Why Have “Laws of War”?


4 August 2006

Last night, whatever hopes anyone had that this war was drawing its last breath and would take minimal — if hopefully no more — victims were brutally shattered like the bridges that crumpled under the latest warplane onslaught.

Lebanon awoke today to more destruction and chaos.   To more fears that no area — whether Muslim or Christian — is actually safe.  To more tears and pain as the death toll forgot to sleep during the uneasy night.

The warplanes were ecstatic last night.  They even sounded different this time.  Lying in bed, anyone could feel the glee and hatred — the overbearing taste for blood — emanating from the treacherous wings.

Four bridges were destroyed today — toward the north.  The Israelis have finished isolating the south from the rest of the country.  Now, it’s the north’s turn.

Never mind the siege.  Never mind the lack of fuel and the closing of hospitals in the face of the needy injured.  Never mind the bodies that need to be carried away and buried.  Never mind that we are running out of water. Never mind that the aid is waiting at the bombarded ports while the people die hungry and alone.

All that matters is that Lebanon pay some more for escalatory words spoken in hatred by Hizbullah’s chief which could only breed more hatred in an already vengeful neighbor.

Someone, who lost his family in this war, told me after Qana Massacre II took place: “Even war has laws.  Protocols of War that cannot be ignored by the world.  Otherwise, why have ‘laws of war’?  But the Israelis are Hagana.  Olmert is Hagana.”

The realization that this is Israel — and no one can do anything to stop it or berate it for targeting one random building after another — dawned pretty clear last night.

A Human Rights’ Watch report issued yesterday, entitled “Fatal Strikes — Israel’s Indiscriminate Strikes against Civilians in Lebanon,” documents “serious violations of international laws (the laws of war) by Israeli Defense Forces”:

Israeli forces have been consistently launching artillery and air attacks with limited or dubious military gain but excessive civilian costs.  In dozens of areas, Israeli forces struck an area with no apparent military target . . . something that suggests that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians.

These words are in the first paragraph of the report.

I met a woman whose house fell on her and her 3 children.  She lost her youngest son and her in-laws, under the grey rubble.

“All I can hear is his voice,” she tells me.  “He called me for 15 minutes.  Mamma, Mamma, I can’t breathe.  Until I couldn’t hear his voice anymore.  I wish I had died instead.”

Where are the military targets in that attack?  Was it the 12 year old kid?  Would he grow up to join Hizbullah?

What about the Qana Massacre?  Was Hizbullah really using the children as human sandbags as — with no proof whatsoever — the UK’s Evening Standard claimed?  Did Communists really eat babies under Chairman Mao’s rule?  And perhaps the world at one time really was flat. . . .

Amnesty International’s recent report, “IDF Inquiry into Qana a Whitewash,” stated that Israel’s investigation into the Qana Massacre was “clearly inadequate and reinforces the need for the urgent dispatch of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC).”  In short, “a whitewash,” as the title of the report declares.

Israel’s “investigation” was carried under a self-declared 48-hour ceasefire in which the planes did not stay quiet and in which Red Cross members, Lebanon’s Civil Defense, and random volunteers headed to a neighboring village called Srifa to remove the bodies of a previous massacre from under the leveled area.

AI proceeded to carry out its own investigation into Qana to refute Israel’s claims that they had no clue there were civilians in that building.

AI states: “Yet survivors of the attack interviewed by Amnesty International researchers in Qana shortly after the bombing, stated that they had been in the building for some two weeks and that their presence must have been known to Israeli forces whose surveillance drones frequently flew over the village.”

Indeed, why have these laws?  And until when will Israel be allowed to break them?  And until when will the world stay silent?

Mayssam Zaaroura is the Lebanon Editor of The Daily Star