Summary:  During the Israel-Hezbollah war in July/August 2006, major NGOs claiming to promote human rights, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), published numerous reports primarily condemning Israeli military actions.  The claims were based on "evidence" provided by Lebanese eyewitnesses, whose credibility and links to Hezbollah were not investigated.  The Intelligence and Terrorism Center at the Israeli Center for Special Studies, in conjunction with the American Jewish Congress, has now issued a detailed report on these events.  It provides extensive documentation and photographic evidence of “Hezbollah’s consistent pattern of intentionally placing its fighters and weapons among civilians,” showing that Hezbollah was “well aware of the civilian casualties that would ensue” from this activity.  This contrasts with claims made by Human Rights Watch  that it found “no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as human shields. Similarly, Amnesty International alleged that “[i]n the overwhelming majority of destroyed or damaged buildings it examined, Amnesty International found no evidence to indicate that the buildings were being used by Hezbollah fighters as hide-outs or to store weapons.”  This study on the extensive Hezbollah military presence in Qana, Bint Jbeil, Aitaroun, and other sites discredits these and many other NGO allegations.  This NGO Monitor report compares the documented evidence presented in the report with HRW’s and Amnesty’s claims.

During the Israel-Hezbollah war in July/August 2006, major NGOs claiming to promote human rights, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), published numerous reports that primarily condemned Israeli military actions. These publications emphasized terms such as “war crimes,” “deliberate attacks against civilians,” “indiscriminate,” “disproportionate,” collective punishment, and violation of international law.  These condemnations were based on claims, largely made by Lebanese “eyewitnesses,” that Hezbollah did not deploy military assets, such as rocket launchers, storage and staging areas, etc., in civilian areas. (See NGO Monitor's analysis of these claims and this research methodology for a broader discussion on this topic.) Journalists, diplomats and officials of international organizations repeated these charges.

Following the war, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S.) in Israel, headed by Dr. Reuven Erlich, published a detailed report (“Erlich Report”) documenting “Hezbollah’s consistent pattern of intentionally placing its fighters and weapons among civilians,” and that Hezbollah was “well aware of the civilian casualties that would ensue” from this activity. A New York Times article of December 5, 2006, "Offering Video, Israel Answers Critics," highlighted the findings. The report showed that the accusations made by Amnesty International and HRW were unjustified.

The following charts summarize the main discrepancies in the reports issued by HRW [1] and Amnesty International,[2] as documented in the Erlich study. These examples are representative, but are not exhaustive.

Human Rights Watch Erlich Report Discredits HRW’s “Fatal Strikes” Report (August 2006)

HRW's “Fatal Strikes”

 

Erlich Report

 

Claims HRW “found no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack.”

Shows through images, videos, seized documents, and other evidence that Hezbollah had a deliberate policy of "cynically exploiting the civilian population" by planting its "military infrastructure" within civilian areas.[3]

 

Specific Instances of Hezbollah Activity in Areas HRW Claims There was No Hezbollah Presence

"Fatal Strikes"

Erlich Report

 

Bint Jbeil: Killing of 4 Civilians on July 15.

  • HRW eyewitness: "there was no fighting taking place in the village—there was no one but civilians. The civil defense was there to help us [recover the bodies]."
  • 20 Bases and 5 Weapons storehouses inside the village are shown in an aerial photograph.[4]
  • 87 rockets fired from within village houses, 109 from within a 200 meter radius of the village, and 136 within a 500 meter radius of the village.[5]
  • 60 regular Hezbollah operatives in the village, including about 15 in charge of storehouses.[6]
  • Arms, ammunition, and equipment were stored in the village before the war. Some equipment was placed in storehouses; some inside civilian residential buildings.[7]

Qana: Killing of "at least" 28 civilians on July 30.[8]

  • 3 rockets fired from within village houses, 36 within a 200 meter radius, and 106 within a 500 meter radius.[9]
  • Aerial photograph of weapons storehouse located next to a mosque in the village.[10]
  • Hezbollah compound in former UN outpost just southwest of Qana.[11] “In Hezbollah’s view, outposts only serve to complement its infrastructure in the villages, perceived as the primary operative system.”[12]

 

Aitaroun: Killing of 16 Civilians, July 16, and 10 civilians, July 17.

  • HRW eyewitness quotes:
  • “The positions of the [Hezbollah] resistance are around the village, not inside the village.
  • "There was no presence of the [Hezbollah] resistance inside the village."
  • "To my knowledge, Hezbollah was not operating in the area, but I can’t be 100% sure because we were sleeping.”
  • 18 rockets fired from within village houses, 23 within a 200 meter radius, and 54 within a 500 meter radius. [13]
  • Senior Hezbollah Figure, Nabil Qawouk speaking in Aitaroun at the memorial service for those killed in the village: "The arms are in the villages and towns on south Lebanon, but they are invisible."[14]

Dibbin (near Marja'youn): Killing of three civilians, July 19.

  • One witness told HRW that "Hezbollah was active outside the village but not inside it."
  • Explosives from warehouses inside Dibbin transferred to Hezbollah sabotage teams; these explosives were to be used on key places on roads and junctions. [15]
  • The Hezbollah defense plan for the eastern sector of southern Lebanon involves both the reporting of fighters to the "infantry center" in Dibbin and the transfer of explosives from "storehouses" in Dibbin, to Hezbollah sappers.[16]
  • 7 rockets fired from within village houses in Marjayoun, 11 within a 200 meter radius of Marjayoun, and 11 within a 500 meter radius of Marjayoun. [17]

 

Tallouseh: Killing of Three Civilians, July 20.

  • 4 rockets fired within a 200 meter radius of the village, and 24 within a 500 meter radius of the village.[18]

 

Zibqine: Killing of 12 civilians, July 13.

  • Main source of artillery and mortar fire. [19]
  • 2 rockets fired from within village houses, 7 from within 200 meter radius of the village, 23 within a 500 meter radius.[20]

Houla: Killing of two civilians, July 15.

  • HRW eyewitness: “Neither he nor his children were involved in Hezbollah, nor was there any [Hezbollah] resistance in the town at the time.”
  • 2 rockets fired from within village houses, 3 within a 200 meter radius, and 4 within a 500 meter radius.[21]

Kafra: "Heavy Israeli bombardments in Kafra had trapped fifty members of the extended Shaita family in a single home since the beginning of the war."

  • Killing of three civilians and wounding of 14 trying to flee Kafra in a van, July 23. Those fleeing waved a white flag "to indicate their civilian status."
  • 17 rockets fired from within village houses, 36 from within a 200 meter radius of the village, and 61 within a 500 meter radius of the village.[22]
  • Hezbollah transported arms and ammunition from Syria via trucks and vans.[23]
  • Muhammad Abd al-Hamid Srour (a captured Hezbollah operative) testified about Hezbollah's practice of "flying white flags to prevent IDF attacks."[24]

Baflay: Killing of 9 Civilians, July 13.

  • 13 rockets fired from within village houses, 19 within a 200 meter radius of the village, and 20 within a 500 meter radius.[25]
  • Wounding of 6 ambulance drivers and 3 patients, July 23 in the village of Qana.
  • According to HRW, "Making medical or religious personnel, medical units or medical transports the object of attack is a war crime."
  • Aerial photograph of weapons storehouse located next to a mosque in the village.[26]
  • "There were numerous incidents reported of the use of ambulances, Red Cross vehicles, and the Lebanese government’s civilian defense vehicles to transfer operatives, arms and ammunition, and equipment. In other incidents, Hezbollah’s civilian vehicles closely followed Red Cross and other humanitarian convoys to minimize risk."[27]

Amnesty International Erlich Report Discredits Amnesty’s "Deliberate Destruction or Collateral Damage?"(August 2006) and "Out of All Proportion" (November, 2006)

Amnesty Reports

 

Erlich Report

Amnesty alleged that “[i]n the overwhelming majority of destroyed or damaged buildings it examined, Amnesty International found no evidence to indicate that the buildings were being used by Hezbollah fighters as hide-outs or to store weapons.” “[T]he extent of [Hezbollah’s use of human shields] and its qualification in terms of international humanitarian law remains unclear.”[28]

Shows through images, videos, seized documents, and other evidence that Hezbollah had a deliberate policy of "cynically exploiting the civilian population" by planting its "military infrastructure" within civilian areas.

"The IDF was forced to fight a terrorist organization which deliberately positioned and hid a vast military infrastructure . . . within a civilian environment. That was done by cynically using the Lebanese population within which it is located as a human shield."[29]

 

Specific Instances of Amnesty Claims Discredited by Erlich Report

Amnesty Reports

Erlich Report

 

Claims the victims of Israeli “bombardment were predominantly civilians.”

  • 650 of 1084 killed in Lebanon were Hezbollah operatives. [30]

Claims “None of the people interviewed by Amnesty International in towns and villages in south Lebanon and elsewhere in the country alleged that Hezbollah prevented or tried to prevent them from leaving their town or village.”

  • Hezbollah operatives prevented villagers from fleeing in several cases (e.g. al-Taybe, Shihin). [31]
  • Hezbollah’s ability to maintain a military arsenal among the civilian population increases “in its view, its survivability in war and offers propaganda advantages. [32]

Bint Jbeil

"Deliberate Destruction or Collateral Damage?"

  • "The centre of the city, where there had been a market and busy commercial streets leading from it, was devastated. . . The Israeli army seemed to have used every type of munition in its arsenal."

"Out of all Proportion"

  • Israeli artillery bombardments in Bint Jbeil are considered “indiscriminate.”
  • Main source of artillery fire; most prominent source of rocket launches. [33]
  • Site of sustained and persistent fighting against the IDF. [34]
  • 20 Bases and 5 Weapons storehouses inside the village are shown in an aerial photograph.[35]
  • 87 rockets fired from within village houses, 109 from within a 200 meter radius of the village, and 136 within a 500 meter radius of the village.[36]
  • 60 regular Hezbollah operatives in the village, including about 15 in charge of storehouses. During the war, 100-150 operatives fought, including 40 members of special forces.[37]

Qana: Killing of "at least" 28 civilians on July 30.

"Out of all Proportion"

  • Amnesty researchers in Qana "did not encounter Hezbollah fighters."
  • 3 rockets fired from within village houses, 36 within a 200 meter radius, and 106 within a 500 meter radius. [38]
  • Aerial photograph of weapons storehouse located next to a mosque in the village.[39]
  • Hezbollah compound in former UN outpost just southwest of Qana.[40] “In Hezbollah’s view, outposts only serve to complement its infrastructure in the villages, perceived as the primary operative system.”[41]
  • "Following the war, a reporter for Egyptian daily Al-Ahram escorted by a Hezbollah operative visited south Lebanon. He wrote the following based on a conversation with said operative: “There is not a single Hezbollah operative in military uniform to be seen in South Lebanon. This is a confusing phenomenon, and it confused everyone.” . . . The use of civilian clothes for low-signature activity has also been corroborated by Hezbollah detainees.[42]

Tyre: Killing of Civilians on July 16.

"Out of All Proportion"

  • Residents told Amnesty International that Hezbollah was not active in the area and the organization found no indication that the building had been used for military purposes.
  • The city of Tyre housed Hezbollah bases and headquarters. [43]
  • “Tyre serves as the center of operations for Hezbollah’s unit in charge of Fajr and 220mm rockets."[44]
  • Photographic evidence of Hezbollah activity in Tyre. [45]

Aitaroun: Killing of Civilians July 16, 17.

"Out of All Proportion"

  • “found no evidence of Hezbollah military activity in or near the sites that were hit.”
  • 18 rockets fired from within village houses, 23 within a 200 meter radius, and 54 within a 500 meter radius. [46]
  • Senior Hezbollah Figure, Nabil Qawouk speaking in Aitaroun at the memorial service for those killed in the village: "The arms are in the villages and towns of south Lebanon, but they are invisible."[47]

 

Baflay: Killing of 9 Civilians, July 13

  • 13 rockets fired from within village houses, 19 within a 200 meter radius of the village, and 20 within a 500 meter radius. [48]

 

Zibqin: Killing of 12 civilians, July 13

  • Main source of artillery and mortar fire.[49]
  • 2 rockets fired from within village houses, 7 from within 200 meter radius of the village, 23 within a 500 meter radius.[50]

Al Manar Television: 3 strikes from July 14-17.

"Deliberate Destruction or Collateral Damage?"

  • "The fact that al-Manar television broadcasts propaganda in support of Hezbollah’s attacks against Israel does not render it a legitimate military objective. Only if the television station were being used to transmit orders to Hezbollah fighters or for other clearly military purposes could it be considered to be making ‘an effective contribution to military action.’”[51]
  • “Hezbollah made widespread use of Lebanon’s communication infrastructure.” Of particular note is Al Manar. [52]
  • Al-Manar was a key Hezbollah tool for incitement. [53]
  • Hezbollah used Al-Manar to transmit orders to Hezbollah fighters. For example, on an Al-Manar broadcast, Nassrallah ordered fighters to “pound” specific targets in Israel with “heavy volleys of rocket fire.”[54]

Footnotes:

1. See Human Rights Watch, "Fatal Strikes: Israel's Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon". August 3, 2006.

2. See Amnesty International, "Israel/Lebanon:Israel/Lebanon: Out of all proportion - civilians bear the brunt of the war" November 22, 2006; Amnesty International, "Lebanon: 'Deliberate destruction' or 'collateral damage'? Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure", August 23, 2006.

3. See Erlich, Reuven, "Hezbollah's use of Lebanese civilians as human shields: the extensive military infrastructure positioned and hidden in populated areas. From within the Lebanese towns and villages deliberate rocket attacks were directed against civilian targets in Israel", Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S) November, 2006 (“Erlich Report”).

4. Erlich Report, Part 2, at 76.

5. Id., Appendix 4, at 256 [rocket launches as tracked by IDF Radar].

6. Id., Part 2, at 77.

7. Id.

8. For HRW's original statement on Qana as and its revisions, see HRW's “Israel-Lebanon Conflict” webpage at http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/israel_lebanon/.

9. Erlich Report, Appendix 4, at 256.

10. Id., Part 1, at 44, Part 2, at 122.

11. Id., Part 2 at 124.

12. Id., Part 1, at 46.

13. Id., Appendix 4, at 256.

14. Id., Part 1, at 56.

15. Id., Part 1, at 39.

16. Id., Appendix 1, at 171-76.

17. Id., Appendix 4, at 256.

18. Id.

19. Id., Part 2, at 133.

20. Id., Appendix 4, at 256.

21. Id.

22. Id.

23. Id., Part 1, at 29.

24. Id., Part 2, at 88.

25. Id., Appendix 4, at 256.

26. Id., Part 1, at 44.

27. Id., at 45.

28. Amnesty International, Israel/Lebanon:Israel/Lebanon: Out of all proportion - civilians bear the brunt of the war November 22, 2006.

29. Id., Part 1, at 10.

30. Id., at 55.

31. Id.. at 54.

32. Id., Part 1, at 32, 54.

33. Id., Part 2, at 133-34, 36.

34. Id., Part 2, at 76-82, Appendix 4, at 253.

35. Id., Part 2, at 76.

36. Id., Appendix 4, at 256.

37. Id., Part 2, at 77.

38. Id., Appendix 4, at 256.

39. Id., Part 1, at 44, Part 2, at 122.

40. Id., Part 2 at 124.

41. Id., Part 1, at 46.

42. Id., at 40, n.11.

43. Id., Part 2, at 101.

44. Id., Part 2, at 101.

45. Id. at 100.

46. Id., Appendix 4, at 256.

47. Id., at 59.

48. Id., Appendix 4, at 256.

49. Id., Part 2, at 133.

50. Id..

51. Contrary to Amnesty’s statement, according to the Red Cross, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, and other military and legal scholars, “installations of broadcasting and television stations; telephone and telegraph exchanges of fundamental military importance” are considered military objectives.

52. Id., Part 1, at 29.

53. Id., Appendix 2, at 239.

54. Id., at 247.