Human Rights Watch (HRW) is capable of great feats of productivity when it wishes to draw a crowd to an international crisis. Especially, it goes without saying, when the crisis affords an opportunity to slander Israel. Last summer, only three weeks into the Israel-Hizballah war, HRW released a sensational 49-page report that declared, “Our research shows that Israel’s claim that Hizballah fighters are hiding among civilians does not explain, let alone justify, Israel’s indiscriminate warfare.” It added that “these attacks constitute war crimes,” and concluded that “in some instances, Israeli forces appear to have deliberately targeted civilians.”
Those are serious charges to inject into the middle of a war, especially one as saturated with media coverage as any conflict involving the Jewish state (in a recent Harvard study, Marvin Kalb noted that the Israel-Hizballah war summoned the heaviest international media coverage since the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991). None of HRW’s calumnies, it should be added, has been substantiated in a credible way.
But sensationalism and good timing, after all, were precisely the point, and attacking the legitimacy of the Israeli war effort proved highly effective in getting Human Rights Watch into the headlines. To that end, the report was titled “Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon.” Is this a straight-to-video action movie, or an objective report on a serious subject? But never mind.
What is relevant about all this is that HRW has just announced the release, thirteen months (!) after its libelous claims against Israel, of the companion study to “Fatal Strikes,” this one about Hizbollah’s violations. The media frenzy that surrounded the war last summer has long since subsided, but Hizballah has seen to it that HRW does get a little bit of publicity for its efforts: The press conference in Beirut announcing the study had to be cancelled because of security threats. But HRW is a courageous and principled organization, and will not be deterred from finally, and no doubt cathartically, releasing its report over a year late and into an indifferent media environment. The Hizballah study has just been posted on HRW’s website and it is much more boringly titled than the hit piece on Israel: “Civilians Under Assault.” You may wish to be sitting down to hear this news, but Human Rights Watch has concluded, after thirteen months of investigation and dozens of pages of analysis, that Hizballah fired rockets at Israeli civilians.