Lebanon's War With Cluster Bombs
The 40% of Israeli-dropped 'bomblets' that didn't explode during this
summer's war continue to kill Lebanon's most vulnerable.
By Saree Makdisi, SAREE MAKDISI is a professor of English and comparative
literature at UCLA.
Printed in the L.A. TimesOctober 21, 2006.. Reprinted with permission of the author
OF ALL THE statistics to emerge from Israel's recent war on Lebanon, the
most shocking concerns the number of cluster bombs that Israel dropped on
or fired into Lebanon.
A cluster bomb is made up of a canister that opens and releases hundreds
of individual bomblets, which are dispersed and explode over a wide area,
showering it with molten metal and lethal fragments.
About 40% of the bomblets dropped by Israel (many of which were
American-made) did not explode in the air or on impact with the ground.
They now detonate when someone disturbs them - a soldier, a farmer, a
shepherd, a child attracted by the lure of a shiny metal object.
Cluster bombs are, by definition, inaccurate weapons that are designed to
affect a very wide area unpredictably. If they do not discriminate between
civilian and military targets when they are dropped, they certainly do not
discriminate in the months and years after the end of hostilities, when
they go on killing and maiming anyone who happens upon them.
When the count of unexploded cluster bomblets passed 100,000, the United
Nation's undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland,
expressed his disbelief at the scale of the problem.
"What's shocking and, I would say to me, completely immoral," he said, "is
that 90% of the cluster-bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the
conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution, when we really knew
there would be an end of this."
That was on Aug. 30, by which time U.N. teams had identified 359 separate
Since then, the true dimensions of the problem have become even clearer:
770 cluster-bomb sites have now been identified. And the current U.N.
estimate is that Israel dropped between 2 million and 3 million bomblets
on Lebanon, of which up to a million have yet to explode.
In fact, it is estimated that there are more unexploded bomblets in
southern Lebanon than there are people. They lurk in tobacco fields, olive
groves, on rooftops, in farms, mixed in with rubble. They are injuring two
or three people every day, according to the United Nations, and have
killed 20 people since the cease-fire in August.
"What we did was insane and monstrous," one Israeli commander admitted to
the newspaper Haaretz. "We covered entire towns in cluster bombs."
As Egeland noted, the majority of these bombs were dropped in the last
three days of the war - a time when the U.N. resolution to end the
fighting had been agreed on, when the war was virtually over, when it was
clear that Israel had failed to accomplish its declared objectives in
launching this campaign.
Dropped so late in the war, it's hard to imagine what specific military
objective these bombs could possibly have been meant to accomplish.
Instead, they seem to have been dropped as a final, gratuitous act of
violence in a war waged against an entire population. The vast majority of
the 1,200 Lebanese killed by Israeli bombardments were civilians; one in
three was a child.
With 100,000 innocent people trapped in the south because they could not,
or dared not, flee on roads that Israel was indiscriminately bombing every
day, Israel's justice minister declared that they were all - men, women
and children - "terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah."
Nor was this his view alone. The Israelis dropped leaflets warning that
"any vehicle of any kind traveling south of the Litani River will be
bombed, on suspicion of transporting rockets, military equipment and
terrorists." The Israeli chief of staff was especially clear. "Nothing is
safe" in Lebanon, he said. "As simple as that."
Israel carried out 7,000 air raids and fired 160,000 artillery projectiles
into Lebanon, a tiny country. That's about two air raids and 40
projectiles per square mile.
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
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.
To drop two or three bomblets for every man, woman and child in southern
Lebanon - after having wiped out their homes, smashed their communities,
destroyed their livelihoods - is to wage war against them all.
And we supplied the weapons.