Programs: Science and Policy
AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program
Lebanon: Destruction in Civilian Areas
Case Study Report
At the request of Amnesty International, AAAS undertook a review of destruction in Lebanon and Israel using satellite imagery analysis. The study comes after the 2006 conflict between the two countries left nearly 1,200 Lebanese and 39 Israelis dead. Based on the three before and after image sets AAAS obtained of areas in Lebanon, extensive destruction could be seen, corroborating Amnesty International's reports of shelling in parts of the country. Due to US government restrictions on the sale of high-resolution satellite imagery of Israel to the public, AAAS was unable to conduct a review of damage to that country.
On July 12, 2006, the Lebanese political and paramilitary group Hezbollah killed eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two. Earlier in the morning, they had launched Katyusha rockets and mortars on the northern Israeli town of Shlomi. Israel responded by bombing Hezbollah posts and other areas in southern Lebanon and demanded the release of the two soldiers and the disarmament of Hezbollah. Hezbollah offered to exchange the soldiers for a large number of Lebanese, Palestinian, and other Arab prisoners currently held in Israel. These actions set off over a month of bloody attacks that left Southern Lebanon and large parts of Beirut devastated, and damaged parts of Northern Israel. Human Rights Watch reported that nearly 1,200 Lebanese and 39 Israelis had been killed, the vast majority of whom were civilians, and nearly half a million Lebanese and thousands of Israelis had fled their homes. The human rights organization established that both sides had violated international law in their indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and reported that Israel's targeting of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure and its indiscriminate use of cluster munitions throughout Southern Lebanon had violated international humanitarian law.
Amnesty International asked the AAAS Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights project to attain images of damage to civilian infrastructure in both Northern Israel and Southern Lebanon. Amnesty International published a brief report examining whether destruction of civilian areas was deliberate or just a matter of "collateral damage."
II. Methods and Technologies
As the conflict between Lebanon and Israel unfolded, project staff found it challenging to keep up with and sort through large amounts of information and numerous ground reports of destruction. The access to instant real-time information detailing a modern conflict can easily overwhelm analysis efforts and confound the ability to use imagery analysis quickly as a means of corroborating reports. Thus, it became clear that limiting the focus of the study to specific areas of destruction was necessary.
Project staff collected images from DigitalGlobe's Quickbird satellite for three areas of interest inside Lebanon: the city of Beirut and the towns of Sayda and Bint Jbeil. Imagery analysis was used to help corroborate reports by Amnesty International delegates documenting attacks. By obtaining before-and-after image sets, AAAS visually documented sites where human rights violations involving housing and infrastructure destruction have taken place. Figure 1 below shows the three areas of interest for this study along with the dates of images that were used.
Although Amnesty International had requested imagery analysis of damage to towns in Israel attacked by Hezbollah, AAAS was unable to acquire imagery of northern Israel, as its quality is degraded in accordance with the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997, Pub. Law No. 104-201, 110 Stat. 2422 (Sept. 23, 1996), at Div. A, Title X, Subtitle F, Section 1064, 110 Stat. 2653 (15 U.S.C. § 5621 note): Prohibition on Collection and Release of Detailed Satellite Imagery Relating to Israel. This amendment to the 1997 Defense Authorization Act prohibits private companies from selling high resolution satellite imagery of locations in Israel.
AAAS acquired two images of Beirut City, Lebanon. The first image was acquired June 19, 2006 and the second, showing extensive destruction of the city, is from August 12, 2006, after the bombings. Project staff also acquired images of destruction in Bint Jbeil, a town in the south of Lebanon, showing destruction of the central market and commercial area, and where Amnesty International delegates reported evidence of air-delivered munitions, artillery shelling and cluster bomb damage. These images can also be seen on the Amnesty International website. Images of Lebanon from this project are available as Google Earth Layers.
Area 1: Beirut City
|Figure 1A: June 19, 2006||Figure 1B: August 12, 2006|
|Figure 2A: June 19, 2006||Figure 2B: August 12, 2006|
Area 2: Sayda
|Figure 3A: June 21, 2005||Figure 3B: July 22, 2006|
Area 3: Bint Jbeil
|Figure 4A: May 16, 2006||Figure 4B: August 9, 2006|
AAAS found extensive destruction in the three areas of Lebanon it surveyed. In particular, imagery of the Bint Jbeil area in southern Lebanon showed damage to the central market and commercial area, where Amnesty International had reported artillery shelling. Despite restrictions on satellite imagery of Israel, project staff are working on attaining any useable imagery for towns attacked by Hezbollah, such as Haifa, Kiryat Shmona, Ma'alot, Nahariya, Karmiel, Safed, and others.
V. Further Resources
See Amnesty International's August 2006 report, "Lebanon: Deliberate destruction or 'collateral damage'? Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure."
- Images from this study were used by the BBC in its reporting
of events in Lebanon. CBSNews has two photoessays of images of
"Crisis in Lebanon" and
"Lebanon Border Raids."
A Google Earth layer of the results of this study can be found here.
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(page updated 3/19/2010)