Party of God Using Human Shields in a Christian Neighborhood:

[NEW UPDATE: NY Times: But for some of the Christians who had made it out in this convoy, it was not just privations they wanted to talk about, but their ordeal at the hands of Hezbollah — a contrast to the Shiites, who make up a vast majority of the population in southern Lebanon and broadly support the militia.

"Hezbollah came to Ain Ebel to shoot its rockets," said Fayad Hanna Amar, a young Christian man, referring to his village. "They are shooting from between our houses." ... Mr. Amar said Hezbollah fighters in groups of two and three had come into Ain Ebel, less than a mile from Bint Jbail, where most of the fighting has occurred. They were using it as a base to shoot rockets, he said, and the Israelis fired back.

One woman, who would not give her name because she had a government job and feared retribution, said Hezbollah fighters had killed a man who was trying to leave Bint Jbail.

“This is what’s happening, but no one wants to say it” for fear of Hezbollah, she said.]

The Australian Herald Sun publishes the picture below and others, smuggled out of Lebanon. According to the Herald Sun, the pictures were taken in a Christian neighborhood in East Beirut town called Wadi Chahrour [my error corrected], and show Lebanese Party of God (Hezbollah) militiamen, in civilian clothes, hiding and using weapons in a densely populated area.

The Melbourne man who smuggled the shots out of Beirut told yesterday how he was less than 400m from the block when it was obliterated.

``Hezbollah came in to launch their rockets [counterterrorism blog wrote about this a few days ago], then within minutes the area was blasted by Israeli jets,'' he said.

``Until the Hezbollah fighters arrived, it had not been touched by the Israelis. Then it was totally devastated.

``After the attacks they didn't even allow the ambulances or the Lebanese Army to come in until they had cleaned the area, removing their rockets and hiding other evidence.

``Two innocent people died in that incident but it was so lucky it was not more. ` `The people there were horrified and disgusted at what Hezbollah were doing.''

The fighters used trucks, driven into residential areas, as launch pads for the rockets, he said.

Thanks to reader Victor Steinbok for the tip.

UPDATE: Party of God gets what it wants: There are only two reasons to put missile launchers in (when they are not in use) and next to (when they are in use) apartment buildings, and, for that matter, to have your local militia headquarters double as the local bomb shelter; the first is the hope that it will dissuade the enemy from attacking you, and the second is the hope that if they do bomb you, many civilians will be killed, leading to a propaganda victory. Unfortunately, the Party of God has benefited from both--many commentators in the Israeli media believe that the eight Israeli soldiers killed and dozens wounded a few days ago would not have met this fate if, instead of going house to house to search for Party of God fighters, Israel had leveled the buildings they were hiding in. So the Party of God got at least a partial military victory. Today, Israel leveled a building they were hiding in, which unfortunately also turned out to house many innocent children. So the Party of God gets a propaganda victory. Those who relexively condemn Israel when the Party of God's strategy works (and Israel inadvertantly kills civilians) are being worse than naive; they are encouraging not just the Party of God, but other terrorist groups, to use human shields in the future, as it proves to be an effective strategy.

Further Update: Here's footage of the Party of God firing missiles at Israel from behind an apartment building.

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Self-Refuting Article in Salon.com:

Top of the article: The "hiding among civilians" myth "Israel claims it's justified in bombing civilians because Hezbollah mingles with them. In fact, the militant group doesn't trust its civilians and stays as far away from them as possible."

First two paragraphs of the article: "The bombs came just as night fell, around 7 p.m. The locals knew that the 10-story apartment building had been the office, and possibly the residence, of Sheik Tawouk, the Hezbollah commander for the south, so they had moved their families out at the start of the war. The landlord had refused to rent to Hezbollah when they requested the top floors of the building. No matter, the locals said, the Hezb guys just moved in anyway in the name of the 'resistance.' Everyone knew that the building would be hit eventually. Its location in downtown Tyre, which had yet to be hit by Israeli airstrikes, was not going to protect it forever. And 'everyone' apparently included Sheik Tawouk, because he wasn't anywhere near it when it was finally hit."

Is it just me, or does the first two paragraph of this articles directly contradict its thesis? Thesis: Hezbollah does not hide behind civilians. First paragraphs: A Hezbollah commander and other "Hezb guys" force themselves into the top floors of a ten-story apartment buiding, knowing that its likely to be targeted by Israel.

There is more, albeit somewhat less egregious, evidence, later in the article, that contradicts the thesis: "The almost nightly airstrikes on the southern suburbs of Beirut could be seen as making some sense, as the Israelis appear convinced there are command and control bunkers underneath the continually smoldering rubble. There were some civilian casualties the first few nights in places like Haret Hreik, but people quickly left the area to the Hezbollah fighters with their radios and motorbikes." If the civilians "left the area" to "Hezbollah fighters," doesn't that mean that "Hezbollah fighters" were in the area mixed with civilians before that?

Still later: "In three trips over the last week to the south, where I came near enough to the fighting to hear Israeli artillery, and not just airstrikes, I saw exactly no fighters. Guys with radios with the look of Hezbollah always found me." Umm, how exactly did they "find" the author if they weren't around to begin with? Maybe they, you know, HIDE (perhaps in plain sight in civilian clothes), until they make sure that the new visitors to town are really journalists, and not an Israeli secret service unit?

And: "A fellow journalist, a Lebanese who has covered them for two decades, knows only one military guy who will admit it, and he never talks or grants interviews. All he will say is, 'I'll be gone for a few months for training. I'll call when I'm back.' Presumably his friends and neighbors may suspect something, but no one says anything." Geez, maybe this is actually evidence that a "Hezbollah fighter" is living amongst the civilian population ("friends and neighbors").

The article makes two salient points: (1) Israel does not distinguish between the "political/humanitarian" wing of the Army of God, and its military wing, in selecting targets; and (2) that Party of God fighters are disciplined and discrete, and blend into the local population.

That's all well and good, and would make an interesting article. But instead, the author, Mitch Prothero, "debunks" the claims that Hezbollah hides among civilians, and instead provides evidence that it's true. Worse yet, Salon's editors play up a sensational angle in the headline ("The 'Hiding Among Civilians' Myth") that is actually contradicted by the text of the article. If I didn't suspect that either sympathy for the Party of God or hostility to Israel blinded the editors to the obvious, I'd be embarassed for them.

UPDATE: The obvious foolishness of this article hasn't stopped various bloggers from linking to it favorably.

UPDATE 2: On a related note, this is a pretty remarkable examination of how photos from Qana that have been sent around the world were staged (hat tip: Instapundit). This doesn't make the tragedy for the individuals involved any less, but it does suggest that photojournalists are tossing anything resembling journalistic ethics away to get a sensationalistic shot, and can reasonably be accused of serving as propaganda shills for the Party of God. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on survivors in Qana. Here's all the Times has to say about whether the Party of God was using human shields in the town:

A grocer, Hassan Faraj, stood outside his shop, near a monument to those killed in the 1996 attack. He said that Hezbollah fighters had not come to Qana, but that residents supported them strongly. There was little evidence of fighters on Sunday, but Hezbollah flags and posters of Shiite leaders trimmed the streets. "They like the resistance here," he said.

Not exactly Woodward and Bernstein. Given that it's extremely pertinent whether Israel was attacking Party of God positions or, as Human Rights Watch (which is almost cartoonishly biased agaisnt Israel, as I noticed even before I read this op-ed) alleges today, was firing indiscriminatey, you would think the Times reporter would dig a bit deeper. At least the Times might mention Israel's claim that 150 missiles were fired at Israel from Qana, and IAF footage that purports to show rockets launched by the Party of God from Qana.

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The Perverse Incentives Created by Rewarding Terrorists for Hiding Behind Civilians:

Other writers such as Charles Krauthammer and co-blogger David Bernstein (link below) have made the moral case against blaming Israel for civilian deaths in Lebanon resulting from Hezbollah's tactics of hiding behind civilians.

I want to focus on a different point and emphasize the perverse incentives this practice creates. If terrorists know that liberal democracies will be blamed for civilian casualties resulting from the use of human shields by the terrorists themselves, they will have a strong incentive to keep up the practice and even expand.

Hezbollah is not the first terrorist group to use the tactic and probably won't be the last. But its tactics and the "international community's" reaction to them pose an unusually grave risk of creating perverse incentives. If world reaction against the Qana bombing and other similar incidents forces the US to compel Israel to accept a ceasefire before Hezbollah has been decisively defeated, this will be the first time in history that the use of civilian human shields has actually saved a major terrorist group from imminent catastrophic defeat, as opposed to merely protecting individual terrorists. Both Hezbollah and other terrorist groups are likely to learn from the experience and greatly increase the use of human shields in future conflicts. This makes it all the more important to resist calls for a premature ceasefire - even for those who care little about Israel or disapprove of its policies.

Ideally, world opinion would blame the terrorists rather than their adversaries in such cases. That approach would punish the use of human shields rather than reward it, thereby impeding the spread of this pernicious practice. Unfortunately, European, Arab, and even many American commentators are unlikely to adopt it anytime soon. For the time being, all we can do is strive to diminish perverse incentives. But the ultimate goal must be to first eliminate and then reverse them.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. The Perverse Incentives Created by Rewarding Terrorists for Hiding Behind Civilians:
  2. Self-Refuting Article in Salon.com:
  3. Party of God Using Human Shields in a Christian Neighborhood:
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