Slanted, but not to be discounted

HRW's investigation of events in Lebanon so contradicts my own experiences, that it stretches credulity.

qana lebanon 298 88 (photo credit: AP)
qana lebanon 298 88
(photo credit: AP)
Jews here and in the Diaspora have been unusually critical of recent reports published by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International regarding Israel's actions in the Lebanon war. Criticism focuses on two areas: Lopsidedness - criticism of Israel without equal criticism of Hizbullah or Lebanon or Syria or Iran; and evidence which relies exclusively on Arab sources. As one who has worked in the field of human rights for years, I too found the HRW an AI reports lacking in credibility. For example, HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth failed, in his August 18 Jerusalem Post op-ed, to say a word about Hizbullah's human rights affront in kidnapping Israeli soldiers, as well as in refusing to allow the International Red Cross to visit the soldiers or even supply information on whether they are alive. Quite an oversight, since that act initiated the war. HRW's investigation of events in Lebanon so contradicts my own personal experiences there, that it stretches credulity. Their reportage seems to be characterized by sweeping generalizations. HRW's AND AI's unbalanced and hasty research is most unfortunate because it weakens justifiable claims that call into question some of Israel's actions in Lebanon that caused unwarranted civilian casualties. It is more than likely that on numbers of occasions the IDF mistakenly targeted and killed civilians based on the errant assumption - or intelligence misinformation - that Hizbullah was hiding among innocents. Consequently, I would caution against wholesale condemnation of the HRW and AI reports as they contain kernels of truth sufficient to trouble any morally concerned Jew. Further, whatever our complaints about HRW and AI, they alone have challenged us to consider our moral behavior. In the protests by the reservists and the calls for state inquiries into the conduct of the war there is nary a word about the ethical conduct of the Israeli army. More troubling, no human rights organization in Israel has raised a voice of concern. It is a sad commentary that we have, unwittingly, to seek outside help in exposing our moral lapses, even if double standards are employed. As Jews we must rise above international hypocrisy, for on questions regarding our own moral behavior it is we, not others, who should be most competent to make judgments about how we act. AND SO there are legitimate reasons for us to feel obligated to struggle with our own moral behavior notwithstanding what the Arabs did in the war, or whether human rights groups held Israel to a double standard. Admittedly, as we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the September 11 assault on the United States or, closer to home, because of the manner in which Palestinian terrorism has been unleashed against us as well as the way Hizbullah waged its war against us - it is difficult to withhold judgment about Arab behavior. But while we cannot guarantee the moral standards of others, we must be steadfast in maintaining our own moral integrity. After all, we educated the world that the Zionist enterprise would be different, that it would be a model of an ethical society. Did we return to our ancestral homeland to become a nation like any other nation? Those of us in Israel who object to using double standards to justify our actions do so because they offend the standards that we, not others, have set for ourselves. We recognize the hypocritical application of double standards that are mercilessly heaped upon Israel, but as Jews, are we not to judge ourselves by a single standard - one based on a prophetic vision of social justice? The IDF draws its values from three traditions: • the Jewish People throughout its history; • the State of Israel, its democratic principles, laws and institutions; • the IDF and its military heritage. WITHIN THESE three traditions are 11 core values - two of which refer to Human Life and Purity of Arms. In the area of Human Life, the IDF Code of Conduct states: "The sanctity of life in the eyes of IDF servicemen will find expression in all their actions, in deliberate and meticulous planning, in safe and intelligent training and in proper execution of their mission. In evaluating the risk to self and others, they will exercise constant care to limit injury to life to the extent required to accomplish the mission." Regarding Purity of Arms, the IDF Code of Conduct states: "IDF servicemen will use their arms only for the purpose of achieving their mission, without inflicting unnecessary injury to human life or limb, to dignity or property, of both soldiers and civilians - with special consideration for the defenseless." Therefore, we should express a measure of appreciation to HRW and AI for rightfully, albeit maladroitly, raising a central question: During the recent fighting in Lebanon, did we hold fast to a traditional mandate to limit civilian deaths? Or did we become careless, fatigued by the burden of war, and violate not the prejudicial standards of HRW and AI, but the moral standards of our Jewish historical legacy? The writer is a former chairman of Rabbis for Human Rights.