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Israeli Ambassador Grilled on Targeting of Civilians, Use of Cluster Bombs and Other War Crimes in Lebanon

StoryAugust 10, 2006
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Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, was questioned last Sunday in Washington DC as part of a press stakeout. Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy was there to ask the tough questions. He grilled Ayalon on Israel’s targeting of civilians and use of cluster bombs in Lebanon, Israel’s nuclear arsenal and its lack of adherence to United Nations Security Council resolutions. [includes rush transcript]

Israel’s cabinet authorized an expanded ground offensive into Lebanon on Wednesday, backing a push towards the Litani river which lies 18 miles from the border. The decision came on a day of fierce fighting in southern Lebanon. Fifteen Israeli soldiers were killed in action–the highest number in a single day since the conflict began almost a month ago.

More than 100 Israelis, most of them soldiers have now been killed in the conflict. More than 1,000 Lebanese, most of them civilians have also been killed.

Amid the ongoing bloodshed, top Israeli government officials have been making regular appearances on the major news networks in this country to defend Israel’s actions. But in the corporate media, Israeli spokespeople rarely–if ever–face any critical questioning. Well, this past Sunday, one of them was taken to task.

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, was being interviewed at the studios of FOX News in Washington DC. After the interview, he was questioned outside the studio as part of a press stakeout.

Sam Husseini, the communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, was there to ask the tough questions. He grilled Ayalon began by asking about:

  • A report released by Human Rights Watch that accused Israel of committing war crimes for deliberately targeting civilians in Lebanon.
  • Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons
  • Israel’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon
  • Israel’s lack of adherence to United Nations Security Council resolutions.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, was being interviewed at the studios of FOX News in Washington, D.C. After the interview, he was questioned outside the studio as part of a press stakeout. Among the reporters there was Sam Husseini. He’s communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He talked to the Israeli ambassador, but he’s joining us in the studio in Washington, D.C. to describe just what that stakeout is, before we go to the questioning. Sam Husseini, welcome to Democracy Now!

SAM HUSSEINI: Good to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you lay out what these stakeouts are around Washington, D.C. on Sunday mornings.

SAM HUSSEINI: Well, all of these Sunday talk shows — Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Wolf Blitzer’s Late Edition, as well as FOX News’s program — these people, these policymakers, in many cases these war-makers, go in there, get questioned by the Tim Russerts and George Stephanopouloses and Chris Wallaces, and so on.

And then, there are these stakeouts. The media, other media, stand outside the studios waiting to ask them questions. And just more generally, whether or not the media are there or not, these people physically have to get into and out of the buildings oftentimes. Sometimes they have a satellite feed. But they physically have to get in and out. And it’s an opportunity for questions and a time to really scrutinize them.

And that’s what happened Sunday. You got to get up bright and early Sunday morning. And then sometimes you’ve got to wait around for quite a while for something to happen. But that’s the scene. It was myself, and there were two reporters, one reporter from CNN and one reporter from NBC, and another reporter who I don’t know what affiliation he had.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sam Husseini, you began questioning the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, about the report released by Human Rights Watch that accused Israel of committing war crimes for targeting civilians in Lebanon. This was his response.

DANIEL AYALON: I would say this report that you quoted is just something out of this earth. I mean, I don’t know where they live.

SAM HUSSEINI: They have people in Lebanon.

DANIEL AYALON: I don’t know who they have. We are also —- we are also in Lebanon. And if you see the differences, you see that the Hezbollah targets civilians and only civilians. They use this indiscriminate Katyusha rockets, which have been converted, their warheads has been converted into a terror weapon with all these ball— bearings just to kill civilians. Now, they use it from apartments. They use it from mosques and from school yards. On the other hand, we are using only precision munitions, even at the compromise of achieving our mission fast. Many of our soldiers get killed, because we are being very careful. So this report — I don’t know what credence — it’s absurd, and it’s totally false. And I must say, I question the motivations of them and who wrote it.

SAM HUSSEINI: Sir, this is from Human Rights Watch. They also put out a report criticizing Hezbollah. If you were a Hezbollah spokesperson, I would be asking you that question. They are talking about you using cluster bombs and targeting civilians indiscriminately. Aren’t you involved in the tradition of [inaudible] —

DANIEL AYALON: No, not at all.

SAM HUSSEINI: You’re a protagonist. How can you be believed as to what’s happening? This is an independent, very respected human rights group.

DANIEL AYALON: Well, it’s not very respected to me anymore, if they come up with such ignorant remarks, which do not represent the truth. And they don’t know what’s going on, if they write these things. I mean, it is quite obvious that we have a situation here of a terror organization who embeds itself. Tell me, do you see of any Hezbollah camps in Lebanon? Does Human Rights —- can the Human -—

SAM HUSSEINI: —- this is a quote, “found no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect themselves from IDF attacks.” They went on to write about Qana. The day of the attack, they did extensive questioning -—

DANIEL AYALON: Were they there? Were they there? They’re writing in — no. Yes, I was there. We were there. Israeli soldiers were there. No, no, no, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll ask you a simple question for the Human Rights. Can they direct us — you or me — or the international community to a single base of Hezbollah? Does Hezbollah have bases? No.

SAM HUSSEINI: They talk about Hezbollah having caches in certain places. They talk about —

DANIEL AYALON: Yeah. Do they have bases? No. Hezbollah fires. Hezbollah fires from mosques. Hezbollah fires — I’m telling you.

SAM HUSSEINI: — they fire from [inaudible]. They fire from orchards.

DANIEL AYALON: And they fire from schoolyards, and they fire from UN positions. It’s just too bad that we work about something that you obviously don’t know and they obviously don’t know. I’m sorry about it. The fact that it’s written over there doesn’t make it true. I think reality on the ground speaks for itself. And the reality on the ground is that they target civilians and we target Hezbollah. The fact that Hezbollah is embedded among Lebanese civilians is a problem. But go ask the Lebanese about it, and they will tell you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., being question by Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He went onto the issue of nuclear weapons. In the 1980s, Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu first exposed that Israel had secretly developed an extensive nuclear program. Since then, it’s widely acknowledged that Israel is a major nuclear power in the Middle East. Again, this is Sam Husseini questioning Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon.

SAM HUSSEINI: Why does Israel refuse to acknowledge its possession of nuclear weapons? And Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli whistleblower, has suggested a tradeoff, where you have a nuclear-free Middle East — [inaudible]

DANIEL AYALON: Sir, you are talking and —

SAM HUSSEINI: — Israelis nuclear weapons. Isn’t Israel’s nuclear possession provocative in the region?

DANIEL AYALON: Who says we have nuclear possession? Have we ever said that? We said — the only thing we said — the only thing we said, that Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. This has been our position all along. Israel is the only country, unfortunately, who has been threatened. Its survival was at stake, as countries in the Middle East are calling for its demise. So we have this, what you call an ambiguous — or policy for ambiguity, as a matter of national defense.

SAM HUSSEINI: Isn’t Iran trying to replicate that by having a nuclear —

DANIEL AYALON: Is anybody — is anybody threatening Iran’s survival? Did we say that Iran should be decimated? It’s Iran who says Israel has to be decimated. So I think you have to get your facts correctly and cipher them out. I’m sorry, it’s just a futile conversation here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Sam Husseini went on to ask the Israeli ambassador about Israel’s use of cluster bombs. In their report, Human Rights Watch documented the use of cluster bombs on the ground in Lebanon.

SAM HUSSEINI: Are you using cluster bombs in Lebanon?

DANIEL AYALON: No, we are not. We’re not using anything which is not approved by the UN conventions and charters.

SAM HUSSEINI: Why did you bomb the electrical facilities in Lebanon?

DANIEL AYALON: Lebanon has electric capabilities, which is running. They have running water. We are not targeting any of the infrastructures. We could have done a lot of damage, which we’re not doing, specifically because we’re very much concerned about the humanitarian conditions over there.

AMY GOODMAN: The role of the United Nations in the current conflict was also a hot topic during the questioning. Here, Sam Husseini asks Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, about UN Security Council Resolution 1559, adopted in 2004, and called, among other things, for Syria to end its military presence in Lebanon.

SAM HUSSEINI: You’ve been quoting from Resolution 1559. Isn’t Israel — hasn’t it been for a long time in violation of dozens of UN security resolutions? For example, 446, 451, 465, regarding Israeli settlement activity in the Occupied Territories.

DANIEL AYALON: Not at all. I think you mix up between resolutions, which are enforceable, like UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

SAM HUSSEINI: [inaudible] Security Council [inaudible] —

DANIEL AYALON: Right, right, right.

SAM HUSSEINI: I’m naming them. 446, 451, 465.

DANIEL AYALON: No, we’re not, I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you exactly —

SAM HUSSEINI: [inaudible] Security Council resolutions.

DANIEL AYALON: I don’t know why you don’t read your history. It’s very recent history. We pulled out of Gaza completely, dismantling 21 —

SAM HUSSEINI: [inaudible] pull out of the West Bank.

DANIEL AYALON: Yes, well, in the West Bank also. We have offered to leave the West Bank. There was a Camp David summit in 2000, where the Ehud Barak, the Prime Minister, offered to give most of the West Bank to the Palestinians. They refused, and they attacked us. So it takes two to fulfill resolutions.

SAM HUSSEINI: You withdrew from Gaza unilaterally. Why can’t you withdraw from the West Bank unilaterally?

DANIEL AYALON: Who said we will not? We are still working on that. Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, being questioned by Sam Husseini, communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, with special thanks to Matt Bradley for the audio recording. Sam Husseini, in the Washington, D.C. studio, it was interesting when you asked the ambassador about Israel’s use of cluster bombs. He denied the use. But Israel has already admitted that they have used cluster bombs in Lebanon, after Human Rights Watch came out with their report saying that they did.

SAM HUSSEINI: It shows the systematic pattern of the lying, because when they’re confronted with documentation on the back pages of the New York Times, they tacitly acknowledge some part of the truth. But when they’re put in front of the TV cameras, they lie brazenly. That’s the pattern of war-makers, I’ve found. And also I asked him about cluster bombs, because he was going on about Hezbollah allegedly using some munitions which have some sort of ball bearings, which inflict damage on civilians and hurt people and kill people. He was going on about that quite a bit. And that’s what prompted me to really say, well, what about your use of cluster bombs? And then he just outright lied. It’s extraordinary.

He also, when I was asking him about the Human Rights Watch report, what did he say in the end? He said, “Go ask the Lebanese people,” which is an extraordinarily brazen thing for him to say. I think what needs to happen is that we need to set up substantial infrastructure of asking tough questions to these people. The mainstream media clearly isn’t doing it. And I think that it’s an important role for the independent media, as well as the international media, the Al Jazeeras, and BBCs, as well as The Nation and this program. You put out a lot of fine information, Amy. And I try to put out a lot of fine information in IPA news releases, but there it stays.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you find out where people are speaking?

SAM HUSSEINI: Well, the Washington Post is kind enough to publish that information on Saturday on page — it’s usually about page C-5 of the Washington Post. They tell you who’s on what program in Washington, D.C.

AMY GOODMAN: And we only have 30 seconds, but the issue of nuclear weapons, asking the Israeli ambassador if they have them.

SAM HUSSEINI: Well, I didn’t ask him if they have them, because I know that they have them. I asked him why they refuse to acknowledge them. He didn’t answer why they refuse to acknowledge them. What he said was, we will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons, which technically is true, because the U.S. introduced nuclear weapons to the region a long time ago. So it’s another devious ploy. And what’s more brazen is that U.S. officials will not acknowledge that Israel has nuclear weapons. If you ask the White House or the State Department, “Does Israel have nuclear weapons? Do you think Israel has nuclear weapons?” they will not give a straight answer.

AMY GOODMAN: Sam, we have to leave it there. Sam Husseini with Institute for Public Accuracy. His blog is husseini.org.

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