• About CIVIC

    CIVIC is a Washington-based non-profit organization that believes the civilians injured and the families of those killed should be recognized and helped by the warring parties involved.

    On this blog, you will find stories from our travels around the world as we meet with civilians and military, aid organizations and government in our quest to get war victims the help they need.

  • Countries

  • Contributors

    Sarah, Executive Director

    Marla B, Managing Director

    Kristele, Field Director

    Liz, Chief Communications Officer

    Trevor, CIVIC's fellow based in Afghanistan

    Chris, CIVIC's fellow based in Pakistan

    Jon, CIVIC's US military consultant

  • Media Content

ISRAEL/GAZA: Will Israel Help Gaza’s Victims? (The Huffington Post)

By Sarah Holewinski, Executive Director of CIVIC

Ask any civilian who has lost a loved one, a limb, or a home in war and they’re likely to tell you they never received anything for their suffering. I’ve always found it shocking that international law doesn’t generally require warring parties to help the people they’ve harmed.

Take for example the family of 60-year old Fayiz Ad-Daya. He was killed along with twenty of his relatives on January 6, 2009, when an Israeli warplane roared over Gaza attempting to bomb a house nearby that allegedly contained a weapons cache. Fayiz’s family was killed instead, with victims ranging in age from four (granddaughter Kawkab) to sixty (Fayiz himself). An Israeli military official admitted it made a mistake in hitting the wrong house and said this “is bound to happen during intensive fighting.”

The Al-Daya family thus joins a long list of millions of civilians destroyed in war. Like so many before them, the surviving members will likely never receive a formal apology or compensation for their losses.

When a similar mistake was made by the US military in Afghanistan back in 2001, they didn’t pay any compensation either to a woman widowed by a missile intended for three miles east. Eight graves are lined up near her home, representing her husband and children. I’ve heard so many stories like this. And then a few years later, the US learned it had to do things differently: a compensation system now exists for “mistakes” and unintended casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The system doesn’t work perfectly, but making amends to these civilians is the decent thing to do. It is befitting a nation like the US that prides itself on abiding by international laws that obligate respect for civilians (as Israel has claimed it does too).

Plenty of people have a bone to pick with Israel over this winter’s war with Hamas. And by bone I mean serious allegations linking Israeli Defense Forces to war crimes and violations of international laws governing armed conflict. All of the details have to be sorted out — the investigations, witness accounts, military records, photos and media reports. In the meantime, the UN estimates that three-quarters of the population still needs some form of aid. They’re talking about the basic stuff like food, water, shelter and healthcare.

So while the investigators press on and the applicable laws are figured out, here’s an idea: help these people.

Billions have been pledged from donor countries to help Gazans, but Israel has blocked all but a trickle from reaching across the closed borders. Hamas has played a role in the devastation too and Gazans are now being punished broadly (if not intentionally by Israel than certainly by default) for the acts of a few. Israel’s reticence comes from not wanting aid to go to people who will turn around and support Hamas; but who do they think they’re turning Gaza’s children toward by blocking life-saving aid?

If all that seems too daunting, start with the Al-Daya family.

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GUEST BLOGGER: Monitoring Human Rights in Gaza

GAZA – I trekked across the Sinai Peninsula after watching the fighting from the Armistice line for a few weeks in December and January.  Israel wouldn’t let human rights monitors into Gaza, so I decided to take my team of researchers in through Egypt once the fighting stopped.  I’ve been to Gaza twice before – in 2004 when there were still settlements there, and again in 2006 after they were removed, and I consider myself seasoned to working in war zones.  But the tragedy I faced in Gaza hit me hard.

Watching the rockets rain on Israel, and the bombs fall on Gaza I knew a humanitarian crisis loomed.  With the borders closed people were going without food, water, electricity, and most urgently – medical care.  I’ve been to many war zones, but one constant is always there – civilians bear the brunt.  But as I stood there watching the white phosphorus flames raining down on Gaza city and Beit Lahiya I could only imagine the Dante’s inferno I would find.

The Abu Halima house reeked like a fireplace.  The walls were black and sooty, the wooden beams long since turned to charcoal.  The fire inside had been so intense the electric sockets had melted.  I could only imagine what the family faced inside.  I met Sabah Abu Halima, 44, a housewife and mother of a large family, in the burn unit of the Shiffa Hospital.  She was thoroughly traumatized, laying there with her burned arms trying to grasp at her children no longer there.  Her son Ahmad had to tell me what had happened.  On January 4th an Israeli white phosphorus artillery shell pierced the roof of the house.  It decapitated Ahmad’s father and burned his three brothers and a sister to death.  Sabah and five of her family were burned in the fire and so their ordeal is not over.

In the days after the smoke cleared, the Palestinian Authority tried to pour millions into rebuilding Gaza but was thwarted.  Now some humanitarian aid has been let in and Hamas activists are handing out cash payments of $5,100 to Palestinians whose homes were destroyed.  Seventy-five countries and international organizations made pledges to give billions in reconstruction aid.  Thus far, this is an opportunity lost for Israel.  Moderate Palestinians have no reason to stay moderate.  Israel should be helping with the rebuilding, provide victim assistance and compensation, and open the border to humanitarian aid and monitors.

The stories I heard will live with me for a long time, and the suffering Israelis and Gazans endured will surely last far longer if the warring parties don’t take seriously their moral responsibility to make amends to war’s victims for their violence.

GUEST BLOGGER: Exploding Lebanon

Posted By: Jess K., traveled to Lebanon to speak with cluster munitions victims

My driver expertly navigated his way down the main street of Al Bazouriye, a small town that happens to be the ancestral home of Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, and where he lived out most of his adolescence after fleeing Beirut during this country’s civil war.

I went to Lebanon to gather testimonials of victims of cluster bombs that Israel used in its 2006 war with Hezbollah. Like many of the villages in south Lebanon, Al Bazouriye (5 miles east of the large southern city Tyre) greatly suffered from falling cluster bombs, largely in the last 72 hours of the conflict. As our car pulled up to a small café in the center of town, really more of a rundown booth with a few plastic chairs arranged outside and occupied by middle-aged men, I was told by my translator that there I could meet a fisherman from the coastal village of En Naqoura. Mohammed is a handsome man of about 35. He wore a black baseball cap with a matching polo shirt, and a pair of lightly tinted sunglasses. He told me that he used to be a fisherman and now drives a taxi. As we sipped our Turkish coffee and ate sweet cookies, Mohammed told me how he lost his hand and an ear from a cluster bomb. He said: “I was pulling in my haul, I grabbed something round, there was a flash, and I fell to the ground. Caught in the net was a cluster bomb. Something left over from 2006.” He pulled up his right sleeve revealing an arm so heavily peppered with the effects of shrapnel that the tattoo of a heart on his bicep is broken by the knotting of scars that reach all the way up to his neck. I can only imagine the difficulty of fishing with one hand.

With average failure rates as high as 25 percent, and much higher in some locations, cluster bomblets like the one Mohammed picked up failed to detonate when they were dropped. They now pose a hazard to civilians. The children here remind me of my young son, who is safely back in the US and needn’t worry if he strays while playing in the grass. In the US, we can go to work without concern that our spouse may not return for dinner because her life has been cut short by a cluster bomblet as she runs a routine errand. But these are the conditions that people in south Lebanon must live with because countries buy, sell and use these terrible weapons.

UPDATE: Shortages in funding for clearing unexploded duds in south Lebanon has forced a halt to operations. CIVIC is pressing international donors, like the United States and Israel, to provide the funding the de-miners need to continue their work. For video taken by CIVIC in Lebanon and Israel, click here. For more on the ban on cluster munitions agreed upon by 107 countries, and take action to help limit the effects of US cluster bombs, click here.

VIDEO: The Grocer

Posted By: Marla B.

During the 2006 war nearly all businesses in the north of Israel closed. Many Israelis fled their homes here, heading south staying with friends, family and even occasionally strangers willing to take them in.

In Kiryat Shmona, a town close to the Lebanese boarder, this man stayed behind and tended to one of the few grocery stores that remained open to serve its neighbors.

He tells the story here of his experience and of the war’s lasting psychological effects on him and his family.

For more on the 2006 conflict in Lebanon and Israel, and long-term aftermath, visit: http://www.civic-israel-lebanon.org/

VIDEO: Bint Jbeil, War’s Lasting Damage

Posted By: Marla B.

Perched on a hilltop overlooking a lush valley on the other side of which is Isreal, Bint Jbeil was considered a ‘Hizbollah stronghold’ during the 2006 war.

Two major battles took place there. The first began early in the morning on July 25, 2006 with heavy gun volleys between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hizbollah fighters. The fighting lasted four days. The second battle began on the evening of August 6th and lasted to August 14th, when finally a tentative ceasefire agreement was signed.

All through the town, there is no mistaking war had been here. Buildings, still in rubble, streets with pock holes from mortars and missiles. Nearly two years after the war, the town still bears its deep scars.

For more on the 2006 conflict in Lebanon and Israel, and long-term aftermath, visit: http://www.civic-israel-lebanon.org/

VIDEO: Haifa Train Depot

Posted By: Marla B.

Haifa’s train depot was the scene of the deadliest attack in Israel during the 2006 war with Hizbollah. On July 16, shortly after nine in the morning missiles rained down on the city. One directly struck the train depot killing eight workers inside.

We visited the train depot in the hopes of getting inside to interview other workers or people who had survived the missile attack. We were turned away but found a mechanic across the street who received us warmly with stout coffee and offered his eyewitness account of what happened that day.

For more on the 2006 conflict in Lebanon and Israel, and long-term aftermath, visit: http://www.civic-israel-lebanon.org/

VIDEO: Mahdi’s Story, Lebanon

Posted By: Marla B.

On a Thursday morning we left Tyre and traveled south to visit with more survivors and survey some of the other small towns. The first one we came to was Qana. Lebanese Christians believe this is where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water to wine.

Qana also has a long, sad history of conflict. Perhaps most notably in 1996, when an Israeli missile attack hit a UN tent where the townspeople had fled for safety. Israel claimed a rocket launcher had been located nearby making the tent a viable target, but more than 100 civilians died that day.

In the 2006 war, Qana was peppered with clusters throughout the town and surrounding hills. This is the story of one small survivor.

For more on the 2006 conflict in Lebanon and Israel, and long-term aftermath, visit: http://www.civic-israel-lebanon.org/