Response by Maurice Ostroff
To HRW Executive Director,
I read your article “indiscriminate bombardment” in the Jerusalem Post of August 18, with a mixture
of sadness and astonishment.
Sadness, because the type of biased reporting in your article, damages the credibility
of your great humanitarian organization.
Astonishment, because your methodology flatly contradicts HRW’s claim that it employs
researchers to conduct fact-finding investigations into human rights abuses. The presentation of conjecture as facts in your
article cannot by any stretch of imagination be considered as fact-finding,. The latter requires impartial examination and
evaluation of all the available evidence without regard to whether or not it may contradict preconceived opinions. Allow me
to be explicit.
You claim that Israel’s declaration that the IDF was doing its best to avoid civilian
deaths, taking into account Hizbollah’s hiding of rockets and fighters among civilians, “doesn’t stand
up to the facts”. However, you follow this up by quoting mere opinions as if they were facts.
You admit that Hezbollah sometimes hide among civilians, breaching its duty to do everything
feasible to protect civilians and you add almost reluctantly “possibly committing the war crime of deliberate shielding”.
Why “possibly”? Are you not certain that locating military objectives near a concentration of civilians is a war
crime? And that the laws of armed conflict do not preclude attacking a legitimate military target in the proximity of civilians?
Are you not certain that this inhuman practice is in flagrant breach of 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.”
As it is always important to avoid confusing cause and effect, one cannot ignore the regular,
cynical and grossly illegal practice of Palestinian terrorists and Hezbollah of hiding behind civilians, and even launching
their rockets from civilian houses. Where have HRW investigators been while this inhumane practice has been deliberately used
from day one; in Jenin and Gaza for example, where terrorists operate among civilians, including children. All serving as
You write that HRW investigated some two dozen bombing incidents in Lebanon and found
that in none of them was Hezbollah anywhere around at the time of the attack. As you came long after the attack one may well
ask, apart from hearsay, how you determined who was around at the time of the attack? You will surely recall reputable reporters
having confirmed that Hezbollah fighters wear civilian clothes making it impossible to distinguish between them and civilians.
How the can you be certain that the persons you questioned were not themselves Hezbollah fighters.?
How do HRW investigators manage to obtain information certain enough to permit you to
condemn Israel, a state, struggling for its existence, when seasoned journalists have admitted 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....” (http://newsbusters.org/node/6552)
The pictures on the above right, show convincingly how Hezbolla operates from civilian
areas and how impossible it is, to distinguish between Hezbolla fighters and civilians. (AdelaideNow July 29, 2006).
Your reference to Qana is particularly subject to doubt. If your investigations are to be
credible, you owe it to your readers not to ignore any shred of evidence. You cannot be unaware of the increasing credibility
of the investigative journalism being conducted by bloggers. Since their exposure of Dan Rather’s story on 60 minutes
and the admission by Reuters that photos have been doctored, it is grossly negligent to ignore bloggers’ claims without
due examination. In this connection, I refer you to strong suspicions that have been raised about the possibility that the
Qana tragedy was staged by Hezbollah. (See http://maurice-ostroff.tripod.com/id57.html)
There are other peculiar aspects. 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.
You will recall widespread reports that civilians were unable to flee Qana due to Israeli
destruction of bridges and roads. In the circumstances one wonders how HRW investigators journalists and rescue teams had
no problem getting there in droves. And then you claim that HRW “investigators who visited Kana found that there
had been no Hezbollah presence near the bomb site at the time of the attack.” Really!
Just a little fact-finding
research reveals that it is futile to expect evidence of a rocket launcher hours after a firing. According to the neutral
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 alternative firing positions.
As the executive director of the
largest human rights organization, it is remiss of you to presume that lack of evidence of innocence is evidence of guilt,
a common logical fallacy which violates the principle of presumption of innocence until proved guilty.
You lightly fobbed off, as of no consequence, the advance warnings given by Israel to
civilians expressly in order to minimize civilian casualties. It would be only fair to make a comparison with the completely
opposite attitude of Hezbollah whose declared intention remains to kill and maim as many civilians as possible. Giving advance
warning of a rocket attack by Hezbollah would contradict their entire purpose.
Mr. Roth, when you write in a derogatory
manner, “In some cases, the IDF trotted out videos of Hezbollah firing rockets from a village” and you
then summarily dismiss this evidence as of no consequence without due examination and analysis, you give the impression of
being unwilling to consider any information which may influence your preconceived views. I have never read HRW referring to
Hezbollah or the Palestinians as “trotting out evidence”.
As Human Rights Watch is far too valuable a humanitarian instrument to be devalued by
prejudice and bias, I appeal to you to please weigh evidence more carefully to ensure that your reports are fair and balanced