Civilian Pawns

Laws of War Violations and the Use of Weapons on the Israel-Lebanon Border

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For over a decade, a conflict has raged on the border of Israel and Lebanon, where Israel occupies a large section of Lebanese territory. Civilians have been the principal targets and victims in this conflict. Both sides—Israel and its allied Lebanese militia, the South Lebanon Army, on one side, and guerrillas affiliated with Hizballah and a number of small Palestinian factions on the other—have exhibited a willful disregard for international humanitarian law, directly targeting civilians and indiscriminately lobbing shells and firing rockets at population centers. Tensions are high; periods of relative calm are punctuated by sharp attacks. The fighting has spiraled into massive Israeli military forays into Lebanon on several occasions. During the intervals, barrages back and forth have led to a situation in which no one is ever secure. A set of informal, unwritten "understandings" between Israel and Hizballah, brokered by the U.S., governed the conflict between July 1993 and April 1996. Each side committed itself to refrain from attacking civilians—unless the other side had attacked civilians first. Thus the civilian populations of southern Lebanon and northern Israel were rendered pawns in the hands of the belligerents. This report exposes the inherent fragility of these understandings.