Monday, August 21, 2006

Avi Bell on Human Rights Watch's Pro-Hezbollah Kenneth Roth

From a letter to the editor published July 31, 2006 in the New York Sun:
Sadly, Mr. Roth engages in ad hominem attacks, distorts my positions and drags in red herrings, rather than address directly my observations of Human Rights Watch's bias.

In his letter, Mr. Roth demonstrates a lack of the very qualities of objectivity, nonpartisanship and careful investigation that he claims characterize HRW. He further misleads readers about legal standards and he makes a slew of new political anti-Israel charges even as his organization's website acknowledges that HRW has not yet investigated the facts.

For example, Mr. Roth charges Israel with illegality in an "attack on Srifa village (10 houses destroyed, as many as 42 civilians killed)." Yet, Mr. Roth provides us with no additional detail about the target beyond this damage. I found an AP report filed by Nasser Nasser that acknowledged that "[a]fter the first [Israeli] strikes, Hezbollah fighters carrying walkie-talkies rushed for cover whenever Israeli warplanes or pilotless aircraft appeared." How many Hezbollah fighters were there? How many arms depots? Where were the targets located? In some of the houses? Mr. Roth doesn't deign to tell us; perhaps he doesn't even know. Similarly, Mr. Roth charges that Israel "attack[ed] a vehicle of villagers fleeing Marwaheen (16 civilians killed, including many children)." Yet, HRW's own press release on the subject acknowledged Israel's claim that the target of the attacks was "an area near the city of Tyre, in southern Lebanon, used as launching grounds for missiles fired by Hezbollah terror organization at Israel" and that "further investigation" was needed. Is there new information that permits Mr. Roth to charge that Israel illegally targeted civilians? If yes, where is it? The inescapable conclusion is that Mr. Roth has simply dramatized HRW's original statement to fit his extra-legal faith in Israeli guilt.

Notwithstanding Mr. Roth's protestations, the laws of war clearly permit attacking targets for their predicted contribution to the military effort, even in the face of certain civilian harm. The laws of war permit Israeli attacks on military targets located in residential areas unless the collateral damage to civilians is expected to be excessive in comparison to the military advantage. Every innocent death in war is a tragedy, but not every tragedy is a war crime by the attacker. Calling me ignorant does not change this law, even when the name-caller is Mr. Roth.

By contrast, there is no legal defense for Hezbollah hiding its fighters and weaponry in residential areas, mosques and near U.N. positions — just as there is no defense for Lebanon providing Hezbollah with safe harbor, Syria and Iran for arming Hezbollah, or Hezbollah for targeting civilian areas throughout the Israeli north, destroying Israeli property without military justification, holding hostages, engaging in collective punishment, carrying out ethnically motivated murders, and holding POW's incommunicado.

Even as Mr. Roth clutches at the lone HRW document that focuses on Hezbollah crimes, nearly all HRW documents released since the onset of fighting on July 12 — like the HRW Q&A guide I criticized — focus their very partisan criticisms on Israel. HRW's and Mr. Roth's near-silence on Hezbollah's, Lebanon's, Syria's and Iran's crimes and obsessive accusations about Israel even in the absence of evidence of crimes speak volumes about Mr. Roth's and his organization's patently political, non-legal and nonobjective agenda.