Especially it is a big risk for playing children, not only because of the playing character, but also those missiles resemble play-toys
Therefore it is legitimate, that Israel has been summoned, according to UN-Security Resolution nr 1701 concerning the cease-fire, to provide to the UN of all remaining maps of landmines in Lebanon, in her possession

2 Facts about the number of used clustermunitions, in comparison with Iraq and Afghanistan:

A shocking fact is, that during the july-war, still more clustermunitions are being used by the Israeli army as by the British-American coalition-troops, in Afghanistan and Iraq
According to the estimations of the UNMACC [UN Mine Action Coordination Center South Lebanon]Israel has fired as many as four million submunitions into Lebanon during the juli war in July and August 2006.

For comparison, the British-American coalition-troops have used about 1.9 million submunitions in Iraq in 2003, and the U.S. Air Force used about 248,000 submunitions in Afghanistan in 2001-2002.

Since as well as the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan were lasting three weeks and the july-war lasted four weeks, it is obvious, that the Israeli army still outnumbered the British-American use of the international forbidden clustermunitions

3 Facts about the period, in which the clustermunitions were being used by the Israeli army:

Also shocking is the fact, that the larger part of clustermunitions were being fired during the last 72 hours of the july-war, as the UN stated

4 The number of still existing clustermunitions in South-Lebanon and the demining-activities:

Untill now, more than 30,800 cluster-submunitions have been cleared and destroyed by UNMACC and its contractors, UNIFIL, and the Lebanese Armed Forces.
However, the The UN has estimated that one million hazardous unexploded submunitions may litter the ground.
It may be obvious, that it is especially a big risk for playing children, not only because of the playing character, but also those missiles resemble play-toys.

8 The blockade of Lebanon

As is commonly known, Israel has made, during her attacks on Lebanon, a sea and airblockade against Lebanon, which had been maintained also a period after the cease-fire dd 14-8
Although under International Law a blockade is legitimate, but under condition, that all necessary medical and foodsupply for the civilian-population, sjould be admitted without any delay or condition.

It is, however, regrettable and unacceptable, that at several occasions, humanitarian helping convoys, not were permitted by the Israeli army and in some cases being shot, with all humanitarian cinsequences for the Lebanese civilian population
Deliberate obstruction of medical and foodsupport of the civilian population is a war-crime according International Law

B The Hizbollah rocket-attacks on North-Israel

However, it is obvious, that with the rocket-attacks on Israeli cities, Hizbollah also has committed war-crimes
As a result of those rocket-attacks, at least 120 people were killed.

Further, the Israeli autorities have reported, that 300.000 people have fled from North-Israel
However, in contary to the number of Lebanese refugees, which has been confimed by independent humanitarian organisations, there is no confirmation whatsoever of the reported number of 300.000 refugees
According to independent sources, 10.000 Israeli civilians have been fled.

Justification of Hizbollah:

As a justification for those rocket-attacks, Hizbollah states, that they were aimed to hit Israeli military installations.
However, in reality, most of the attacks have hit hospitals, schools and houses.
Being arbitrary military attacks on civilian-areas, they are war-crimes according to International Law.

As a humanitarian toll, as well as Jewish-Israeli as Israeli-Arab civilians have been killed.
Another Hizbollah-argument, which makes, according to my opinion, no sense, is the reference to Israeli war-crimes in Lebanon

According to International Law however, it is not permitted, to anwer the human rights violations of one conflict-party with similar human rights violations by the other party.

Like the Israeli army, Hizbollah, being a comflictsparty, is also subject to the International Humanitarian Law, laid down in the Geneva Conventions, stating that at all times a distinction has to be made between combatants and non-combatants.
In a situation, by which combatants [military] are present in civilian-areas, all precautions should be made to protect the civilian population.

Two other justifications of Hizbollah are the Israeli occupation of Shebaa Farms [the source of the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah] and the 39th year Israeli occupation of the Palestinian areas and the Syrian Golan-Heights.
Another argument is the military strength and the highly technological level of the Israeli army

Although I agree with Hizbollah regarding the condemnation of the Israeli occupation of as well Shebaa Farms as the Palestinian areas and the Syrian Golan-Heigts, it is according to my opinion and the rules of International Law, no justification, whatsoever, to launch military attacks on civilians and civilian-goals.

Every civilian, on whatever side of the conflict, has an absolute right on equal protection of the attacking party, regardless descent, political assumption or sympathies.
Only when civilians take part in military actions, they are to be considered as combatants.

Further, as well Hizbollah as the Israeli army is held to the absolute international obligation, according to article 3, Geneva Conventions, to treat prispners of war humanely.
That includes also the obligation not to make hostages.


It is, regrettable, obvious, that as well as Israel as Hizbollah not only must be held accountable for serious human rights violations and war-crimes, shocking is also, that they both have tried to justify those human rights violations with all possible arguments, that make no sense.

A humane treatment of the civilian population is an absolute obligation for every conflictsparty
Violations of the human rights of civilians, by one conflictsparty, can never ne used as a justification for similar human rights violations

It is therefore to be hoped, that the UN-Peace-troops to be send, will have as main important task the protection of the civilian population on both sides of the conflict, with the authority to intervene military, when the safety of the civilians is at stake, either by Israeli or Hizbollah attacks.

The bitter experience from the past, as well in Rwanda, Srebrenica as recently in Darfur, learns, which are the humanitarian consequences for the civilian population, when the UN Mandate is only limiting to the ''separation of the parties'' without the authority to military protection of the civilian population.

Also it is of main importance, that the IN-Peaceforce should be composed out of countries, which are neutral to the conflict
It is of main importance, that due to this principle, American participation of the UN Peacetroops have been excluded
However it is regrettable, that however, a part of those troops still are consisting of European countries, which are implicitly partial in the favour of Israel

However, the main key to the problems in the Middle East is the unwillingness or incapacity of the UN-Security Council, to implement their own most important resolution nr 242 dd 1967, the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the occupied Palestinian territories

At his last speech for the UN-Assembly, the separating Secretary General, Kofi Annan, emphasized on the Security-Councils's obligation for implimenting their own resolutions, in casu nr 242

As long as this will not be the case, the UN-Security Council will loose its credibility

Still worse, as long as the end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the Golan-Heights is not a fact, there will be no real peace and justice in the Middle Eastern conflict, either for the Palestinian or the Israeli civilian population.

Astrid Essed


A Regarding Israeli warcrimes and human rights-violations in Lebanon:

Regarding the Israeli use of clustermunitions:

Regarding the Israeli obligation to give a free access for food and medicine, concerning the blockade of Lebanon:

Regarding the Israeli obligation to protect the safety of the remaining civilians in Southern-Lebanon and the obligation to give the fleeing civilians a safe passage:

Regarding the bombing of civilian white flag convoys, fleeing from Southern Lebanon:

B Regarding Hizbollah warcrimes and human rights violations

Astrid Essed


Display the following 5 comments

  1. Show some balance — J&P
  2. "Balance"? — Ha ha ha
  3. Hizbollah = terrorist mass murdering muslim pigs Israel = forever — ben
  4. look for intent not result — J&P
  5. ... you can't handle the truth ... — jsl


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