Thursday, September 7, 2006

How Human Rights Watch Lost Its Way in Lebanon

The Israel Lobby Works Its Magic, Again


"The measure of a human rights organisation is to be found not just in the strides it takes to seek justice for the oppressed and victimised but also in the compromises it makes to keep itself out of trouble. Because of the business that human rights defenders are in, they must be held to a standard higher than we demand of others.

Unfortunately, one of the best -- Human Rights Watch -- has failed that test during the war in Lebanon this summer.

To its credit, HRW has risked much opprobrium for taking Israel to task for systematically breaking international law during its assault on Lebanon. That has culminated in a predictable campaign of harassment by pro-Israel organisations in the US -- as well as by the usual suspects like Alan Dershowitz -- that have accused its researchers of libelling Israel and being anti-Semitic.

Name-calling, however distasteful, cannot justify HRW distorting its findings to placate the Israel lobby. But that seems to be just what is happening.

At least it is now possible, because some army positions were temporary, to reveal that many communities in the north had artillery batteries stationed next to them firing into Lebanon and that from Haifa Bay warships continually launched warheads at Lebanon. That information is now publicly available in Israel, and other examples are regularly coming to light.

Arab member of Knesset Abbas Zakour has also gone publicly on the record: "During a short visit to offer condolences to the families of victims killed in Hizbullah's rocket attacks, I saw Israeli tanks shelling Lebanon from the two towns of Arab Al-Aramisha and Tarshiha."

Aside from the fact that this effective use of Israeli civilians as human shields by the army outdoes any "cowardly blending" (in the words of Jan Egeland of the United Nations) by Hizbullah in Lebanon, it also makes any attempt at second-guessing the targets of the Shiite militia's rockets futile.

This sophistry is fooling no one, least of all, of course, Israel's apologists. They will keep up their relentless defamation of an organisation like Human Rights Watch as long as Israel comes under its scrutiny. By trying to appease them, our human rights champions damage only themselves and those they should be seeking to protect."

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