Makdisi Op-Ed in LA Times Replete with False Charges Against Israel

Saree Makdisi, whose Op-Eds demonizing Israel regularly appear in the Los Angeles Times, as well as other media outlets, weighed in on Israel’s war with Hezbollah (“Death still stalks Lebanon”) in an LA Times Op-Ed on Oct. 21. Employing his usual tactics, the professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA levels grossly inaccurate unsubstantiated charges against Israel.

Denies That Hezbollah Used Human Shields

Ignoring volumes of evidence from countless sources, and without providing any counter-evidence, Makdisi alleges that Hezbollah did not hide behind civilians. He wrote:

Israeli officials said this was a war against Hezbollah, that Hezbollah was hiding in the midst of the population. But this wasn’t a war against Hezbollah. It was a war to punish the entire population for its support of the guerrillas.

Not only was Hezbollah not hiding behind civilians, it ought to be obvious that the violence was directed in the first instance at the civilians themselves. (Emphasis added)

What are the facts regarding Hezbollah’s use of civilians to provide cover?

1) Hassan Fattah, a reporter for the New York Times, interviewed residents of the village of Marwaheen who described how they begged Hezbollah not to use their village as a staging ground for attacks. According to Fattah,

…on Thursday, one of the suspicious white vans was sitting next to the town mosque. The van had apparently been hit by an Israeli missile,but the launching platform for a Katyusha rocket could still be seen inside. A rocket that lay next to the van a few days earlier had been removed.

Elsewhere, villagers showed off a weapons dump that included heavy machine guns, mortar rockets and launchers, and numerous other rockets left behind. Part of the weapons store had been bombed, but a much larger store down the street was intact.

Residents said Hezbollah was using them as human shields. “One man in this village was able to turn all our lives upside down for just a bit of money,” Ibrahim said. When the villagers left, he said, the fighters did too, as evidenced by the limited damage done to the town. (New York Times, Aug. 25, 2006)

2) Sabrina Tavernise, also of the New York Times, reported July 28:

“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 Bin 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 Bin Jbail.

3) Jan Egeland, the United Nations humanitarian chief, asserted in a press briefing:

“Consistently, from the Hezbollah heartland, my message was that Hezbollah must stop this cowardly blending. . . among women and children,” he said. “I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters [sic] and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this. I don’t think anyone should be proud of having many more children and women dead than armed men” (AP, Lauren Frayer, July 24)

4) On Oct. 8, Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post reported:

[Hezbollah] began preparing for a ground war almost from the day Israeli forces left in May 2000. Most of the militiamen were drawn from their villages and kept their weapons at home. [Retired Lebanese general] Abdel-Kader said the town or village became the unit of defense, where other arms were stashed. The towns, in turn, were organized into three or four sectors, with a regional command.

“All the weapons were in the right place,” he said. “They didn’t need to mobilize.”

5) AP correspondent Todd Pittman interviewed residents of the village Marwaheen, who recounted:

Hezbollah fighters in civilian clothes entered the village and set up launchers to fire rockets south into Israel. The guerrillas moved the launchers around, putting one on top of a house that was subsequently destroyed. . . .

A teenage girl who was in Marwaheen for the first three days of the war said she saw a Hezbollah fighter set up a rocket launcher with a timer on a nearby hillside, then run to the other side of the village near her home, taking refuge between civilian houses. Streaks of red crossed the sky as the launcher fired a volley into Israel, and minutes later Israel returned fire and huge explosions tore through the launch site, she said. “We begged them to leave,” the girl said, declining to be quoted by name because she feared retribution from Hezbollah. “We told them, ‘Get out! We have children here. We don’t want anybody to get hurt.’ But they ignored us.” (Aug. 26)

6) Ze’ev Schiff of Ha’aretz described how Hezbollah enlisted farmers to launch rockets at Israel:

Hezbollah managed to fire a large number of Katyushas during the war – as many as 240 in one day toward the end of the fighting. The rockets, stored near the launch points in underground shelters or houses, were usually aimed with a direction and trajectory precalculated to hit a specific target in Israel. They were usually set up in orchards by arrangement with the grove owners, who were paid by Hezbollah.

The two-by-three-meter positions consisted of a hydraulic launch pad in a lined pit. The pad could be raised to fire the 122-mm rockets from a launcher at its center, and then lowered and camouflaged with vegetation. The farmers received instructions by cell phone regarding the number of rockets to launch and in what direction and range. They were often provided with thermal blankets to cover the position in order to keep IAF aircraft from detecting the post-shooting heat signature. (Sept. 5)

7) For visual evidence of Hezbollah’s use of civilian areas, please see the Web site of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition to photographs and videos, it also contains incriminating excerpts from Canada’s National Post and New Yorker Magazine.

Contradicts Himself

Makdisi can’t seem to decide whether Israel indiscriminately attacked the entire civilian population, all innocent, or whether Israel singled out a specific religious group. Also, he contradicts himself as to whether or not the population was providing “support” (cover) for Hezbollah:

But the punishment was not evenly distributed. Israel’s war was aimed specifically at Lebanon’s Shiite population. Shiite neighborhoods in Beirut were destroyed, but other neighborhoods remained untouched. Shiite villages in the south were obliterated – literally wiped from the surface of the Earth – while nearby Christian villages escaped unscathed, mercifully able to shelter their Shiite neighbors.

“Israeli officials said this was a war against Hezbollah, that Hezbollah was hiding in the midst of the population. But this wasn’t a war against Hezbollah. It was a war to punish the entire population for its support of the guerillas.

“Not only was Hezbollah not hiding behind civilians, it ought to be obvious that the violence was directed in the first instance at the civilians themselves. To direct such violence at one community, one religious group, one minority – and to deny them the ability to return safely home – was what this war was all about.”

Makdisi is right on one point – Christian towns were relatively spared Israel’s strikes against Hezbollah because their sympathy for the Shiite terrorist group was much more limited than their Shiite counterparts. Thus, Hezbollah was not as entrenched in Christian locales, and Israel had less reason to target them. In other words, Israel was hitting Hezbollah targets which posed a threat to Israel’s civilian population and was not simply “punish[ing] an entire population.”

Makes an Outrageous Allegation

Makdisi’s outrageous allegation that Shi’ite villages were “literally wiped from the surface of the Earth” requires substantiation. What villages? By what means were the villages supposedly “wiped from the surface of the Earth”? Does he claim that all of the inhabitants were killed and every building destroyed? If none is forthcoming, a correction is in order.

Repeats Debunked Figures for Lebanese Casualties

Makdisi parrots the common media charge that “The vast majority of the 1,200 Lebanese killed by Israeli bombardments were civilians; one in three was a child.”

This frequently repeated figure is apparently based on Hezbollah assertions that it lost up to 80 fighters. But as the Daily Telegraph reported:

Although Hizbollah has refused to make public the extent of the casualties it has suffered, Lebanese officials estimate that up to 500 fighters have been killed in the past three weeks of hostilities with Israel, and another 1,500 injured.

“Lebanese officials have also disclosed that many of Hizbollah’s wounded are being treated in hospitals in Syria to conceal the true extent of the casualties. They are said to have been taken through al-Arissa border crossing with the help of Syrian security forces. . . .

“Hizbollah’s operational council has drawn up casualty lists that have been passed to the Shaheed Foundation. Copies have been seen by the Daily Telegraph, and have also been obtained by Lebanese newspapers, which have been pressured by Hizbollah not to publish them. ‘ Hizbollah is desperate to conceal its casualties because it wants to give the impression that it is winning its war,’ said a senior security official. ‘People might reach a very different conclusion if they knew the true extent of Hizbollah’s casualties.” (Con Coughlin, Aug. 4, emphasis added)

Additionally, on Aug. 22, Patrick Bishop of the Daily Telegraph reported:

“UN officials believe that Hizbollah will not want to reignite the conflict, at least for a while. The organisation’s culture of secrecy has disguised the true number of its casualties–funerals of ‘martyrs’ are being staggered to soften the impact of the losses. Some were interred without ceremony for re-burial later. An UN official estimated the deaths at 500, 10 per cent of the force Hizbollah is thought to muster.”

Israeli sources, and a few non-Israeli sources, including the Kuwait Times, reported that up to 700 Hezbollah fighters were killed. The Israelis claim to have identified by name some 440 Hezbollah fighters and estimate at least 200 others were killed.

Despite Hezbollah attempts to cover up the extent of its losses by, for instance, concealing funerals, a tally of press reports on fighters’ funerals confirm that Hezbollah fighters suffered many more casualties than the 80 frequently cited. See CAMERA’s full analysis and detailed list of these funerals, as well as a flash presentation su mmarizing the issue. In short, if Hezbollah’s losses are as high as 700, it is blatantly false to claim that the “vast majority” of the 1,200 casualties were civilians.

Makdisi’s Op-Ed is not the first time that the Los Angeles Times has printed the specious charge that the majority of Lebanese casualties were civilians. When challenged earlier by CAMERA, the paper failed to provide substantiation for reporter Raed Rafei’s claim as fact that “1,200 Lebanese, mainly civilians” were killed in the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah (“Hezbollah Holds Beirut Rally,” Sept. 23). It is unconscionable that, despite the vast evidence that CAMERA has provided the Readers Representative disputing Rafei’s allegation, the paper has not only failed to substantiate its news report, but also repeats it.

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