Appeal to Israeli Attorney General’s Office: “Prior Warning” Policy Doesn’t Justify Destroying Homes

Palestinians inspect a building destroyed in the early morning by an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, 28 July 2006. (MaanImages/Hatem Omar)

“Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

— Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention

On Sunday, 30 July 2006, PCHR addressed the appeal department at the Israeli attorney general office concerning the policy of informing about the intention of Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) to destroy Palestinian houses shortly before the destruction takes place, expressing its protest to this policy.

PCHR attached three conclusions to its letter concerning informing Palestinians before their houses were destroyed by warplanes:

1. The short time, less than one hour, offered by IOF to Palestinians to evacuate their houses before they are destroyed deprives these Palestinians of their right to take legal steps to appeal against the destruction of their houses.

2. The short time offered by IOF, when they inform families by phone that their houses would be destroyed, does not allow these families to take their belongings out. These houses do not pose a direct threat against Israel or its occupation forces. Additionally, the destruction of these houses is an imminent military necessity that can never be postponed, especially as warplanes are employed to destroy houses, thus raising questions concerning the real goal of destroying those houses without offering their owners enough time to vacate them. It is worth noting that Israel has sent dozens of warnings to demolish houses, causing confusion and pressure on the Palestinian civilian population.

3. The destruction of houses is based on intelligence reports, which can be inaccurate or out of date and often do not justify attacks on civilians and their property. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the destruction of real or personal property, “except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.” The legal interpretation of this article implies that the destruction of houses or any other civilian facility can only take place during military operations or clashes, only if such houses or facilities pose direct threats to the occupying power’s troops and there is no means to prevent a security threat other than attacking such houses or civilian facilities. These conditions are not met with regard to houses located away from areas of clashes, and additionally, these houses never threat the security of Israel and its troops.

PCHR also pointed out that IOF do not hesitate to harm innocent civilians and attack their property, even though the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits harming civilians or attacking their property. PCHR further expressed deep concerns over the destruction of multi-storey buildings, where many people live, by Israel depending on intelligence reports, without allowing families to vacate their houses or appealing against the destruction itself.

IOF have practiced the policy of informing Palestinians by phone of their intention to destroy houses shortly before the actual destruction of houses takes place since 23 July 2006. Since that day, IOF have destroyed 10 houses using this method. In all cases, Israel has not provided any evidence that could justify the destruction of those houses. Since the beginning of the current Palestinian Intifada, IOF have destroyed thousands of Palestinian houses.

It is worth noting that the demand submitted by PCHR is a preliminary one before referring to the Israeli High Court, in an attempt to achieve justice and reparation for the Palestinian civilian population.

Related Links

  • The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
  • BY TOPIC: Israel invades Gaza (27 June 2006)