Sunday, September 03, 2006

Deceptions and Death in Israel and Lebanon

A few days ago, Jan Egeland, the United Nations humanitarian chief, harshly criticized the Israeli military for its use of cluster bombs in Lebanon. In particular, Egeland expressed shock at the fact that the IDF had dropped most of these munitions right before the agreed-upon ceasefire took effect.

This is particularly heinous because of the way cluster bombs work: cluster bombs are really hundreds or even thousands of smaller "bomblets" that, when dropped on a target, disperse over a very wide area. They can't be targeted accurately; and they have a high "dud" rate -- meaning that many of the bomblets don't explode immediately, but bury themselves in the ground, killing anyone who walks over them. They work just like landmines; and countries subjected to heavy cluster bombing literally can have thousands of "mine fields," each containing thousands of unexploded bomblets.

Israel and the United States claim that cluster munitions are legal weapons, but that is a misleading argument. Although not strictly forbidden under international law, they do have a very high civilian casualty rate -- and for that reason Human Rights Watch has called for a global moratorium on their use.

Given Israel's insistence that it doesn't target civilians, and didn't do so in Lebanon, the IDF's use of cluster bombs -- and especially in a concentrated assault in the very last hours before a ceasefire took effect -- becomes even more problematic. It's hardly credible to claim that civilian deaths are unintentional when those deaths are caused by a weapon that is known to pose a higher than normal risk to civilian life.

Which brings us back to Jan Engeland's statement last Wednesday. Engeland pointed out the higher-than-usual number of unexploded cluster bomblets in Israel's 11th hour air assault:

An unusual number of cluster bombs used in the war did not detonate on impact, possibly because they were old, Egeland said. Usually 10 percent to 15 percent of the bomblets fail to explode immediately. According to some estimates, up to 70 percent of the Israeli bomblets failed to explode on impact.

Civilians returning to their homes in southern Lebanon are experiencing "massive problems," as a result of these unexploded munitions, Egeland said.

Approximately 250,000 Lebanese, of the 1 million displaced, cannot move back into their homes, many because of unexploded munitions.

"Every day people are maimed, wounded and are killed by these ordnance," Egeland said.

U.N. and human rights organizations said Wednesday that 13 people, including three children, had been killed between the Aug. 14 cease-fire and Tuesday, and 46 people had been wounded.

"Every day we have to revise our count of what the scope of the problem is," said Chris Clark, program manager of the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center in southern Lebanon. "We just don't know how big the problem is, only that it is huge at the moment and getting bigger every day."

Human Rights Watch researchers have said the density of cluster bombs in southern Lebanon was higher than in any place they had seen.

Jonathan Cook of The Electronic Intifada also discusses the cluster bomb issue in the larger context of the elaborate web of deceptions Israel has created for itself and the world over the years:

In a state established on a founding myth -- that the native Palestinian population left of their own accord rather than that they were ethnically cleansed -- and in one that seeks its legitimacy through a host of other lies, such as that the occupation of the West Bank is benign and that Gaza's has ended, deception becomes a political way of life.

And so it is in the "relative calm" that has followed Israel's month-long pounding of Lebanon, a calm in which Israelis may no longer be dying but the Lebanese most assuredly are as explosions of US-made cluster bombs greet the south's returning refugees and the anonymous residents of Gaza perish by the dozens each and every week under the relentless and indiscriminate strikes of the Israeli air force while the rest slowly starve in their open-air prison.

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