On its first anniversary, the Second Lebanon War appears to not only be failed and redundant, but also particularly dirty. Both sides have commited war crimes against defendless civilians, but a new Israeli record has been broken during the last four days of the war: Among the thousands of misciles and bombs dropped on Lebanon on a daily basis, cluster bombs were also used. According to the UN Center for the Coordination of Demining in South Lebanon, 90% of all cluster bombs discharged by the IDF were fired or dropped in the last 72 hours of the war. At that time the cease fire was already on its way.
Undistinguished fire at populated areas is a crime of war. Cluster bombing of populated areas is a continuing crime of war, considering each cluster releases 60 to over 80 submunitions (“bomblets”), that spread around an area larger than 1km square. These bomblets, which are called “Traces” or descriptively “Dragon Teeth”, continue the innitial undistinguished pounding, killing and injuring of their surroundings. The scale of the damage depends on the type of bomb used, as detailed in “the dirty 12 (cluster bombs)” list published by Human Rights Watch organisation. In its report, published last May, it is claimed that during the war, as many as 4 million clusters were fired at Lebanon, million of which were not detonated and still remain in South Lebanon, actively operating as mines, and resemble soda cans or tennis balls, thus drawing children as play things.
Cluster bombs were also fired by Hizbollah to the north of Israel. Human Rights Watch organisation reported that as early as the end of July 2006, quating a police statement about 113 hits of chinese made cluster rockets in settlements across the north of the country, containing more than 4,400 bomblets. One civilian was killed and 12 wounded, but no official report was issued regarding these attacks yet.
Bomb Today - Kill Tomorrow
The removal of duds and neutralization of bombs in South Lebanon began as soon as the war was over in August 14th, and intended to be finished by December 2007. Howover, with the current work rate, this will probably be posponed to a yet unknown date. This is bad news to the many people who have not returned to their homes and to the farmers who face a difficult choice: Abandon their fields or risk collecting crops that might explode in their hands.
On August 31, Amnesty International called upon Israel to hand organisations dismantling the bomb duds detailed maps of bombed areas, and to cooperate with the investigation of the use of cluster bombs during the war. The organisation also adressed the US government and demanded to press Israel into giving up the information. It appears that most of the cluster bombs fired by the IDF in those last few days were made in the US. Some of them, according to findings, were manufactured during the Vietnam war and their accuracy level is very low. The US Senate Budget Committee’s decision of June this year to prevent sale or distribution of cluster bombs with aid money, unless their reliability is guaranteed and only in condition they will be used solely against military targets, recalls the restriction employed by the US on cluster bombs sale to Israel in the 80′s. That restriction did not prevent the useage of clusters in the war last year.
The Israeli Human Rights Association has also appealed to the government’s judicial councellor, Meni Mazuz, in request to investigate the circumstances concerning the use of cluster bombs and to direct all parties concerned to hand relevant maps over the the UN. His answer has not been given yet. The maps were not handed to UN officials, and it is not clear weather the IDF has maps that can actually accelerate the works and reduce injuries. In November it was published that the former head of the IDF, Dan Halutz, has appointed an investigation committee, headed by General Gershon Hacohen, in order to check the subject. IDF spokesman has not replied to my request for details of the committee’s findings.
UN Center for the Coordination of Demining in South Lebanon reported in May this year that up to mid april, 113,000 bomb duds hasve been destroyed in a combined effort of UNIFIL, Lebanese Army, non government organisations and their sub contractors. The financing is received from humanitarian aid UN organisations and from the UAE.
192 people have been injured from dud explosions until March 31st this year. 22 were killed, including 7 minors, and 170 people wounded, including 23 boys and girls less than 12 years of age, and 37 minors, less than 18. Some of the wounded have lost limbs.In addition, 8 EOD officers have been killed and 24 wounded in disposal accidents.
It is revealed from the National Lebanese Office of Demining data that from April up tp mid June this year, another 17 people were injured from cluster bomb duds, includind 8 minors.
The use of cluster bombs is not specifically banned by International Humanitarian Law, but there is a ban on undistinguished fire at clearly non military targets. In that respect, Israel has violated the law, although it rejects this accusation, claiming that efforts have been made to avoid civilians getting hit and to warn them in advance. Pamphlets that were dropped from the air, even if they reached their destination, could not help those in South Lebanon who forcibly remained at home because of the destruction of roads or the cost of travel. But Human Rights Watch claims that actually using cluster bombs in the vicinity of populated areas is a violation of the afforementioned ban, because of the weapon’s lack of reliability.
46 countries put pen to paper this February in support of the UN International Treaty, to be approved in 2008, of the prevention of manufacture, storage, sale or transportation of cluster bombs. Who didn’t sign? The US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel, all banning the preliminary sessions. I don’t expect the army to be an advocat for the UN Bill of Human Rights, nor the government to willingly give up high revenues or sense of power that come with the weapons industry. But I’ve thought that “conventional” weapons that carry on hurting civilians long after the fighting is over should shock us as much as we’re repelled of unconventional warfare. That is why we cannot leave the treatment of this arms in the hands of establishments and governments who are thriving on its continuing use. This is an urgent task that falls at civic society’s door, and in the Middle East it is no less important than the prevention of iceberg meltdown in the North Pole.