From Maurice Ostroff to The Editor NY Sun
first duty is to get his facts right
I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Roth’s statement “A critic's first duty is to get his facts right”
‘Roth's False God' (NY Sun August 23). It is particularly appropriate as it is HRW’s failure to separate fact
from conjecture that gives rise to the severe criticism that has unfortunately diminished the stature of this very important
For example in his letter of August 8, ‘Roth's Supersessionism' Roth states categorically that Human Rights Watch researchers found no Hezbollah soldiers or arms anywhere in sight of a very large number
of the civilians killed in their homes or vehicles by Israeli bombs.
HRW workers may well have found no signs of arms or Hezbollah soldiers when they arrived. But that none were there
immediately prior to, or at the time of the relevant attacks is conjecture. So too, is the assumption that the casualties
found were all civilians. Permit me to explain.
In a letter I wrote to Mr. Roth on August 20, (which remains unacknowledged), I attached photographs of Hezbollah fighters on heavily armed vehicles in the midst of high rise
residential areas. According to Chris Tinkler of the Australian Sunday Mail, the extremists use high-density residential areas
as launch pads for rockets and heavy caliber weapons. Dressed in civilian clothing so they can quickly melt back into suburbia,
the fighters carrying automatic assault rifles ride in on trucks laden with cannons.
(My complete letter to Mr.Roth, including the photographs, may be found on the web at http://tinyurl.co.uk/nlio)
A little research reveals that it is futile to expect evidence of a rocket launcher, even soon after a firing. According
to the Global Security Organization, mobile rocket launchers move out from underground facilities, fire from preplanned firing
positions, and return in a few minutes to protected caves or to alternate firing positions.
Surely it is unforgivable
for a serious organization to ignore evidence of this nature
It is also puzzling that
Mr. Roth seems to be unconcerned about Hezbollah’s locating of military objectives near concentrations of civilians;
a serious a war crime and that the laws of armed conflict do not preclude attacking a legitimate military target in the proximity
I quote article 51.7 of the protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions, which specifically states;
“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, favor or impede military operations”? This reinforces Art. 28 of the Fourth Geneva convention, which expressly
states "The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune
from military operations.”
Sadly, in ignoring the regular, cynical and grossly illegal practice by Palestinian
terrorists and Hezbollah of hiding behind civilians, and even launching their rockets from civilian houses HRW fails to distinguish
between cause and effect. Where have HRW investigators been while this inhumane practice has been deliberately used from day
one in Jenin and Gaza?
How do HRW investigators
manage to obtain information certain enough to permit them to condemn Israel, a state, struggling for its existence, when
seasoned journalists admit difficulty in ascertaining facts in Hezbollah territory? For example, CNN’s Nic Robertson
admitted that Hezbollah controlled an anti-Israel piece he wrote and that in examining damaged buildings he was unable to
"see if perhaps there was somebody there who was, you know, a taxi driver by day, and a Hezbollah fighter by night....”
Mr. Roth’s reference to Qana is also subject to doubt. If HRW investigations
are to be credible, they dare not ignore any shred of evidence, even evidence produced by bloggers who have raised strong
suspicions that the Qana tragedy may have been staged by Hezbollah. More so since the exposure by bloggers of Dan Rather’s
story on 60 minutes and the admission by Reuters that photos have been doctored. I am not claiming that the accusations are
accurate. I do state categorically that in a search for truth they cannot be ignored and must be investigated. (See http://tinyurl.com/jljdb)
There are other aspects,
which cannot be ignored if one is determined to ascertain the facts. It was reported that the roof of the building was intact
when first viewed. Journalist Ben Wedeman of CNN noted that there was a larger crater next to the building, but observed that
the building appeared not to have collapsed as a result of the Israeli strike.
There were also widespread reports that
civilians were unable to flee Qana due to destruction of bridges and roads. In the circumstances one wonders how HRW investigators
journalists and rescue teams had no problem getting there in droves.
It is sad and disappointing
that HRW has not raised strong criticism of Hezbollah’s violation of every humanitarian law in cruelly withholding any
shred of information about the kidnapped soldiers. The deliberate cruelty inflicted on the families is beyond comprehension.
Is it too much to expect HRW to demand that the captives be visited by the Red Cross and be permitted to telephone their families
in he presence of the neutral parties?
In a recent article in the Jerusalem
Post Mr. Roth accused Israel of indiscriminate bombardment. With respect, I suggest that a more realistic understanding of
'Indiscriminate bombardment" would have been achieved if HRW investigators had taken the trouble to interview and even
to participate in planning sessions with a number of IAF pilots and an equal number of Hezbollah missile launchers
to ascertain the factors they take into consideration in selecting their targets. There can be no doubt who would be judged
guilty of "indiscriminate bombardment".
As Human Rights Watch is far too valuable a humanitarian instrument to
be devalued by prejudice and bias, it is essential that it weigh evidence more carefully to ensure that reports are fair and
Letter to the Editor from Kenneth Roth
August 23, 2006
"Roth's False God'
A critic's first duty is to get his facts right, but not Abraham Foxman. He,
embarrassingly, didn't do his homework before launching his broadside at Human Rights Watch ["No Accident," Op-ed, August
2, 2006]. Rather than correct his mistakes, the Sun compounds them, offering a litany of unsupported claims that Israel is
doing everything possible to spare Lebanese civilians, and thus that Human Rights Watch's reporting on deaths due to Israeli
misconduct must be biased ["Roth's False God," Editorial, August 8, 2006].
To prove that supposed bias, Mr. Foxman
accuses Human Rights Watch of a "rush to judgment" in Jenin and Qana. He seems to have forgotten that it was the rest of the
world that accused Israel of a "massacre" at Jenin. Human Rights Watch, however, refused to pronounce judgment until it had
completed its own on-site investigation. It was only when Human Rights Watch then declared that there had been no massacre
that this unfounded accusation was put to rest.
As for the 28 civilians killed by Israeli missiles in a house in Qana,
Human Rights Watch's finding that there was no Hezbollah presence in or near the house to justify Israel's attack has now
been conceded by even the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). After initially suggesting the opposite, the IDF finally admitted that
on the day of the attack there was no evidence of Hezbollah activity or rocket fire from Qana, let alone from the house targeted.
The only "rush to judgment" there was by the reflexive IDF defenders of the sort cited in your editorial.
Yet Mr. Foxman,
while offering no evidence, blames the hundreds of civilian casualties in Lebanon on Hezbollah's "embedding their missiles
not only in civilian areas, but literally in civilian households." Your editorial, with no greater attention to fact, suggests
the same. Hezbollah does sometimes endanger civilians, and that's clearly wrong. But in some two dozen cases examined by Human
Rights Watch accounting for what was then a third of the civilian deaths in Lebanon, Hezbollah was nowhere around at the time
of the attack.
That's the conclusion of Human Rights Watch's detailed investigation using war-tested interview methods
for probing and cross-checking accounts from multiple eyewitnesses ? the same techniques used at Jenin and Qana. Many of the
witnesses talked openly of Hezbollah's presence elsewhere but were adamant that Hezbollah wasn't at the scene of the attack.
Human Rights Watch also examined bombing sites for evidence of military activity such as trenches, destroyed rocket launchers
or military equipment, or dead or wounded fighters. If investigators were unsure, they gave the IDF the benefit of the doubt.
The bottom line: the excuse of a Hezbollah presence simply doesn't explain these deaths.
Rather, having issued a warning
to evacuate, the IDF seems to have assumed, in the words of Israel's minister of justice, Haim Ramon, "all those now in south
Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah" and thus are fair game for attack. But many Lebanese civilians
cannot leave because of infirmity, inability to pay exorbitant taxi fares, or unwillingness to risk the many deadly Israeli
attacks on southern Lebanese roads. Creating a free-fire zone in such circumstances is a war crime.
The issue is not,
as your editorial falsely states, "Israel's right to defend itself." That is not in question. Rather, the issue is how Israel
chooses to wage that defense. Casting cheap slurs of anti-Semitism or making false charges of "moral equivalence" may help
change the subject but it does not change the fact that Israel, in the way it fights, is not taking all feasible precautions
to protect civilians as required by international humanitarian law.
Mr. Foxman, for his part, accuses Human Rights
Watch of being "immoral" for supposedly believing that the "continuous flow of rockets, launchers, and other weapons from
Iran and Syria to an illegitimate group [Hezbollah] is not worthy of consideration." Apparently Mr. Foxman neglected to examine
the public letters sent by Human Rights Watch to Iran and Syria and posted prominently on the organization's website seeking
to stop that flow because it is being used to deliberately and indiscriminately rain death and injury on the people of northern
Israel ? a clear war crime.
Mr. Foxman does no better when he claims that "the overwhelming thrust of Human Rights
Watch work regarding Israel and the Arab world falls on Israel." A recent survey of Human Rights Watch's work in the region
since January 2000 showed that publications on Israel lagged behind those on each of Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Turkey.
a meeting with Mr. Foxman three years ago at the headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League, I asked him how much of Human
Rights Watch's work he thought was devoted to Israel. He said about a third. When I explained that Human Rights Watch works
regularly on some 70 countries, and that of Human Rights Watch's entire staff (then 180 people, today 230), only one works
full time on abuses by Israeli and Palestinian forces, splitting her time between the two, he conceded, "I've learned something."
Evidently, he has now forgotten. The Sun, for its part, didn't bother to check.
New York, N.Y.