GENEVA - Members of a U.N. anti-discrimination panel criticized Israel on Thursday for killing civilians in Lebanon, accusing the Jewish state of violating international humanitarian law and racially targeting Arabs.
Israel rejected the allegations from the independent experts on the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for lacking objectivity by failing to address Hezbollah’s behavior.
The sole American on the panel, Ralph Boyd, Jr., said the committee also needed to address the actions of other parties playing a role in the conflict — a clear reference to Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.
“What is going on is far beyond what a reasonable people consider tolerable,” said Brazilian Ambassador Jose Lindgren-Alves, one of the experts on the panel, during the special session called to address the violence in the Middle East.
“Is there not at least a tinge of racism stimulating the disproportionate response to the kidnapping of one or two soldiers that was supposedly at the origin of Israel’s actions?” Lindgren-Alves asked.
Fellow committee members Agha Shahi, a former foreign minister of Pakistan, and South African Patricia Nozipho January-Bardill agreed.
“Would Israel have resorted to the bombing of civilian infrastructure if it were fighting a non-Arab force?” Shahi asked.
Dire warning from Guatemala
While some were more restrained during the session of unusually strong exchanges by the committee’s standards, the most dire warning came from Guatemala’s Jose Francisco Calitzay.
“Mass genocide is the highest level of racism that could exist,” Calitzay said, urging members to prevent such an occurrence in Lebanon.
Israel’s ambassador to the U.N.’s European headquarters in Geneva said the panel’s holding of such a debate “will unleash heinous attacks against Israel.”
“The committee failed to raise itself to the challenge of combating discrimination by behaving in a selective way and by avoiding to address the systematic racial incitement by Hezbollah and its alma mater, Iran, who calls for the annihilation of Israel,” Ambassador Itzhak Levanon said.
Criticism by the Geneva-based panel, which oversees compliance with the 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, brings no penalties beyond international scrutiny.
Boyd, formerly President Bush’s chief civil rights law enforcement officer at the Department of Justice, stopped short of naming Hezbollah and its supporters Syria and Iran.
But, he said, “statements members make should reasonably take account of each of three parties whose actions play a direct or contributory role in the crisis, including the non-state organization that is using Lebanese territory to launch attacks and the two state parties that continue to provide the organization and its members with material support and refuge.”
Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr of Egypt, one of the panel members, said Hezbollah was not a terrorist organization, but a resistance movement fighting foreign occupation.
Some 10,000 Israeli troops are currently in south Lebanon locked in fighting with hundreds of Hezbollah guerrillas.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has said more than 900 of his people had been killed and 3,000 injured in the three weeks of fighting. More than 1 million people — a quarter of Lebanon’s population — have been displaced, he said.
Since the fighting started, 67 Israelis have been killed, 41 of them soldiers slain in fighting and 26 of them civilians killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks.
The committee, which is using its three-week session to review the adherence of 13 other countries to the treaty, added the examination of what was happening in Lebanon at the last minute because it had spare time after Israel requested it be allowed to postpone its routine review due to the conflict in Lebanon.
The committee has put off until next year the review of Israel’s respect for its anti-discrimination obligations.