Aiding And Abetting Hezbollah’s Propaganda War
The Sydney Morning Herald is guilty of it. Today the paper is running a piece with accusations from various doctors that Israel is using chemical weapons against Hezbollah in Lebanon:
Lebanon is investigating reports from doctors that Israel has used weapons in its 15-day-old bombardment of southern Lebanon that have caused wounds they have never seen before. “We are sending off samples tomorrow, but we have no confirmation yet that illegal weapons have been used,” Health Minister Mohammed Khalife said.
The Israeli army said it had used only conventional weapons and ammunition in attacks aimed at Hizbollah guerrillas and nothing contravening international law.
Blackened bodies have been showing up at hospitals in southern Lebanon two weeks into the war between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas that has seen at least 418 people, mostly civilians, killed in Lebanon and at least 42 Israelis. Killed by Israeli air raids, the Lebanese dead are charred in a way local doctors, who have lived through years of civil war and Israeli occupation, say they have not seen before.
Bachir Cham, a Belgian-Lebanese doctor at the Southern Medical Centre in Sidon, received eight bodies after an Israeli air raid on nearby Rmeili which he said exhibited such wounds. He has taken 24 samples from the bodies to test what killed them. He believes it is a chemical. Cham said the bodies of some victims were “black as shoes, so they are definitely using chemical weapons. They are all black but their hair and skin is intact so they are not really burnt. It is something else.” “If you burnt someone with petrol their hair would burn and their skin would burn down to the bone. The Israelis are 100 per cent using chemical weapons.”
Television footage shows some bodies, such as those of 20 civilians killed when an Israeli missile hit the van in which they were fleeing the border village of Marwaheen, blackened in the way Cham describes. No one knows what killed them. “We are seeing abnormal burns, different from wars we’ve seen in the past. The corpses of these victims are shrinking to half their normal size. You think it is the corpse of a child at first but it turns out to be a grown man,” said Raed Salman Zeinedine, director of Tyre Government Hospital. “We’ve never seen anything like it but what the causes are I don’t want to speculate. We have no scientific answer.”
The Israel Army said it did not target civilians at all. “We use only weapons and ammunition which will best hit our targets and cause least collateral damage,” said army spokesman Captain Jacob Dallal. “It could be that a body is burned from fire or the force of an explosion, but between that and suggesting we do something illegal under international law are two different things.”
The story also quotes Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch who is investigating these claims and suggests that Israel might be using phosphorus which has “a legitimate use in illuminating the battlefield at night” but, if used offensively, is “a violation of international conventions.”
The charge that any country is using chemical weapons is a serious one indeed and it should go without saying that the media should not publish such an accusation until they have proof of its accuracy. And as far as I can tell, the only sources for this story were a couple of doctors in Lebanon that certainly could have an animus towards Israel at the moment.
Nevertheless, The Herald has now legitimized a wild accusation against Israel that only serves to help Hezbollah’s propaganda war. It’s rumor mongering plain and simple. This story will doubtless spread regardless of its accuracy and, as Steven Taylor observes, “one guesses that the mere accusation will solidify into known fact in the minds of many in the anti-Israel world.”
UPDATE (James Joyner): I agree that the SMH report has the effect of bolstering Hezbollah in the propaganda war. However, I disagree that they, therefore, have a duty to sit on a story that appears to be based on at least some reasonable basis. Not only are there doctors making these reports but we have Human Rights Watch investigating. And the second sentence of the story contains a strong disclaimer from the Lebanese government: “We are sending off samples tomorrow, but we have no confirmation yet that illegal weapons have been used,” Health Minister Mohammed Khalife said.
Indeed, I’m rather sure that Israel is using white phosphorous (WP, Willie Pete) shells or something similar for illumination and marking purposes. It’s not at all clear what advantage they would gain from using them as offensive weapons, however.