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Alan Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz

Posted: August 21, 2006 01:15 PM

The "Human Rights Watch" Watch, Installment 1


"Who will guard the guardians?" asked Roman satirist Juvenal. Now we must ask, who is watching Human Rights Watch, one of the world's best-financed and most influential human rights organizations? It turns out that they cook the books about facts, cheat on interviews, and put out pre-determined conclusions that are driven more by their ideology than by evidence. These are serious accusations, and they are demonstrably true.

Consider the highly publicized "conclusion" reached by Human Rights Watch about the recent war in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel. This is their conclusion, allegedly reached after extensive "investigations" on the ground:

"Human Rights Watch found no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack."

After investigating a handful of cases, Human Rights Watch found that in "none of the cases of civilian deaths documented in this report [Qana, Srifa, Tyre, and southern Beirut] is there evidence to suggest that Hezbollah forces or weapons were in or near the area that the IDF targeted during or just prior to the attack."

No cases! None! Not one!

Anyone who watched even a smattering of TV during the war saw with their own eyes direct evidence of rockets being launched from civilian areas. But not Human Rights Watch. "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?" That's not Chico Marx. It's Human Rights Watch. Their lying eyes belonged to the pro-Hezbollah witnesses its investigators chose to interview--and claimed to believe. But their mendacious pens belonged to Kenneth Roth, HRW's Executive Director, and his minions in New York, who know how to be skeptical when it serves their interests not to believe certain witnesses. How could an organization, which claims to be objective, have been so demonstrably wrong about so central a point in so important a war? Could it have been an honest mistake? I don't think so. Despite its boast that "Human Rights Watch has interviewed victims and witness of attacks in on-on-one settings, conducted on-site inspections ... and collected information for hospitals, humanitarian groups, and government agencies," it didn't find one instance in which Hezbollah failed to segregate its fighters from civilians.

Nor apparently did HRW even ask the Israelis for proof of its claim that Hezbollah rockets were being fired from behind civilians, and that Hezbollah fighters were hiding among civilians. Its investigators interviewed Arab "eye witnesses" and monitored "information from public sources including the Israeli government statements." But it conducted no interviews with Israeli officials or witnesses. It also apparently ignored credible news sources, such as The New York Times and The New Yorker.

"Hezbollah came to Ain Ebel to shoot its rockets," said Fayad Hanna Amar, a young Christian man, referring to his village. "They are shooting from between our houses."

"Please,'' he added, "write that in your newspaper."

Many Christians from Ramesh and Ain Ebel considered Hezbollah's fighting methods as much of an outrage as the Israeli strikes. Mr. Amar said Hezbollah fighters in groups of two and three had come into Ain Ebel, less than a mile from Bint Jbail, where most of the fighting has occurred. They were using it as a base to shoot rockets, he said, and the Israelis fired back.

One woman, who would not give her name because she had a government job and feared retribution, said Hezbollah fighters had killed a man who was trying to leave Bint Jbail.

"This is what's happening, but no one wants to say it" for fear of Hezbollah, she said.
- Sabrina Tavernise, "Christians Fleeing Lebanon Denounce Hezbollah," The New York Times, July 28, 2006

Near the hospital, a mosque lay in ruins....

A man approached and told me that he was a teacher at the Hariri school. I asked him why he thought the Israelis had hit a mosque, and he said, simply, "It was a Hezbollah mosque." ...

A younger man came up to me and, when we were out of earshot of others, said that Hezbollah had kept bombs in the basement of the mosque, but that two days earlier a truck had taken the cache away. It was common knowledge in Sidon, he said, and everyone was expecting the mosque to be hit. When, the previous evening, displaced people from the south had gathered on the grounds, they had been warned away.
- Jon Lee Anderson, "The Battle for Lebanon," The New Yorker, August 8, 2006 (emphasis added).



Even if the location of UN posts were known to Israeli commanders, that doesn't rule out the possibility that Hezbollah fighters used one as a shield from which to unleash fire. They've done so in the past, says Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie (ret'd.), who witnessed the technique while on peacekeeping assignments in the area. "It's the same as if you set up your weapons systems beside a mosque or a church or a hospital."
- Carlie Gillis, "Diplomacy Under Fire," MacLean's, August 7, 2006

The surgeon led a group of journalists over what remained: mangled debris, shredded walls and a roof punched through by an Israeli shell.

"Look what they did to this place," Dr. Fatah said, shaking his head. "Why in the world would the Israelis target a hospital?"

The probable answer was found a few hours later in a field nearby. Hidden in the tall grass were the burned remnants of a rocket-launcher.

Confronted with the evidence, Dr. Fatah admitted his hospital could have been used as a site from which to fire rockets into Israel.

"What choice to we have? We need to fight back from somewhere," he said, tapping his foot on the ground.
"This is Hezbollah's heartland."
- Sonia Verma, "Hezbollah's Deadly Hold on Heartland", National Post, August 5, 2006.

Days after fighting broke out between Israel and Hezbollah on July 12, [Samira] Abbas said Hezbollah fighters went door-to-door in Ain Ebel, asking everyone to give up their cell phones. "They were worried about collaborators giving the Israelis information," she said.

While she was there, Abbas said, she heard from relatives that her house in Bint Jbeil had been destroyed. She said Hezbollah fighters had gathered in citrus groves about 500 yards from her home.
- Mohamad Bazzi, "Mideast Crisis - Farewell to a Soldier; Reporting from Lebanon; Running Out of Places to Run," Newsday, July 28, 2006

But far from saying there was no Hezbollah activity in the area to justify Israeli interest, Hess-von Kruedener's e-mail, written July 19 and posted on the website of CTV, recounts numerous incidents. He also said of Israeli counter-fire to that date: "This has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity."

"What I can tell you is this," Hess-von Kruedner wrote in an e-mail to CTV dated July 18. "We have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our position has come under direct or indirect fire from both (Israeli) artillery and aerial bombing."

"The closest artillery has landed within 2 meters (sic) of our position and the closest 1000 lb aerial bomb has landed 100 meters (sic) from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but rather due to tactical necessity."
Those words, particularly the last sentence, are not-so-veiled language indicating Israeli strikes were aimed at Hezbollah targets near the post, retired major general Lewis MacKenzie said in an interview.

"What that means is, in plain English, 'We've got Hezbollah fighters running around in our positions, taking our positions here and then using us for shields and then engaging the (Israeli Defence Forces),'" said MacKenzie, who led Canadian peacekeepers in Bosnia.
- Steven Edwards, "UN contradicts itself over Israeli attack", CanWest News Service, July 27, 2006


Hezbollah launches missile volleys at Israel from positions endangering UN observation posts. Indeed, the Ottawa Citizen reported last week that a Canadian UN observer stationed in the village of Khiam e-mailed home that "we've got Hezbollah fighters running around in our positions ... using us for shields and then engaging the [Israeli Defense Forces]." On July 26, this observer and three others were killed when an Israeli bomb hit the post.
- David Schenker, "Laying out the Qana calculation; Disarming Hezbollah Prevents More Crises," Chicago Tribune, August 2, 2006

It was also reported that Hezbollah fired from the vicinity of five UN positions at Alma Ash Shab, AtTiri, Bayt Yahoun, Brashit, and Tibnin. - United Nations interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Naqoura, July 28, 2006 (Press Release)
While these pictures have escaped the ravaged country, other images and footage taken by local newspaper and television teams are routinely seized by armed Hezbollah fighters at road blocks.

In one image a group of fighters, including youths, are preparing to fire an anti-aircraft gun just metres from an apartment block with sheets drying on a balcony.

Others show a Hezbollah fighter armed with a nickel-plated AK47 rifle guarding no-go zones after Israeli blitzes.

Another depicts the remnants of a Hezbollah Katyusha rocket in the middle of a residential block, blown up in an Israeli air attack.

The Melbourne man who smuggled the shots out of Beirut told yesterday how he was less than 400m from the block when it 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 devastated.

"After the attacks they didn't even allow the ambulances or the Lebanese Army to come in until they had cleaned the area, removing their rockets and hiding other evidence.

"It was carnage. Two innocent people died in that incident but it was so lucky it was not more. The people there were horrified and disgusted at what Hezbollah were doing.''

The fighters used trucks, driven into residential areas, as launch pads for the rockets, he said.
Another image shows a line of decimated trucks sitting behind a 5m crater. The tourist who smuggled the images back to Melbourne said the trucks had been carrying rockets.

The release of the images comes as Hezbollah fighters face increasing censure for using innocent civilians as "human shields".
- Chris Tinkler, "Revealed: How Hezbollah puts the innocent at risk; They don't care," Sunday Mail (Australia), July 30, 2006

How could Human Rights Watch have ignored--or more likely suppressed - this evidence from so many different sources? The only reasonable explanation is that they wanted there to be no evidence of Hezbollah's tactic of hiding behind civilians. So they cooked the books to make it come out that way. Even after the fighting ended and all the reports of Hezbollah hiding among civilians were published, Kenneth Roth essentially repeated the demonstrably false conclusions that "in none of those cases was Hizbullah anywhere around at the time of the attack." So committed is Human Rights Watch to its pre-determined conclusions that it refused to let the facts, as reported by objective sources, get in its way.

Many former supporters of Human Rights Watch have become alienated from the organization, because of, in the words of one early supporter, "their obsessive focus on Israel." Within the last month, virtually every component of the organized Jewish community, from secular to religious, liberal to conservative, has condemned Human Rights Watch for its bias. Roth and his organizations willful blindness when it comes to Israel and its enemies have completely undermined the credibility of a once important human rights organization. Human Rights Watch no longer deserves the support of real human rights advocates. Nor should its so-called reporting be credited by objective news organizations.