July 12, 2006–New York–MADRE, an international women's human rights organization, expresses grave concern for the safety of Palestinian, Israeli, and Lebanese civilians as a "two-front war" looms in the Middle East.
On Wednesday morning, fighters from the Lebanese-based Hezbollah organization captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid into northern Israel and fired rockets and mortar bombs at Israeli towns. At least four Israeli civilians were wounded. Residents in the north have been ordered into bomb shelters. If, in fact, the soldiers were captured inside Israeli territory, Hezbollah's raid constitutes an act of aggression in clear violation of international law. Moreover, the targeting of Israeli civilians under any circumstances is a grave violation of international humanitarian law.
In response to the Hezbollah raid, Israel has attacked southern Lebanon with tanks, gunboats, and war planes. At least two civilians were killed on Wednesday. Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz has declared that, "Israel sees itself as being free to employ any means it deems fit, and the army has been instructed accordingly." However, MADRE emphasizes that Israel is bound by international law. Any lawful military retaliation must prioritize the safety of civilians and remain proportionate to the threat posed to Israel by Hezbollah.
Today's resurgence of hostilities across Israel's northern border may be a turning point in the Middle East, threatening a regional war that would endanger millions of civilians in Israel, Iran, Lebanon, and Syria. Israel is treating Hezbollah's attack as an "act of war" by Lebanon, where Hezbollah's political wing holds seats in Parliament. Meanwhile, Syria and Iran, both backers of Hezbollah, have effectively condoned the group's raid into Israel. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the US National Security Council said the US holds Syria and Iran "responsible for this attack and for the ensuing violence." The Bush Administration has already targeted both countries as likely candidates for "regime change."
Despite fears of an expanding conflict, the epicenter of crisis in the Middle East remains the Gaza Strip, where Israeli policy has created a looming humanitarian disaster. The fate of Gaza's 1.4 million people must not be eclipsed, even as the widening conflict demands the world's attention. On Wednesday alone, 23 people were killed by the Israeli military in Gaza, among them seven children and their mother. Even more widespread than the threat of direct Israeli military strikes are dire shortages of water, food, medicine, and electricity caused by Israel's ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that Israel's objective is to "apply pressure" to the civilian population of Gaza in response to Hamas' capture of an Israeli soldier in June and its recent rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Olmert's tactic is a form of collective punishment that violates the Hague Convention as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitutes a war crime.
MADRE emphasizes that no party to the conflict–whether the State of Israel or the armed wings of Hezbollah and Hamas–has the right to attack civilians. MADRE calls for the protection of all civilians in Palestine, Israel, and Lebanon.
Yifat Susskind, MADRE's Communications Director, was born and raised in Israel. Before joining MADRE, she was active in the Israeli women's peace movement for several years and directed a project at a joint Israeli-Palestinian human rights organization in Jerusalem. Her critical analysis of US foreign policy and women's human rights in the Middle East and other parts of the world has appeared in online and print publications such as TomPaine.com, Foreign Policy in Focus, the Middle East Research & Information Project (MERIP), and The W Effect: Bush's War on Women, published by the Feminist Press in 2004. She has also been featured as a commentator on CNN, National Public Radio, and BBC Radio. Ms. Susskind is the author of a book on women's human rights and US foreign policy, forthcoming