In other words, the lawyers are asserting that the innocent Kurds who
were killed were collateral damage in an effort by the Iraqi government
to rid its territory of Iranian fighters and their Kurdish allies during
the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Curiously, this defense sounds similar
to Israel’s defense of killing more than 1,000 Lebanese and perpetrating
widespread destruction of Shi’ite neighborhoods, apartment houses, water
services, electrical power stations, ports, factories, roads, and
bridges in Lebanon in its efforts to punish Hezbollah.
Yet Saddam Hussein is on trial for war crimes and Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert is still in office.
Of course, rabid supporters of Israel would be horrified at a
comparison between a democratically elected leader and an autocratic
tyrant. But we are not talking about the selection method for leaders
here; we are comparing their specific actions during wartime.
Supporters of Israel would also note that the Israelis did not use
poison gas in Lebanon. But although chemical weapons provide a grisly
death, they kill far fewer people than explosive bombs. Because they
have been wrongly included in the ominous sounding category of “weapons
of mass destruction” (nuclear weapons are probably the only true,
practical weapons of mass destruction), their use implies a war crime
from the get-go.
That is not to defend Saddam’s use of these area weapons against
villages, it is merely to say that the Israelis are no less guilty of
committing war crimes by leveling entire villages in southern Lebanon
simply because they used conventional bombs to do it.
Amnesty International, a human rights group, has accused Israel of
military strikes that included “directly attacking civilian objects and
carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.” Amnesty
concluded that “the evidence strongly suggests that the extensive
destruction of public works, power systems, civilian homes and industry
was a deliberate and integral part of the military strategy rather than
collateral damage.” The group also accused Israel of deliberately
targeting food stores and gasoline stations.
Furthermore, the U.S. State Department, because of complaints from
human rights groups, has launched an investigation into whether Israel
violated U.S. rules banning the use of U.S.–made cluster bombs—bombs
releasing bomblets that explode over a wide area to target people—in
The U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center has confirmed 289 instances
of cluster bomb usage by Israel, many of them in civilian areas.
Although the investigation is not yet complete, the circumstantial
evidence looks damning, and the Israeli track record on this score is
According to the Washington Post, as a result of a
congressional investigation that discovered the Israelis had violated
agreements on the use of U.S.–made cluster weapons during its 1982
invasion of Lebanon, the Reagan administration suspended sales of them
to Israel for six years.
In fact, the main difference between Saddam’s war crimes and Israel’s
is that while Saddam denies them, Israeli officials indirectly admit
them. Amnesty cites a comment by Israel’s top uniformed military
official that implied that Israel was trying to punish the Lebanese
population and government to get them to oppose Hezbollah. The group
noted that Israeli military chief of staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz called
Hezbollah a “cancer” that Lebanon must expunge “because if they don’t,
their country will pay a very high price.”
Adding to this intentional targeting of civilians for political
reasons (when Hezbollah and other non-governmental groups do it, it is
called “terrorism”) in Lebanon, Israel is currently still conducting a
military and economic siege of Gaza.
To punish the people of Gaza for electing the wrong party in
democratic elections last January, and for Hamas’s capture of an Israeli
soldier, Israel slapped a blockade on the area that prohibits almost all
goods from being exported and restricts imports, except for limited food
Israel bombed an electricity plant in Gaza, making supplies of power
and water intermittent, since water supplies depend on electric pumps.
Thus, most factories in Gaza are shut down.
Also, the Israeli military routinely bulldozes the homes of relatives
of people it believes to be Hamas fighters. Trying to kill a population
slowly—by strangling the flow of critical goods and cutting off
electricity and water to hospitals, orphanages, schools, and factories
producing vitally needed goods—is little better than attempting to
exterminate it quickly with explosive bombs.
To justify its ill-advised invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration
regularly gripes about Saddam Hussein’s war crimes, while cheering on
Israel as it does the same thing in Lebanon and Gaza, just using
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.