I read the Amnesty International report on Hizbullah and wondered how Israel’s enemies in the media would deal with the findings. How would those who focussed obsessively throughout the war on damning Israel at every opportunity react to the news that AI was condemning Hizbullah’s own conduct.
Would the Melbourne Age Middle East Bureau Chief, Ed O'Loughlin leave the story alone as he does with a number of others that throw a bad light on Israel's enemies or would he somehow try to turn this story around to make the Israelis look bad?
The headline AMNESTY DAMNS HEZBOLLAH ATTACKS was fair enough and he did make a promising start by presenting the facts in his opening two paragraphs but then he reverted to type and used the remaining space available in an attempt to balance the story by accusing Israel of equivalent moral bad behaviour.
In order to achieve his own peculiar brand of "balance" O’Loughlin employs journalistic sleight of hand to compare AI's report on Hizbullah's deliberate attacks on non-combattants with AI's earlier report on Israel's attacks on Lebanese property.
"Amnesty and several other human rights groups have already accused Israel of war crimes over an air and artillery bombardment that Amnesty said killed ‘some 1,000’ Lebanese civilians. "
The impression given to me by this is that Israel is guilty of the same violations of international humanitarian law that AI levels at Hizbullah - that of deliberately setting out to target civilians i.e. there is equivalence between the alleged war crimes of Hizbullah and the alleged war crimes of Israel.
But is that what the AI report on Israel said?
AI did not accuse the IDF of deliberately targeting civilians. It claimed Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure were contrary to humanitarian law but it did not explain the basis upon which it categorised them as such. Legal experts however argue AI's conclusions were not just bad law but an attempt to invent new law without any basis.
What does international law really say?
The Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977Art 51. - Protection of the civilian population7.
"The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations. The Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations."
AI did not deal with the question whether Hizbullah was in breach of humanitarian law by deliberately embedding itself and stockpiling dangerous military weapons among civilians and, in some cases, allowing them to be in possession of these weapons. Nor has AI yet investigated what steps Hizbullah took, if any, to assist in the evacuation of women and children from the civilian areas it turned into war zones.
If you're looking for clear and unambiguous war crimes, these are the areas which should be attracting the attention of our politicians and our media. Hizbullah protests it did nothing of the sort but it has a problem - genuine photographic evidence exists (as distinct from some of the stuff Reuters and others rely upon) to prove that Hizbullah set itself up among civilians in Beirut and in Southern Lebanon.
This raises the very vexing question as to why Hizbullah put its own people in harm's way in the conduct of its war against the Israeli people and, in many ways, it's one of the fundamental stories of the war.
AI left the question and the answer for another day but it will be of interest to see whether it eventually conducts the promised investigation. And if it does, whether the likes of O’Loughlin continue to use dubious methods to demonise Israel at every opportunity irrespective of the findings.
Of course, there is a double-standard at work in the Melbourne Age where you have to look really hard to find condemnation of Sudan which has allowed militias to murder hundreds of thousands of non-Arabs in recent years or the victims of Muslim violence in a dozen other places on this earth or of Tamils by Sri Lanka's air force for that matter. Only the Jewish state is subjected to this sort of onslaught in the media, only the Jewish state's enemies get such a free ride from them.
O'Loughlin also referred in his article to claims that Israel used cluster bombs and other weapons which some deem illegal but whose legality has not yet been addressed by internal lawmakers. He cited a report from Israel's left wing Haaretz newspaper and I am encouraged that he is at least turning to Israel's free press for a story rather than relying on dubious sources from elsewhere in the region whose accuracy and credibility are less than reliable.