Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Qana tragedy - Two responses

Here are two responses to the accidental bombing of civilians in Qana on July 30 by the IDF--the first by Norman Geras (on Normblog) and the second by Gene at the group weblog Harry's Place. Their emphases are different, but both are essentially correct--a fact that brings out some of the inescapable dilemmas of this conflict.

Incidentally, the factual details of what actually happened in this incident remain a bit murky (e.g., see here and here), and I am inclined to doubt that they will ever be fully established. Whatever the details, this was a terrible disaster.

--Jeff Weintraub
Norman Geras (Normblog)
July 31, 2006

What happened at Qana is a tragedy. But it isn't enough to say so, nor to say that it was a 'mistake'. And it isn't enough, either, to insist that Hizbollah bears responsibility for the deaths of civilians from Israeli bombing, because of the way that organization uses the civilian population to shield its military resources and activities. It does bear that responsibility - and those currently lauding it as a resistance movement have crossed a significant moral and political threshold (of which more later). But it also isn't enough to point this out.

Israel's action at Qana is inexcusable. I say this as someone who supports Israel's right to defend itself against those who attack it, those who send missiles against its civilians and who intend its destruction as a state. But if Hizbollah bears the responsibility identified above, Israel also has a clear responsibility under the laws of war to try to minimize civilian casualties; and this applies even in the case where its enemy resorts to the use of human shields (as explained here by Michael Walzer). I don't believe the position of the IDF - that civilians had been warned to evacuate the area - adequately acquits it of that responsibility. It is not a reasonable expectation, especially not in conditions of war, that all civilians living in an area will move away in good time, or be able to do so, when warned by one of the warring parties.

Some not-very-original observations about the tragedy in Qana.

--The town has been a has been used by Hezbollah to launch hundreds of deadly rockets at northern Israeli towns. By any rules of engagement other than hide-and-pray (and Jews in Israel don't play that game anymore), the Israelis had a right to respond militarily to those attacks. Hezbollah had no qualms at all about placing rocket launchers in areas heavily populated by civilians.

--Israel urged civilians to evacuate the area. Again, Hezbollah had no qualms about allowing them (or perhaps forcing them) to say.

--If anyone has evidence that Israeli pilots cold-bloodedly and knowingly dropped bombs on civilians in Qana, please present it. Even if you believe that Israel doesn't care about the deaths of Lebanese civilians, surely you could see how Israel would want to avoid the international opprobium that follows events like these.

--Israel has expressed deep regret for the civilian deaths. Cyncially, you may say; but I can't imagine any more than a disgusting fringe of the Israeli population feeling other than sad at those deaths. When has Hezbollah ever expressed regret for the Israeli civilian deaths it has caused (except, cycnically, for two Israeli Arab children killed in Nazereth)? And does anyone think Nasrallah or other Hezbollah leaders genuinely ache over the deaths of Lebanese children any more than they do over the deaths of Israeli children? Their only concern for any deaths is the propaganda value they can squeeze out of them.

--Just a hint of some of the disgusting hypocrisy unleashed by the Qana attack: President Bashir Assad-- who has been notably silent about the tens of thousands of Syrians slaughtered on the instructions of his late father in Hama in 1982-- has called it "state terrorism." Expect similar rhetoric from Vladimir "Chechnya" Putin. Almost as disgusting are those who leap gleefully on this-- and every other Israeli mistake or failure-- as evidence of the country's inherent and unique wickedness.

--Israel, like any other country, is subject to mistakes and failures in the heat and confusion of war. But if there was any way Israel could have achieved its objective in Qana without taking such a terrible toll, then people need to be held accountable.

--To paraphrase Stephen Spender: unless people care about the deaths of innocent children everywhere, they don't care about the deaths of innocent children anywhere.

Update: The IDF has video of Hezbollah firing missiles from behind a residential building and from Qana-- which Hezbollah denies doing.

Posted by Gene at July 30, 2006 06:58 PM | TrackBack