Sunday, March 9, 2008
Peoples court condemns Israel for war crimes in Lebanon
By John Catalinotto Brussels, Belgium
Published Feb 28, 2008
A four-member jury of distinguished legal officials, after hearing and considering two days of intense, moving and precise testimony at the International Associations Center in Brussels, Belgium, on Feb. 24 found the Israeli state guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in its 2006 war on Lebanon.
Witness holds part of U.S.-maderocket that killed some of his family.
WW photos: John Catalinotto
Some 250 people filling the center stood as one to applaud as Judge Adolfo Abascal from Cuba finished reading the decision. Those in the courtroom, many from Lebanon or from the Lebanese diaspora, already knew or had heard enough to make up their minds. But a formal decision based on a body of evidence can more effectively counter reactionary imperialist propaganda in the corporate media.
The other three judges were Judge Lilia Solano from Colombia, a professor at the National University of Bogotá; Rajindar Sachar, retired chief justice of the High Court of Delhi, India; and Professor Claudio Moffa of the University of Teramo, Italy. A fifth member of the panel, judge of the Court of Appeal Hisham Bastawisi of Egypt, was prevented from participating by the Egyptian government.
Mayor of Nabitiya, Dr. Mustfa Bader al-Din
The organizers counted on the media coverage of the hearing—which was broadcast throughout the Arab world and in Latin America in whole or in part—to bring a convincing statement of Israeli guilt of serious war crimes to their audiences throughout the world. In the imperialist countries it will be up to progressive media and organizations in solidarity with the liberation struggles to spread the news of the tribunal.
There was representative support from organizations in Europe and the U.S., including present and former European Union parliamentary members Louisa Morgantini from Italy and Miguel Urbano Rodrigues from Portugal, and former MP Ángeles Maestro from Spain. Human rights, anti-war and anti-imperialist organizations sent representatives to watch, participate and report on the hearings.
In the introductory session, leading co-coordinator Leila Ghanem (Raoul Jennar was the other) introduced Judge Solana, who presided over the judges’ panel. Solana explained the procedure for the tribunal.
John Catalinotto of the International Action Center (IAC) in the United States, Dr. Paola Manduca of the Permanent People’s Tribunal and Prof. Jean Bricmont of the BRussells Tribunal gave political statements on the issues before the court. Catalinotto focused on U.S. complicity in the war crimes through providing the Israeli offensive with coordinated military aid and diplomatic support throughout the invasion.
Israelis expose their own crimes
What made the 2006 war on Lebanon different from the other U.S.-Israeli aggressions in the region was that the Israeli offensive collapsed. The Lebanese resistance—2,000 fighters led by Hezbollah but joined by other patriotic forces like the Communist Party—inflicted heavy casualties on the most powerful army in the region. Instead of wiping out the popular armed struggle, the Israelis were driven out.
This defeat forced the Tel Aviv regime to re-examine and investigate its own war strategy. Prosecuting Attorney Dr. Issam Naaman pointed this out as he introduced the tribunal case. After the witnesses, he said, the Winograd Report by an Israeli government-appointed committee will “fill in any remaining gaps” in the case.
That the report admits that Israel had planned the aggression months before it took place absolves the Lebanese resistance—which had been charged with provoking the war by capturing two Israeli soldiers.
The others on the prosecution team were Dr. Hassan Jouni and Maitre Albert Farhat, also from Lebanon, and Dr. Hugo Ruiz Díaz Balbuena from Paraguay.
Although the Lebanese successfully fought back, this did not prevent the Israeli military from inflicting horrible casualties on the Lebanese civilian population. The prosecutors introduced witnesses who gave evidence of massacres against civilian targets and the systematic destruction of towns and villages and popular housing projects south of Beirut.
Through expert witnesses, the prosecutors also showed that Israel used prohibited weapons, such as uranium-cased bunker busters and thermobaric weapons, and those prohibited against civilians, such as cluster bombs. The Israeli military was apparently testing new weapons on the Lebanese they killed and maimed. More than 1,200 people in Lebanon were killed, the great majority of them civilians, including many children.
First-hand testimony of war crimes
Eyewitnesses were more than observers of the war. They had lost multiple family members, been involved in ambulance driving, been responsible for their town or village. The Lebanese organizations fought heroically, but the Israeli war machine, armed by Washington, rained death on civilians who had the misfortune of being in the south of Lebanon that summer.
Civil defense worker Maher Saloum from Baalbek city provided a moving PowerPoint demonstration of the casualties inflicted on Lebanese children and other noncombatants. His co-workers, while clearly driving ambulances, were equally targeted by Israeli rockets. While not physically wounded, this hero had suffered what in the U.S. would be called post-traumatic stress disorder as he risked his life every day to try to save his compatriots.
One witness held up a piece of the U.S.-made rocket that crashed into the home his family was trying to take cover in as they fled north.
The judges asked each witness if there were any military targets, any Hezbollah fighters, in the vicinity of the bomb or rocket strikes. The answer was always, “No.”
Dr. Ali Mustafa Bader al-Din, mayor of one of the towns in Baalbek in the south, 15 miles from the border with Israel, told of the “250 martyrs” from his district. “I’m asking the people of the world,” he said, “What do they [the Israelis] want from us and our children? We had 423 homes destroyed, but I don’t think they will beat us.
“They tried to drive a wedge between the people and the resistance, but we remained together. The enemy attack failed. We will fight them all our lives if attacked.”
Weapons, environment, economy
After the reports of the deaths, it may not have seemed necessary to show the use of illegal weapons, to decry the long-lasting assault on the environment or to demonstrate the damage in tens of billions of dollars to the Lebanese economy. The “legal” weapons are also murderous in the hands of an arrogant imperialist army. But in a trial, the prosecutors need to demonstrate all the crimes under discussion.
It was hard to look at the photos of the Lebanese people wounded or killed by either old or new weapons. But phenomena like internal bleeding without entry or exit wounds and no evidence of shrapnel, deep burning on one side of the body and none on the other, and high levels of radiation showed that Israel was testing new weapons, most of them manufactured in the United States.
Dr. Rania Masri, who had been an anti-war activist in Raleigh, N.C., for many years before moving to Beirut, gave an excellent and concise presentation of the lasting damage to the environment from the Israeli attack. The most devastating single blow was to an oil storage tank serving an electric power plant, causing an enormous spill that has destroyed the beaches and the aquatic environment all the way from the south of Lebanon to Syria.
Dr. Kamal Hamdan, a macroeconomist, apologized if his “cold view” of the economic impact detracted from the suffering of the Lebanese. He explained that besides the $2.8 billion in direct losses, 60 percent of it in housing, much of it in the popular suburbs south of Beirut, there are other even greater losses. Higher unemployment and inflation rates have impoverished a greater proportion of the Lebanese population.
Almost as an aside, Dr. Hamdan pointed out that U.S. imperialist aggression in the entire West Asian region was aimed not only at guaranteeing access to energy sources but also to give Washington the ability to intimidate both China and the U.S.’s rival imperialists in Europe and Japan by controlling the oil.
Dr. Díaz Balbuena, representing the American Association of Jurists before the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, presented the legal rules of the case, of which only a small part of the testimony has been summarized above.
Introducing the verdict, Justice Lilia Solana made sure to also inculpate the United States for its complicity in the war. The final decision was that the judges “declare the Israeli authorities in charge of the 2006 war against Lebanon guilty of the following international crimes:
1. war crimes
2. crimes against humanity
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