Israel must be held accountable

By Patricia McKenna (for Daily Ireland)

Last week Israel said that it would agree to halt fighting - stop its indiscriminate murder of hundreds of innocent civilians -- if its two captured soldiers were returned and Islamic guerrillas withdrew from the border and the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, said more or less the same thing. Clearly no price is too high for the life of an Israeli soldier, especially if the currency used is the blood of innocent Muslims. Hezbollah took two Israeli prisoners, and the result now is that three and a half million Lebanese are being held hostage and terrorised.

Israel launched its offensive after Hezbollah carried out an attack on Israeli forces capturing two Israeli soldiers, which they then wanted to use in a prisoner exchange. Israel is holding more than 9,000 Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian prisoners including over 400 Palestinian children and 120 women, in inhumane conditions and has reportedly subjected some of these people to torture.

Israel says it is holding the Lebanese government responsible for Hezbollah’s cross-border raid that led to the capture of its soldiers.

However, as Dr Ray Murphy of NUI Galway, who served as a captain with the Irish Unifil contingent during the 1980s points out: “Lebanon has not attacked Israel and this fragile democracy does not have the capacity to restrain or disarm the Hezbollah militia.”

The Pakistan senate, which passed a resolution condemning the “aggression in Lebanon and the wilful killings of civilians by Israel as a violation of all civilised norms of behaviour and international law”, recognised the injustice of attacking Lebanon.

The resolution stated: “If a national of a country is kidnapped by a non-state actor, the state cannot justify waging war against civilians and infrastructure of any state.”

There was a time, at the height of the troubles in the North when many British government officials and politicians claimed that the Republic was harbouring the IRA. What if Britain had taken the same action as Israel is now taking against Lebanon?

While the British may have authorised covert operations they would never have got away with what Israel is openly doing now.

Israel’s massive air, land and sea attack has destroyed the Beirut airport and heavily targeted densely populated, poor Shiite neighbourhoods in the south of Lebanon and southern suburbs of Beirut.

Over 359 Lebanese have been killed, most of them civilians, more than 1,000 have been wounded and well over a half a million are displaced and in need of international assistance. Even delivering aid is difficult because as UN emergency relief co-ordinator, Jan Egeland said: “So far Israel is not giving us access.” Neighbourhoods in cities throughout Lebanon - from north to south - have been destroyed, along with power plants, bridges, fuel tanks, roads, and hospitals.

The execution of this massive state-sponsored terrorist attack had obviously been planned well in advance and is clearly operating with diplomatic and political protection of the Bush administration.

Furthermore it is being carried out with weapons supplied or paid for by the US government - or should I say US taxpayers. In fact, Washington has been asked to speed up a shipment of precision bombs sold as part of a deal with Israel last year.

According to reports in the New York Times, Israel made the request after it began its air assault on Hezbollah targets in Lebanon 12 days ago. So it’s not surprising that the day after Israel’s massive attack, on July 12, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the “disproportionate reaction” by Tel Aviv.

Louise Arbour, the United Nations commissioner for human rights, has said that the killing and maiming of civilians could constitute war crimes.

“International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligations to protect civilians during hostilities,’’ she said.

That same obligation exists, she added, in international criminal law, which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity. “Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians,” she said in a statement released by her Geneva office.

The International Red Cross, the recognised guardian of the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war, has said that Israel has violated the principle of proportionality provided for in the conventions and their protocols.

On Sunday, UN emergency relief co-ordinator Jan Egeland said: “Israeli bombing of a Beirut neighbourhood where Hezbollah had its headquarters has breached humanitarian law.”

He said: “It is horrific. I did not know it was block after block of houses. It makes it a violation of humanitarian law. It’s bigger, it’s more extensive than I even could imagine.”

While it appears that within the UN there is strong support for the view that the only way to minimise any further loss of life is to get an immediate truce, the United States disagrees. The notion that a ceasefire would solve the problem was ‘simplistic’, said the American ambassador, Mr Bolton.

“I want somebody to address the problem how you get a ceasefire with a terrorist organisation. This is a different kind of situation.” Bolton added: “And I’m not sure that sort of old thinking, conventional thinking, works in a case like this.” This so-called old conventional thinking is exactly what was used by the US in the North - but then there were lots of votes to be gained from their involvement in the peace process. The ‘bomb-them-to-oblivion’ approach would not have gone down well with the Irish Americans back home.

US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has predictably defended Israel’s terror campaign as the “right to self-defence”, but what of the hundreds of dead Lebanese - did they not have the right to self-defence or to life itself? Obviously, to use the words of Madeleine Albright, it’s “a price worth paying” in the interests of America.

Lebanon’s prime minister Fuad Saniora has rightly accused Israel of indiscriminately targeting civilians. He naively asks: “Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by the state of Israel is inflicted on us?”

Israeli officials have said the intense military campaign is necessary to root out the infrastructure of an organisation that started the conflict by its unprovoked killing of eight Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two more last week.

Israel denies its air strikes deliberately target Lebanese civilians.

Robert Fisk, writing in the July 16 Independent about an Israeli assault on a border village, tells a different story. He says: “It will be called the massacre of Marwaheen.”

Fisk wrote: “All the civilians killed by the Israelis had been ordered to abandon their homes in the border village by the Israelis themselves a few hours earlier. Twenty of them left in a convoy of civilian cars. That’s when the Israeli jets arrived to bomb them, killing 20 Lebanese, at least nine of them children. The local fire brigade could not put out the fires as they all burned alive in the inferno. Another ‘terrorist’ target eliminated.”

Israel is clearly once again guilty of a gross crime against humanity and it must be held accountable for this unforgivable slaughter. Its tactic of bombing roads and bridges, and then leafleting the area urging people to leave just shows how little they care about justice or basic human rights.

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