Is Israel Violating International Law in Lebanon?

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This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," August 4, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN KASICH, GUEST HOST: In the "Unresolved Problem" segment tonight: Human Rights Watch has released a 50-page report condemning Israel for its failure to distinguish between military targets and civilians, this off the devastation in Qana, Lebanon, where 28 people were killed when Israel's air force attacked an apartment building where they allegedly believed Hezbollah fighters were hiding out. Israel is not singled out, however. The rights group believes Hezbollah is committing war crimes, too, by launching rockets into Israel.

But how should Israel respond?

With us now, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth.

OK, look, you're sitting there. There are rockets flying into your country, clearly aimed at civilians, trying to kill as many people as you can.


KASICH: And they're being shot out of — out of buildings where there are civilians. What are you supposed to do to defend yourself?

ROTH: Right.

See, that premise is what Israel says over and over. And that's the part that is wrong. In other words, Israel would have you believe that killing civilians is inevitable, because Hezbollah is hiding behind civilians.

And, so, we sent researchers into Lebanon to see if that is what was really going on. We looked at about two dozen cases, representing about a third of the Lebanese civilians who have died in the conflict so far. And in none of those cases was Hezbollah present.

Now, clearly, Hezbollah is launching rockets and — and trying to kill as many Israelis as possible. That part, you're right. But they're firing, for the most part, separately from the civilians. And the reason so many civilians are dying is because Israel says, look it, we gave a warning to the people of southern Lebanon, if they didn't flee, we are going to assume that they're Hezbollah fighters.

And that's wrong.

KASICH: But — but, look, even a U.N. official has argued that Hezbollah is using civilians as shields.

ROTH: Sometimes, that may happen, but...


KASICH: And — and Israel has pretty good film of these — of these -- there's no doubt that they're embedded in the population, using the population to fire this stuff.


ROTH: John...

KASICH: You don't doubt that, do you?

ROTH: John, sometimes, it happens.

But let me tell you, that's not why civilians are dying. We did the most extensive study, by far, on the ground, case after case. And you find a dozen civilians killed there, 20 civilians killed there, no Hezbollah around. This is a myth that Israel is putting forward.

It does not explain why so many civilians are dying. The reason so many civilians are dying is because Israel has essentially created a free-fire zone. It's as if, you're still in southern Lebanon, you must be a Hezbollah fighter. And that's not true, because...


ROTH: Let me just explain.


ROTH: Because many of the civilians, although they have been warned -- and that's the right thing to do.

KASICH: Right.

ROTH: They can't flee. They're — they're infirm. They don't have the money for the exorbitant taxi fares. They're afraid, if they get on the roads, they are going to get killed, because many, many people...


KASICH: Yes, but here — but — I understand that. But...


ROTH: So — so, as a result, Israel is not taking account of the fact that there are civilians there, and is just firing away...

KASICH: Look...

ROTH: ... and killing them.

KASICH: Look, here's — but the problem is, look, international law says that all efforts must be made to separate civilian from military.

ROTH: Absolutely.


ROTH: That's correct.

KASICH: Israel has made that effort.

First of all, if you take a look at southern Beirut, they have only bombed in the Hezbollah strongholds. You know, in fact, we had a report last night that says...

ROTH: Well...


KASICH: ... if you're in the middle of Beirut, you wouldn't even know that a war was going on, if you didn't hear the noise.



ROTH: Let's...


KASICH: ... they drop the fliers, right? And they warn people, you got to get out of here.

But if Hezbollah is shooting missiles, launching them purposefully into areas to kill civilians, what are the Israeli supposed to do? They warn people, get out. They have had precision bombing. I — I...

ROTH: Well, they — first of all, obviously, Israel has to fight back, because it's a war crime...

KASICH: Right.

ROTH: ... for Hezbollah to be trying to kill as many civilians as it can, which is what it's trying to do.

The idea that Israel was pinpoint-attacking in Lebanon only at Hezbollah military zones, completely false. They have destroyed a nine-block-by-nine-block area. There may have been Hezbollah supporters there, political supporters. That doesn't make you a legitimate military target.

In the south of the country, what they have basically done is say, you know, although, ordinarily, you have to calculate military advantage vs. civilian cost, they just don't look at the civilian cost, because they're assuming there are no civilians left.

KASICH: But — but — but you know what, though?

ROTH: And there are many civilians left.

KASICH: You — you know, the problem with that...

ROTH: And they're getting killed.

KASICH: ... is, is you're — you're — you are deciding here that the Israelis don't care if they kill civilians.

ROTH: No, no. They do care.

KASICH: I think they — I think they care greatly, right?

ROTH: I think that...

KASICH: And, so, they have a hard time distinguishing those people who are embedded with these terrorists, who are firing these missiles.

ROTH: No. No. No. This — this...

KASICH: I mean, what are they supposed to do?

ROTH: Wait.

The embedded thing is not what's happening.


ROTH: In other words, what they're supposed to do is, they fire at...


KASICH: And I'm not sure how accurate your — your investigation is.

ROTH: It is the only one out there. And I will guarantee you it is accurate. We have done these kinds of investigations in war zones around the world. We know how to cut through people's lies. I can vouch for the accuracy of that investigation.

KASICH: So, what would you tell Israel to do in this case?

ROTH: What I would tell them is, first of all, not to fire unless they're sure that it's military on the ground.

KASICH: But they think it is. But they think that it is, right?

ROTH: They think it is, but — no, no.

Take what happened in Qana. What they said there, they didn't even claim that Hezbollah was shooting from the building. They didn't even claim that there was any shots from Qana at that day. They just said Hezbollah had been there previously. Therefore, we can destroy...

KASICH: No. I got to tell you, I have read what the Israelis have said.

ROTH: Yes.

KASICH: And what the Israelis have said is, the building that was hit in Qana was almost identical to another building where the missiles were fired. And, frankly, the Israelis have said...

ROTH: That's...

KASICH: ... we made a terrible mistake.

ROTH: Well...

KASICH: And I believe they think they did make a terrible mistake, because there's no sense for the Israelis to just kill civilians. That — I mean, that's not their strategy...

ROTH: Well, the problem is...


KASICH: ... unlike Hezbollah.

ROTH: No, of course. There's a difference there. But, when they see a structure that theoretically might be useful to Hezbollah, they don't have proof that Hezbollah is fightering from it. They have don't have proof that there are fighters inside of it. They just destroy it.


ROTH: And they don't know whether there are civilians inside.

KASICH: I mean, look...


ROTH: ... is wrong.

KASICH: ... I'm going to ask the — the Israeli spokesman here these — these questions...

ROTH: Please do.

KASICH: ... that you raise.

But I have got to tell you, I think, when you're in that position, you do everything you can. You warn them. You be precise. At the end of the day, these horrible things can happen.

I don't think they're targeting civilians.

ROTH: Let me tell you, I have talked to an American targeter who did this for the U.S. Air Force.

KASICH: We got to...

ROTH: He said he would never target the way the Israelis are.

KASICH: We — we got to leave it there. Thank you.

And an Israeli official will be here to respond in just a few minutes.

And please go to to vote in the new poll question: Should Israel negotiate with Hezbollah?

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