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Israeli Violations of Human Rights of Lebanese Civilians

Israel's war against various armed groups, waged along its northern border and in Lebanese territory, has continued for more than twenty years. Some of this period has been relatively quiet. However, there have also been particularly violent periods, the most violent being Operation Litani (1978), the Lebanon War (1982), Operation Accountability (1993), and Operation Grapes of Wrath (1996).

During the past two decades, Israel, through both the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and by the South Lebanon Army (SLA), has violated fundamental human rights of Lebanese civilians, . We shall show in this report that Israel's control in South Lebanon is, in effect, military occupation. 

The debate in Israel concerning the IDF's presence in Lebanon focuses primarily on Israel's willingness to continue to sacrifice its soldiers' lives and the desire to protect residents in the north of Israel. Over the years, primarily since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, numerous protest groups in Israel have called for the IDF to withdraw from Lebanon, and at crucial times even led mass rallies supporting withdrawal. Many political parties included and continue to include platforms stating the need to withdraw. Withdrawal was a major issue in the 1984 national elections and, to some degree, also in the recent elections, during which the "One Israel" candidate for prime minister, Ehud Barak, promised to withdraw the IDF from Lebanon by July 2000.

The public debate almost completely ignored the suffering and injustice inflicted on Lebanese civilians, residents of the “Security Zone” in particular. Israel's violations of human rights often receive minimal or no media coverage, and are not taken into account in the public debate relating to the IDF "presence" in Lebanon. The human rights of Lebanese civilians, even recognition that Israel maintains a violent and prolonged occupation, are not part of the collective Israeli consciousness. The State Attorney's Office steadfastly argues that no occupation exists in South Lebanon, and that most of the violations of human rights are the responsibility of the SLA and not of Israel.

The tendency to ignore the prolonged and grave violations of human rights of South Lebanese civilians by Israel was also demonstrated by Israeli human rights organizations - including B'Tselem - which dedicated scant attention and resources to events on the other side of Israel's northern border.

The objective of this report is to combat the denial and disregard of human rights violations committed during Israel's occupation of South Lebanon. The report documents some of the acts committed by Israel in this context, which constitute gross human rights violations and are prohibited both by international law and domestic Israeli law.

Clarifications

A.    The prolonged Israeli occupation of South Lebanon violates the area's residents' right to self-determination. B'Tselem's position is that Israel must end the occupation and withdraw to the international border. However, B'Tselem takes no position as to the circumstances and conditions under which the occupation is ended, provided that the solution safeguards the human rights of all persons involved. The principal argument is, like B'Tselem's position regarding the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, that as long as occupation continues, Israeli authorities must protect the human rights of all persons under its control, and must strictly enforce, without bias, international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and Israeli domestic law.

B.     As an Israeli human rights organization, which seeks to influence Israeli government policy, B'Tselem focuses on documenting the policies and actions of Israel and those acting on its behalf. One should not conclude from this that other entities operating in Lebanon, among them the Lebanese government, Hizbullah, Amal, and Syria, do not violate human rights, or that their violations are less grave than Israel's. Chapter Five deviates slightly from this framework, and also relates to human rights violations by Hizbullah and other armed groups that shell Israeli civilians in northern Israel. 

C.    Preparation of this report entailed substantial methodological difficulties, stemming from the lack of direct access to the area where the human rights violations occurred. The Israeli government refuses to allow human rights organizations, and almost every other civilian body, to enter the occupied zone in South Lebanon. The Lebanese government prohibits Israeli citizens from entering its territory and does not allow its citizens to have any contact with Israelis. These difficulties prevented B'Tselem from independently obtaining testimonies from the victims. Thus, parts of the report rely on research of international organizations such as Amnesty International (Amnesty) and Human Rights Watch (HRW).  In other parts of the report, B'Tselem relies on the petition to the High Court of Justice filed by HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which presents a legal analysis of Israel's obligations as the occupier of South Lebanon. In addition, research in preparation of this report included, in part, the following sources: testimonies to B'Tselem by IDF soldiers, correspondence with Israeli authorities, press reports in Israel and Lebanon, publications of Lebanese human rights organizations, reports of UNIFIL and other UN bodies, conclusions of the group monitoring the Grapes of Wrath Understandings, statements of the IDF Spokesperson and Ministry of Defense, and court affidavits given by Israeli representatives.