August 2, 2006
On July 24, Human Rights Watch reported that Israel was using cluster bombs "in populated areas of Lebanon," which it said "may violate the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks contained in international humanitarian law." But despite the extensive media coverage of the current conflict in the Middle East, almost no U.S. outlets are reporting on these findings.
The Los Angeles Times buried the news at the end of a July 25 report, which concluded that the "Israeli army said it was checking into the group's allegations, but added that the weapons were legal under international standards." On July 27, the New York Times reported that an Israeli general "acknowledged that Israel had used cluster munitions in the conflict." The Times described the alleged use of such weapons as "another matter that has drawn criticism."
Yet this reference was the first time the paper's readers heard of the matter—at least when it came to Israel's arsenal. On July 19, the Times did report that U.S. and Israeli officials claimed that Hezbollah had altered some of their rockets by "attaching cluster bombs as warheads, or filling an explosive shell with ball bearings that have devastating effect."
NBC Nightly News similarly (7/25/06) noted the lethality of Hezbollah's arsenal, with correspondent Martin Fletcher reporting that "the Katyusha is full of these tiny ball bearings that are aimed to kill and hurt as many people as possible." Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer (7/28/06) contrasted the ball-bearing packed Katyushas that "are meant to kill and maim" with Israel's "precision-guided munitions" as evidence that "Hezbollah is deliberately trying to create civilian casualties on both sides while Israel is deliberately trying to minimize civilian casualties, also on both sides."
Weapons loaded with ball bearings would seem designed to be anti-personnel weapons, and their use has been condemned by human rights organizations because of their wide and imprecise blast range (Human Rights Watch, 7/18/06). But cluster bombs, which likewise have a wide and imprecise blast range, pose an even deadlier threat to civilians, as they can spread hundreds of "bomblets" that become "de facto antipersonnel landmines" (Human Rights Watch, 3/03). Amnesty International called the use of cluster bombs by the U.S. in civilian areas of Iraq "a grave violation of international humanitarian law" (4/2/03).
Other reports have raised the strong possibility that cluster bombs may have been used in Gaza (Agence France Presse, 7/25/06). And some doctors and Lebanese officials believe that injuries in Lebanon indicate the use of incendiary weapons such as white phosphorus (Inter Press Service, 7/28/06; Agence France Presse, 7/30/06). White phosphorus causes severe and deep burns to the skin and cannot be extinguished with water; the New York Times once called it (3/22/95) one of "the worst chemical weapons" in existence. Israel's use of such weapons would not be without precedent; Human Rights Watch reported in 1996 (5/96) that there was "compelling" evidence that Israel used phosphorus weapons against civilians in its 1982 and 1983 attacks on Southern Lebanon. (The U.S. has admitted to using white phosphorus as a weapon in Iraq; see Extra!, 3-4/06.)
Few outlets have even addressed Israel's possible use of white phosphorus, but when it is reported the results are not particularly enlightening. On July 24, CNN asked its military analyst Gen. James "Spider" Marks about white phosphorus; though he seemed to know very little about its possible use in Lebanon, he nonetheless declared that it probably wasn't being used: "I don't know anything about Israeli targeting methods and specifically whether they're using white phosphorus or not.... But it's not used against civilians. So I can't comment on whether they're targeting civilians and I would be surprised--in fact, I would deny that they even were, frankly." CNN host Anderson Cooper gave his guest some help by reiterating the Israeli position: "What they certainly are saying is, 'Look, we're point blank not targeting civilians, we're targeting Hezbollah positions.' They say Hezbollah very knowingly, you know, has their infrastructure, has their mobile rockets, launching from residential neighborhoods, and that's why we're seeing the civilian damage to the extent that we have."
The next night, a CNN report assured that "Israel says all its weapons and ammunition comply with international law," a point underscored by a former Justice Department official who declared use of white phosphorus legal. The same source, on the other hand, determined that Hezbollah's rockets loaded with ball bearings were "primarily a terror weapon of no particular military utility. That would make this even more legally questionable."
These legal opinions are not shared by all experts. An official with the U.N. body that enforces the Chemical Weapons Convention told the BBC (BBC News Online, 11/16/05) that if white phosphorus were used to camouflage movement, it would be legal. However, if it is "specifically intended to be used as a weapon," that would be prohibited. (See Extra!, 3-4/06.) While Israel denies such intentions, the reports coming in of civilians severely burned by phosphorus raise serious questions that can't simply be dismissed with Israeli assurances. As Human Rights Watch reported (7/30/06), its researchers in Lebanon "have documented dozens of cases in which Israeli forces have carried out indiscriminate attacks against civilians while in their homes or traveling on roads to flee the fighting."
Anyone reading the coverage of the Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon is keenly aware of the weapons in Hezbollah's arsenal. (See the chart "Hezbollah Firepower" in USA Today's July 28 edition, for example.) As noted by Frida Berrigan and William Hartung (Foreign Policy in Focus, 7/26/06):
Much has been made in the U.S. media of the Syrian- and Iranian-origin weaponry used by Hezbollah in the escalating violence in Israel and Lebanon. There has been no parallel discussion of the origin of Israel's weaponry, the vast bulk of which is from the United States.
When roughly 800 have been killed in Lebanon—mostly civilians—and the civilian death toll in Israel stands at 19, media coverage that focuses on assurances by Israeli officials and pro-war pundits that Israel does not intentionally target civilians gives a false sense of reality. U.S. news outlets need to explain the consequences of Israel's cluster bombs and other weapons—along with Hezbollah's ball bearings.
A body killed by a burning object lies in a Beirut suburb July 17- Reuters
A Lebanese firefighter extinguishes the charred body of a Lebanese truck driver who was killed when Israeli planes attacked the port in Beirut July 17 - AP
A member of the Lebanese Red Cross walks past a badly burnt body in Beirut's port, which was targeted by Israeli warplanes, July 17 - Reuters
A member of the Lebanese Red Cross walks past a badly burnt body in Beirut's port, which was targeted by Israeli warplanes
A member of the Lebanese Red Cross walks past a badly burnt body in Beirut's port, which was targeted by Israeli warplanes-2.
Lebanese firefighters try to extinguish the fire while the dismembered and burnt corpses of two Lebanese civilians killed in an Israeli air raid lie on the ground at the port in Beirut
Lebanese men remove a recovered body of a man from the back of a vehicle in Beirut July 17- Reuters.jpg
Lebanese Red Cross members remove the dismembered and burnt corpses of two Lebanese civilians killed in an Israeli air raid at the port in Beirut 17 July
Lebanese Red Cross members remove the dismembered and burnt corpses of two Lebanese civilians killed in an Israeli air raid at the port in Beirut.
look at his right eye - Lebanese citizens gather around a man who was killed by shrapnel from an explosion in Kfarshima, near Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, July 17 -AP
look at the foot - beirut prot july 17 - Reuters
A Lebanese medic carries the body of a young girl, in a refrigerated truck used as a makeshift morgue, in the port city of Sidon, Lebanon, Monday, July 17 - AP
A Medic inspects burned bodies of Lebanese civilians who were attacked as they passed by a bridge that was targeted in north Saida, southern Lebanon, July 17 - Reuters
A badly injured Lebanese civilian is seen at a hospital following Israeli air strikes on a house in the southern city of Tyre, 17 July - AFP
A Lebanese rescue worker gathers the remains of a woman from the rubble of residential buildings hit by the Israeli bombardement in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, 18 July - AFP
An 18-month-old Lebanese child lies dead 17 July on a hospital bed in Saida eight hours after being injured yesterday in an Israeli air attack in Tyre - AFP
Lebanese man that was injured and burned by Israeli attacks on Tyre, lies in a hospital in south Lebanon July 15 - Reuters
The corpse of a dead man lies admist the rubble from devastating Israeli air strikes in Tyre, south Lebanon, 16 July - AFP
The corpse of a Lebanese civilian lies amidst the rubble following a devastating Israeli air strike in Tyre, south Lebanon, 16 July a
A civil defense member transports the corpse of a Lebanese civilian killed in an Israeli air raid that targeted the Rmeyleh bridge near Saida 17 July afp.
A Lebanese medic carries the body of a young girl, in a refrigerated truck used as a makeshift morgue, as another body lies covered, in the port city of Sidon, Lebanon, Monday, July 17
Civil defence rescuers carry the body of a woman away from a civilian car that was struck by an Israeli warplane missile- rmayleih juy 17 - AP
Drivers carry away Lebanese Ali Wahid after he was seriously wounded in his car, while he was driving past a bridge when was struck by an Israeli warplane missile- rmayleh july 17 ap.
Lebanese Red Cross members cover the burnt corpse of a Lebanese civilian killed in an Israeli air raid that targeted the Rmeyleh bridge in Saida 17 July AFP.
look at his face - A 7-year-old Lebanese boy fights for his life on a hospital bed in Saida 17 July 2006 after being injured in an Israeli air raid - AFP
A badly charred and mutilated body lies on the ground after an Israeli missile hit a van carrying passengers on a road in southern Lebanon, July 15, - Reuters
A body of a man from the southern village of Marwahin, who was killed along with 17 others near the village of Shamaa
A United Nations medic holds a body that was badly charred and destroyed after an Israeli missile hit a van carrying passengers on a road in southern Lebanon, July 15 - Reuters.
KILLED ON THE SAME ROAD IN THE SOUTH JULY 15 - REUTERS
Lebanese civil defence member carries the corpse of a young girl from the southern village of Marwahin
MARWA Marwa Abdallah, who survived Saturday's attack on a van in Tyre where twenty people where killed IN HOSPITAL JULY 16 - REUTERS.
MARWAHIN (SOUTH ) JULY 15 - AFP
MARWAHIN (SOUTH ) JULY 15 - REUTERS
A Lebanese Red Cross staff collects human remains following an Israeli air raid on Zebdine village (south )JULY 16 AFP
TEIR HAFRA 1 (SOUTH) JULY 15 - AP
TEIR HAFRA 2 SOUTH) JULY 15 - AP
TEIR HAFRA 3(SOUTH) JULY 15 - AP
TEIR HAFRA 4 (SOUTH) JULY 15 - AP
TEIR HAFRA 5 (SOUTH ) JULY 15 - AP
TEIR HAFRA 6 (SOUTH ) JULY 15 AP
look at the eye- Issam Mostafa, a 3-year-old Lebanese boy, rests at a hospital in Shtora in the Bekaa valley 17 July afp.