Israel OKs Its Use of Clusterbombs & Human Rights Watch Condemns the Weapon

January 1st, 2008 - by admin

Josef Federman / Associated Press & Steve Goose / Human Rights Watch & Stanely Heller / – 2008-01-01 23:10:28

Israeli Cluster Bombing Ruled Within the Law
Military Ends Probe of Strikes on Lebanon

Josef Federman / Associated Press

JERUSALEM (December 24, 2007) — Israeli military prosecutors have determined that Israel’s use of cluster bombs during last year’s war in Lebanon did not violate international humanitarian law, the army said Monday, closing an investigation into a practice that has drawn heavy criticism from the United Nations and international human rights groups.

The investigation determined that Israel’s use of the weapons, which open in flight and scatter dozens of bomblets, was a “concrete military necessity.” No legal action would be taken against anyone in connection with use of the weapons, it said.

The United Nations and human rights groups have accused Israel of dropping about 4 million cluster bomblets during its 33-day war against the Hezbollah guerrilla movement. As many as 1 million bomblets failed to explode, according to the United Nations and the rights groups, and now endanger civilians. More than 30 people have been killed by cluster-bomb and land-mine explosions in Lebanon since the 2006 summer war.

Amnesty International has harshly criticized Israel for bombing civilian areas and using cluster bombs during the fighting. It also has criticized Hezbollah for firing nearly 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities and towns.

In a statement, the army said its chief investigator, Maj. Gen. Gershon HaCohen, determined “it was clear that the majority of the cluster munitions were fired at open and uninhabited areas, areas from which Hezbollah forces operated and in which no civilians were present.”

It said that cluster bombs were used in residential areas only “as an immediate defense response to rocket attacks by Hezbollah” and that Israeli troops did everything possible to minimize civilian casualties.

Whenever using cluster bombs, Israeli forces were “respecting the laws of armed conflict . . . and preserving the ethical values” of the Israeli military, the statement said.

“The use of this weaponry was legal once it was determined that, in order to prevent rocket fire onto Israel, its use was a concrete military necessity,” the statement added.

The conclusions were passed on to the military’s advocate general, Brig. Gen. Avihai Mendelblit, who accepted the recommendation and decided not to press charges. The investigation was launched after the war.

The Oslo Process: Ending Cluster-bombs
The Global Campaign for a Ban on Cluster-munitions is Gathering Momentum

Steve Goose / Human Rights Watch & OpenDemocracy

(November 19, 2007) — The “convention on certain conventional weapons” (CCW) ended its annual meeting in Geneva on 7-13 November 2007 without achieving much. Perhaps that is not surprising. It is a consensus-driven forum dominated by the United States, Russia and China that likes to “go slow and aim low” when asked to take on weapons systems.

But the convention’s sloth is no laughing matter for the 255 people killed or injured in Lebanon since August 2006 by cluster bomblets dropped by Israel in its war with Hizbollah; or the dozens who die or lose a limb in southeast Asia each year from clusters fired by United States forces as long ago as the 1960s and 1970s; or the tens of thousands of cluster-munition victims in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Chechnya, and some twenty other countries.

Cluster-munitions leave a deadly legacy for years because once dropped, they scatter hundreds of unguided bomblets randomly over a wide area – and then many fail to explode. In effect, they turn into landmines. And just as campaigners spurred a global ban on anti-personnel landmines in the wake of the CCW’s inability to do so, the aim today is to ban cluster-bombs that kill civilians around the world every week of every year.

The effort is gathering momentum. In 2007, Norway launched an initiative to negotiate a ban on clusters outside of the weapons convention. The confident aim among campaigners is that this project – known as the Oslo process – will bear fruit in 2008 with a new treaty that prohibits the use, production, stockpiling, and trade of cluster-munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

The next stage in the Oslo process is a meeting in Vienna (5-7 December 2007) to engage in detailed consideration of a treaty text; further meetings are planned in Wellington (18-22 February 2008) and Dublin (19-30 May 2008). So far, more than eighty countries have signed on to the process. The failure of the CCW to advance towards a new clusters treaty is a strong signal to the rest that it’s time to support Oslo.

The nature of the Geneva discussions illustrates why the Oslo process is the more likely route to progress in achieving an international cluster-munitions ban. Several states — among them Brazil, India, Pakistan, South Korea and the United States — were apparently shocked by the prospect of movement elsewhere into an attempt to revive talks within the CCW.

But all the meeting could produce was a weak agreement to “negotiate a proposal” on cluster munitions in 2008. This is characteristic: the convention has a penchant for unending, unproductive talks and its consensus rules ensure the weakest position is accepted.

Moreover, representatives of the main backers of the CCW process (including China, Israel, and Russia as well as South Korea and the US) have revealed both in private conversations and public statements a remarkable uniformity about how they envisaged the outcome of negotiations: no prohibitions and no real restrictions on use. In short, it’s very unlikely that any CCW agreement would alleviate the humanitarian harm caused by cluster munitions.

The Oslo process, by contrast, has the energy required to address the carnage caused by cluster-munitions effectively and rapidly. The countries committed to progress on the issue would best contribute by joining the Vienna and Wellington meetings to further develop a treaty-ban text. They should commit to conclude formal negotiations in the Dublin meeting on a treaty forbidding the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians by the end of 2008.

Some states – France, Germany, Switzerland, and Britain included – have up to now tried to have it both ways by signalling support for the Oslo process while continuing to talk about the CCW as the “most appropriate forum” for addressing cluster munitions. They have a real opportunity to become leaders in the Oslo process by abandoning an approach that is becoming increasingly untenable.

By contrast, other countries (such as China, Russia, and the United States) which maintain big stockpiles of clusters are likely to stay outside the Oslo process for the time being, and maintain with a straight face that they are dealing with the issue effectively in the CCW. But once a ban is negotiated most states will not be willing to pay the political price of flouting it: as with the mine-ban treaty (or “Ottawa convention”) 0f 1997, they will act in accordance with the new standard of behaviour being established globally.

Every day of delay adds to the grim toll. On 5 November 2007 – designated as the first global day of action against cluster munitions – the Daily Star (Beirut) reported that Abbas Khalil, Mohammad Khalil and Hafez Milhim were wounded by cluster-bombs while working in an agricultural field in southern Lebanon. The world can’t wait any longer. The countdown to a clusters treaty has begun.

Steve Goose is director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch and co-chair of the Cluster Munitions Coalition

Related Material
• CCW: Only Oslo Process Can Deliver a Cluster Bomb Ban
Press Release, November 13, 2007

• Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW): Intervention on the Agreement on a CCW Mandate on Cluster Munitions
Oral Statement, November 13, 2007

• Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW): Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War
Oral Statement, November 5, 2007

• Opening Statement to the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions
Oral Statement, February 22, 2007

• More on Human Rights Watch’s work on cluster munitions
Thematic Page

• Save Civilians: Ban Cluster Munitions by 2008
Special Focus

Blanket Immunity from War Crimes
When Criticism of Cluster Bombs is “Anti-Semitic”

Stanely Heller /

(September 2 / 3, 2006) — The Israeli paper Ha’aretz reports that the head of Germany’s Jewish community accused a minister in Angela Merkel’s German government of “anti-Semitism” because of the minister’s statement on Israel’s use of cluster bombs. Development Aid Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul had asked for a United Nations probe into Israel’s use of cluster bombs in civilian areas of Lebanon.

Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of German Jews, complained about what she terms a growing “anti-mood [sic] against Israel and the Jews” in Germany. [Ha,aretz August 30] Merkel, who made absolutely no criticism of Israel during the fighting, immediately met with Knobloch to “soothe Jewish ire” according to Deutche Welle [August 31]

The U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland revealed this week that of the estimated 100,000 unexploded cluster bombs lying in Lebanon almost all of them were fired in the last few days of the fighting when the terms of the ceasefire had already been set. The Guardian (UK) reports Egleand said, “What’s shocking — and I would say to me completely immoral is that ninety per cent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution,” he said.

It was known that in the last days of the war the Israeli army was engaged in a desperate attempt to have some “victory” and rushed troops here and there in an attempt to have a photo shoot near the Litani River. What was not known until now was the blind spite that sowed the ground of South Lebanon with a massive number of bomblets.

Cluster bombs are delivered by a large canister and disperse over a wide area, a sort of lethal piñata. The bomblets come in many sizes. Some are tiny, even smaller than 2 inches in diameter. Kids are constantly trying to kick them or pick them up with the result in the loss an arm or leg or even death.

“Every day people are maimed, wounded and are killed by these ordnance,” said Egeland. The UN official based his estimate on the reports of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre which has traveled through 85% of Lebanon. The casualty figures as of 29 August from unexploded ordnance rose to 59 people, including 13 killed and 46 injured.

Responding to U.N. reports of cluster bombs being found in Lebanese civilian areas the U.S. government has begun an investigation to determine if cluster bombs have been responsible for civilian casualties. It seems far fetched that the Bush Administration would do anything other than shower Israel with more money, but the Reagan administration did ban export of cluster bombs to Israel for six years for its misuse during its 1982 Lebanese invasion.

The Zionist Ultras have been circling the wagons on this issue, not giving an inch. They hysterical statement by the German Jewish leader was typical of many.

Responding to a report by Human Rights Watch charging Israel with war crimes in its conduct of the war in Lebanon that was written by its director Kenneth Roth, Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel has called Roth “loathsome.” An editorial in the New York Sun accused Roth of “de-legitimization of Judaism” because his group condemned Israel’s strategy as “an eye for an eye.”

Rabbi Aryeh Spero in Human Events Online referred to Roth as a “human rights impostor,” and likened him to “Nazis and Communists.” On Sunday, the Jerusalem Post published an op-ed by NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg titled “Ken Roth’s Blood Libel.” [quotes from Kathleen Peratis, Washington Post August 30]

The fact that Kenneth Roth is Jewish and his father fled Nazi Germany makes no difference to the Ultras. If you are do not support Israel 110% you are a Jew-hater, a renegade, a self-hater, and a holocaust denier. Get it?

In a very competitive field Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League took the prize for the comment showing the most utter stupidly. In attacking Human Rights Watch he said if Hezbollah was not made to pay an “overwhelming price” for rocket attacks “the Holocaust would be in the works”. [Peratis, Washington Post]

Jewish Disgust with Israel
In a very encouraging development hundreds of U.S. Jews are calling for strong measures to be taken against the Israeli government including a cut off of U.S. aid and U.N. sanctions. Over 800 have signed the statement calling for “U.S. Jewish Solidarity with Muslim and Arab Peoples of the Middle East”. It states “we are outraged by the violence being perpetrated in our name both as Jews and as U.S. citizens. We, the undersigned, represent Jews across the United States who are choosing to stand in solidarity with the peoples of Gaza and Lebanon”.

It includes the statement, “There is no Jewish safety in a country that rehearses the violence and persecution which Ashkenazi Jews experienced for centuries through the annihilation of the Palestinian people and their homeland.”

The signers are collecting money for a full page in the New York Times and are just $800 away from their goal. The petition can be found at

It was after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon that U.S. Jews in significant numbers began open and trenchant criticisms of Israel. Chomsky’s watershed “The Fateful Triangle” was published that year. Hopefully there will be even bigger shows of outrage this time around.

Stanley Heller is chairperson of the Middle East Crisis Committee in Connecticut. It’s website is and he can be reached at

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