Israel is being vilified by opportunistic politicians and the international media over the air strike that killed 56 persons early yesterday in the Lebanese village of Qana. In the rush to blame Israel, a number of relevant facts are ignored: 1) the sad fact of the matter is that, no matter how much is done to minimize the risk to civilians, civilians inevitably die in wars; 2) Israel has placed its soldiers at risk in order to minimize civilian casualties in Lebanon, while Hezbollah, in flagrant violation of international law, including the Geneva Conventions, deliberately behaves in ways to maximize harm to Israeli and Lebanese civilians; 3) in Qana there were indisputable military targets, including locations from which Hezbollah has been firing rockets into Israel; 4) pending the outcome of an investigation, there is no way to tell whether all of those killed in the airstrike were "civilians," as Israel's critics confidently tell us, or whether the dead were actually a mix of combatants and noncombatants.
Senior Israeli officials said yesterday that Hezbollah rocket launchers were concealed in civilian buildings in the village, from which 150 rockets were fired over the past 20 days. They showed reporters video footage of rocket launchers being driven into Qana, from whence rockets were fired at northern Israeli towns, including Kiryat Shemona, Afula and Ma'alot. Israel targeted the building hit early yesterday because intelligence reports indicated that Hezbollah operatives were inside, along with Katyusha rockets and launchers. Typically Hezbollah fighters fire rockets at Israeli targets and then dart into nearby buildings.
Indeed, as it has repeatedly done in the course of the 19-day-old military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces have relinquished the element of surprise by dropping leaflets on Qana and many other Lebanese towns telling residents that they should leave the area because the IDF is preparing to conduct military operations against Hezbollah. Just as Israel tries to move Lebanese civilians out of the line of fire, Hezbollah does its best to put them in danger and peril. In a dispatch published yesterday in Australia, the Sydney Sunday Herald Sun demonstrates just how Hezbollah wages war.
The photographs, from a Christian area of eastern Beirut called Wadi Chahrour, were smuggled out of Lebanon. One photograph depicts a fighter with an AK-47 rifle guarding "no-go" zones after an Israeli attack, and another with a group of men and youths preparing to fire an anti-aircraft gun in an apartment block, with sheets hanging out to dry on a balcony. Another shows the remnants of a Hezbollah Katyusha rocket in the middle of a residential block destroyed in an Israeli airstrike. An Australian was standing just down the street when the block was obliterated. "Hezbollah came in to launch their rockets, then within minutes the area was blasted by Israeli jets," he said. "Until the Hezbollah fighters arrived, it had not been touched by the Israelis. Then, it was totally devastated...It was carnage. Two innocent people died in that incident, but it was so lucky it was not more." (The pictures are posted online at www.news.com.au/heraldsun.)
Hezbollah's treatment of both Israeli and Lebanese civilians violates international law. Article 51 of the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention states that: "The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the subject of attack." Moreover, by using Lebanese civilians as human shields, Hezbollah appears to be violating Article 58 of Protocol 1, which requires parties to a conflict to "Avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas." Article 28 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: "The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan falsely accuses Israel of deliberately attacking members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), even as Hezbollah repeatedly targets U.N. peacekeepers. Last Monday, an Internet site called Little Green Footballs notes that the United Nations issued a press release reporting that an unarmed U.N. observer was critically wounded by small arms fire originating from a position controlled by Hezbollah. He was airlifted to an Israeli hospital for treatment. The following day, Hezbollah opened fire on a U.N. convoy, forcing it to turn back. On Friday, U.N. forces issued a press release reporting that "Hezbollah fired from the vicinity of five U.N. positions" in southern Lebanon, and that the number of troops in a Ghanaian battalion of the U.N. is "somewhat reduced" due to Hezbollah firing from near the U.N. positions, which provokes retaliatory shelling from the Israeli side.
In sum, Hezbollah -- along with its enablers in Tehran and Damascus -- bears full responsibility for the carnage in both Israel and Lebanon.