But Our War Crimes Were Heroic and Honorable


Hezbollah is angry about a new Human Rights Watch report that condemns the group's rocket attacks on civilians during last year's war with Israel. Since Hezbollah deliberately launched thousands of anti-personnel rockets into Israeli towns and bragged about doing so, it cannot very well deny that it committed war crimes. Instead, its leaders argue that Human Rights Watch should save its criticism for Israel, whose air attacks on Hezbollah targets in Lebanon killed far more civilians than Hezbollah's crappy rockets did.

But Human Rights Watch, which plans to release what will undoubtedly be a scathing report about Israel's conduct during the war next week, insists this is not a numbers game and that two wrongs don't make a right: Deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on civilians are always wrong. "The fact that more Israeli civilians didn't die is not a tribute to Hezbollah but a tribute to Israeli bomb shelters," says Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "The point we're making is that even though they say 'only 43 Israeli civilians were killed' that doesn't make it OK."

Israel's war with Hezbollah was disastrous in several ways, not least because of the many innocent people it killed. To the extent that the Israeli government could have reduced or avoided those deaths (by responding to Hezbollah's initial cross-border raid in a less dramatic fashion, for example), it is culpable for them. And even if the invasion and air campaign had made sense, there are reasons to question some of Israel's judgments about which targets to attack and how. But Israel was at least ostensibly attacking legitimate military targets and inadvertently killing civilians in the process, as opposed to deliberately targeting civilians, which strikes me as an important moral distinction. To put it another way, the IDF considers killing civilians a mark of shame, while Hezbollah wears it like a badge of honor, which is why its leaders are dismayed by the criticism from Human Rights Watch.