Our Willful Blindness in Lebanon
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On Friday morning, as I traveled north on Interstate 5, I passed two tractor-trailers heading south toward the 32nd Street Naval Station in downtown San Diego. Each vehicle carried about 10 unmarked bombs; each bomb was approximately 15 feet long. Two military helicopters hovered low above each tractor-trailer, providing overhead escort. I wondered where these bombs were headed. They must have been in a big hurry because they usually ship their bombs more covertly.
Israel had just put out an S.O.S. to the United States government to rush over several more bombs. "The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration," according to the New York Times . Although always well-equipped with sophisticated U.S.-made weapons, Israel was evidently running out of munitions to drop on the Lebanese people.
Washington loses no opportunity to scold Iran and Syria for providing weapons to Hezbollah. Yet during the Bush administration, from 2001 to 2005, Israel received $10.5 billion in foreign military financing -- the Pentagon's biggest military aid program -- and $6.3 billion in U.S. arms deliveries. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign military assistance.
The U.S. Arms Export Control Act stipulates that foreign countries receiving weapons from the United States must use them solely for defensive purposes or to maintain internal security. During the last major Israeli incursion into Lebanon, in 1981, the Reagan administration cut off U.S. military aid and arms deliveries for 10 weeks while it investigated whether Israel was using weapons for "defensive purposes."
Last week, both houses of Congress, mindful of the importance of retaining Jewish votes and campaign contributions, passed resolutions stating that Israel was acting in self-defense. The vote in the Senate was unanimous; the House vote was 410 to 8. Walking in lockstep with Bush, neither resolution calls for a ceasefire. The Senate resolution praises Israel for its "restraint" and the House resolution "welcomes Israel's continued efforts to prevent civilian casualties."
U.S.-provided Israeli bombs have killed nearly 400 Lebanese, of whom the overwhelming majority were innocent civilians. The bombing has displaced half a million people and caused an estimated $1 billion in damage.
After Israel ordered people in southern Lebanon to evacuate their homes, several vehicles filled with evacuating Lebanese civilians were bombed by the Israeli military.
An Israeli helicopter fired a missile at a white minibus carrying 19 people fleeing Tairi. Three people were killed and several wounded.
A green Mercedes with a family fleeing Mansuri was struck by an Israeli missile. Three lay dead, while others were severely injured. Eight-year-old Mahmoud Srour's face was burned beyond recognition.
As Zein al-Abdin Zabit evacuated with his wife and four sons, his white Nissan was hit by an Israeli missile. "It's nothing more than revenge, revenge on civilians," Zabit said as he lay in bed with broken ribs.
Human Rights Watch confirmed yesterday that Israel is using artillery-delivered cluster munitions in populated areas of Lebanon. "Cluster munitions are unacceptably inaccurate and unreliable weapons when used around civilians," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "They should never be used in populated areas."
The use of cluster munitions in populated areas of Iraq caused more civilian casualties than any other factor in the U.S.-led coalition's major military operations in March and April 2003, killing and wounding more than 1,000 Iraqi civilians, HRW reported. HRW photographed U.S.-produced/U.S.-supplied cluster bombs among the arsenal of Israel Defense Forces artillery teams stationed on the Israeli-Lebanese border during a July 23 research visit.
Independent journalist Dahr Jamail reported that the Lebanese Ministry of Interior has confirmed the Israelis have used the incendiary white phosphorous gas. This is a chemical weapon, much like napalm, that can burn right down to the bone. The U.S. military used white phosphorous in Fallujah, Iraq.
Article 35 of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions prohibits the use of weapons "of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering." Cluster bombs and white phosphorous fall into this category.
Bilal Masri, assistant director of the Beirut Government University Hospital, told Jamail, "The Israelis are using new kinds of bombs, and these bombs can penetrate bomb shelters," Masri added. "They are bombing the refugees in the bomb shelters!" Masri also said that 55 percent of the casualties are children under 15 years of age.
It is a violation of the laws of war to target civilians. "A fundamental rule of international humanitarian law is the obligation to distinguish between civilians and civilian property on one hand and military targets on the other," Nada Doumani, Middle East spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross told Aljazeera.net. "Under no circumstances can civilians and public and private property be deliberately attacked. All parties in the conflict have to abide by these rules."
Doumani quoted ICRC Director of Operations Pierre Krahenbuhl, who said: "The high number of civilian casualties and the extent of damage to essential public infrastructure raise serious questions regarding respect for the principle of proportionality in the conduct of hostilities."
Nearly every report from the corporate media seeks to find symmetry in this war. When an outlet covers the massive devastation in Lebanon and increasing numbers of Lebanese civilians killed by Israeli bombs, it is careful to juxtapose reports of Hezbollah rockets fired into Israel.
Jan Egeland, the United Nations emergency relief chief, however, called the "disproportionate response" by Israel to Hezbollah's actions "a violation of international humanitarian law." Egeland, who characterized the devastated areas of Lebanon as "horrific," said Israel is denying access to relief operations.
At least 384 people have been killed in Lebanon, including 20 soldiers and 11 Hezbollah fighters. Israel's death toll is at least 40, with 17 people killed by Hezbollah rockets and 23 soldiers killed in the fighting.
On Monday, a high-ranking Israeli Air Force officer told reporters that Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, had ordered the military to destroy 10 buildings in Beirut in retaliation for every Katyusha rocket strike on Haifa by Hezbollah.
Last week, several Jewish organizations and Christian Zionists lobbied the White House to support Israel. Bush complied, giving Israel at least another week to continue slaughtering the Lebanese people.
While Bush stood by and watched the humanitarian catastrophe Israel is wreaking in Lebanon, Condoleezza Rice traveled there and met with Fuad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister. Rice's visit was an "important show of support for the Lebanese public and the Siniora government," a U.S. official said Monday. The official told reporters traveling with Rice, "The fact we are going to go right into Beirut after all that has happened is a pretty dramatic signal to Lebanon and their government."
It would be much more dramatic for Bush-Rice to call a halt to the carnage. When Helen Thomas asked White House spokesman Tony Snow why the president opposed a ceasefire, he rudely thanked her for her "Hezbollah view."
Bush could stop Israel in its tracks with a snap of his fingers. But why would he? Israel is doing Bush's bidding -- redrawing the map of the Middle East to facilitate U.S. domination. Bush began that task with Iraq; Israel is following suit with Palestine and Lebanon. Indeed, Bush is hoping Israel's next stop will be Iran or Syria.
A July 21 list of talking points from the White House Office of the Press Secretary referred to a Los Angeles Times op-ed by Max Boot titled, "It's Time to Let The Israelis Take Off the Gloves." The White House release contained this quote from Boot's piece: "Our best response is exactly what Bush has done so far -- reject premature calls for a cease-fire and let Israel finish the job."
That quote was preceded by this language: "Iran may be too far away for much Israeli retaliation beyond a single strike on its nuclear weapons complex. (Now wouldn't be a bad time.) But Syria is weak and next door. To secure its borders, Israel needs to hit the Assad regime. Hard. If it does, it will be doing Washington's dirty work."
We turn a blind eye at our peril.
Marjorie Cohn, professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, is president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.