The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has called on the Winograd Government Committee of Investigation to look into allegedly "grave violations of international humanitarian law" on the part of the army and the government during the recent war in Lebanon.
According to the letter to the committee, which was released last week, "It is extremely important that the examination of the army's decision-making process will not ignore one of the most important aspects, that is, the compatibility of the army's decisions with the legal standards governing the conduct of war. An examination of the army's decision-making procedures without checking to see whether they were lawful would render the entire investigation worthless."
The authors of the letter, ACRI legal adviser Dan Yakir and attorney Sonia Boulus, wrote that there was "reason for concern that the army committed gross violations of the supreme principle that is at the heart of humanitarian law, the principle of distinguishing between civilians and fighters." They added that the role of the government in the authorization of such allegedly indiscriminate attacks must also be investigated.
Yakir and Boulus wrote that ACRI had protested the scale of harm done to civilians at the end of the first week of the fighting and warned at the time that it "raised serious suspicions that war crimes had been committed." However, they charged, "the harm to the civilian population from military operationsâ€¦became worse as the fighting continued."
ACRI referred to two examples of alleged indiscriminate harm to civilians. One was the bombing of a three-story building in Kafr Kana on July 30, in which 28 civilians were killed. The other was the use of cluster bombs fired by IDF artillery into civilian neighborhoods, allegedly turning them into minefields.
These two matters were also included in a report submitted in August during the fighting by Human Rights Watch (HRW), based on the first two weeks of the war from July 12 to July 27, and the Kafr Kana bombing on July 30.
HRW wrote that "during this period, the IDF killed an estimated 400 people." HRW charged that "in dozens of attacks, Israeli forces struck an area with no apparent military target. In some cases, the timing and intensity of the attack, the absence of a military target, as well as return strikes on rescuers, suggest that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians."
HRW denied Israeli claims that the army targeted only Hizbullah, and that Hizbullah fighters used civilians as human shields. While this was true in some cases, the organization wrote, "those cases do not justify the IDF's extensive use of indiscriminate force, which has cost so many civilian lives. In none of the cases of civilian deaths documented in this report is there evidence to suggest that Hizbullah forces or weapons were in or near the area that the IDF targeted during or just prior to the attack."
HRW accused Israel of violating "one of the most fundamental tenets of the laws of war: the duty to carry out attacks only on military targets. The pattern of attacks during the Israeli offensive in Lebanon suggests that the failures cannot be explained or dismissed as mere accidents; the extent of the pattern and the seriousness of the consequences indicate the commission of war crimes."
In an opinion piece published in The Jerusalem Post in response to the HRW report, Bar-Ilan University Prof. Gerald Steinberg, founder of NGO Monitor, branded it a "blood libel" and accused its executive director, Ken Roth, of using improper research methods. "The factual basis for this article itself was glaringly absent," he wrote.