Friday, July 28, 2006

Debunking the "Hiding Among Civilians" Myth

Mitch Prothero, a U.S. News & World Report staffer on assignment in Lebanon, writes in the current edition of Salon that, contrary to what Israel and right-wingers in the U.S. claim, Hezbollah does not hide weapons or fighters in civilian areas.

Throughout this now 16-day-old war, Israeli planes high above civilian areas make decisions on what to bomb. They send huge bombs capable of killing things for hundreds of meters around their targets, and then blame the inevitable civilian deaths -- the Lebanese government says 600 civilians have been killed so far -- on "terrorists" who callously use the civilian infrastructure for protection.

But this claim is almost always false. My own reporting and that of other journalists reveals that in fact Hezbollah fighters -- as opposed to the much more numerous Hezbollah political members, and the vastly more numerous Hezbollah sympathizers -- avoid civilians. Much smarter and better trained than the PLO and Hamas fighters, they know that if they mingle with civilians, they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators -- as so many Palestinian militants have been.
The Israelis are consistent: They bomb everyone and everything remotely associated with Hezbollah, including noncombatants. In effect, that means punishing Lebanon. The nation is 40 percent Shiite, and of that 40 percent, tens of thousands are employed by Hezbollah's social services, political operations, schools, and other nonmilitary functions. The "terrorist" organization Hezbollah is Lebanon's second-biggest employer.
Although Israel targets apartments and offices because they are considered "Hezbollah" installations, the group has a clear policy of keeping its fighters away from civilians as much as possible. This is not for humanitarian reasons -- they did, after all, take over an apartment building against the protests of the landlord, knowing full well it would be bombed -- but for military ones.

"You can be a member of Hezbollah your entire life and never see a military wing fighter with a weapon," a Lebanese military intelligence official, now retired, once told me. "They do not come out with their masks off and never operate around people if they can avoid it. They're completely afraid of collaborators. They know this is what breaks the Palestinians -- no discipline and too much showing off."
Israel ... has chosen to treat the political members of Hezbollah as if they were fighters. And by targeting the civilian wing of the group, which supplies much of the humanitarian aid and social protection for the poorest people in the south, they are targeting civilians.
So the analysts talking on cable news about Hezbollah "hiding within the civilian population" clearly have spent little time if any in the south Lebanon war zone and don't know what they're talking about. Hezbollah doesn't trust the civilian population and has worked very hard to evacuate as much of it as possible from the battlefield. And this is why they fight so well -- with no one to spy on them, they have lots of chances to take the Israel Defense Forces by surprise, as they have by continuing to fire rockets and punish every Israeli ground incursion.

And here's an interesting follow-up to Israel's claim that the entire world has authorized Israel to continue bombing Lebanon:

The US state department has dismissed as "outrageous" a suggestion by Israel that it has been authorised by the world to continue bombing Lebanon.

"The US is sparing no efforts to bring a durable and lasting end to this conflict," said spokesman Adam Ereli.
At talks in Rome on Wednesday, the US, UK and regional powers urged peace be sought with the "utmost urgency", but stopped short of calling for an immediate truce. That prompted Mr Ramon to declare Israel had received "permission from the world... to continue the operation".

But questioned by reporters on the sidelines of a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Ereli said: "Any such statement is outrageous."

The US has said a ceasefire is only worth it if it can be made to last. Mr Bush reiterated the US's rejection of a "false peace" on Thursday evening.

The BBC's world affairs correspondent, Nick Childs, points out that Mr Bush also emphasised how troubled he was by the mounting casualties, a suggestion - perhaps - that he is increasingly conscious of the price Washington is paying for its closeness to Israel.


Telemaque said...

The hiding behind civilians allegation is no myth. Here's a video of another example of it, barely 24 hours old:

The rocket launched here is a short ranger of the type landing on Nahariya.

Kathy said...

You have got to be kidding, Telemaque. I watched that video. It shows nothing that could be interpreted as Hezbollah fighters hiding behind civilians, not by the furthest stretch of the imagination. It's a video of two buildings taken from the air, with captions superimposed by whoever shot the video. You don't see any people there, you don't have any indication of what the buildings are. I didn't even see any missiles being fired until the end when I saw the building blown up (you say by Israeli aircraft). THAT I saw.

Maybe you are stupid enough or ideologically blinded enough to think this video shows anything at all, but I'm not, and neither are my readers.