Prior warning does not justify targeting civilian property

A Palestinian inspects the damage after the Israeli withdrawal from Maghazi refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip, July 22, 2006. (MaanImages/Thaeer al-Hassany)

“I received a call to my mobile from a person who identified himself as an Israeli intelligence officer called Danny. He told me that I have one hour to evacuate my house without telling me the reason.” Mohammad Izzedeen El-Sheikh Deeb, Gaza - El-Naser Quarter, 23 July 2006.

“I was sitting in front of my house when I received a call an anonymous person who said that he is from the Israeli army. He told me that I have to evacuate my house immediately because it will be bombarded in a few minutes. He did not give my any chance to inquire.” Omar Mohammad El-Mamlouk, Gaza - Shejaeya Quarter, 24 July 2006.

“My brother’s wife woke me up in a hurry with a terrified look on her face. She told me that her husband received a call from someone who identified himself as from Israeli intelligence. He asked him to leave the house immediately as it will be bombarded shortly.” Salah Saleh El-Sha’er, Khan Yunis - Qiezan El-Najjar, 25 July 2006.

On 23 July 2006, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) started to implement a new policy of warning civilians shortly before bombarding their houses, giving them a notice of no more than one hour. IOF consider these warnings a justification to carry out the bombardments. This policy is a development of a practice perpetrated by IOF several times during attacks on several towns in the Gaza Strip. During these attacks, IOF warned town residents, through leaflets dropped by planes, against staying in their homes located in areas where IOF were conducting military operations. The leaflet read:

To the Residents of the Gaza Strip

Due to the continuation of terrorist operations and the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces will escalate their operations against the storing areas of arms and military equipment and against the elements and bases of terrorism who are exposing the lives of the residents of Gaza and Israel to danger.

Do the residents of the Gaza Strip have to pay a heavy and continuous price for the actions of those purporting to solve the Palestinian issue?

They are practically causing losses of all resources under false slogans and “true promises” similar to the promises of Nasrallah to the Lebanese people and the promises of Hamas to the Palestinian people.

Israeli Defense Forces Command

PCHR’s preliminary investigation indicates that on 23-25 July 2006, three Palestinian families received telephone calls from parties that identified themselves as Israeli intelligence, telling members of these families to evacuate their houses immediately because IOF intend to bombard them. The families that received warnings and whose houses were bombarded are:
  • Family of Mohammad Izzedeen El-Sheikh Deeb (31) from Naser Quarter in Gaza City. The house consisted of four stories and housed 45 people, including 25 children. It was bombed by three rockets from an attack helicopter. The ground floor was destroyed, and the other floors were damaged.
  • Family of Omar Mohammad El-Mamlouk (44) from Shejaeya Quarter in Gaza City. The house consisted of 2 stories and housed 19 people, including eight children. It was bombed by a fighter jet, and was totally destroyed. Nearby houses suffered damages.
  • Family of Salah Saleh El-Sha’er (48) from Qiezan El-Najjar area in Khan Yunis. The house consisted of 3 stories and housed 40 people, including 28 children. It was bombed by a fighter jet, and was totally destroyed. Nearby houses suffered damages. In addition, several neighbors were injured.

    Statements by the residents of the destroyed houses indicate that they were not given the chance to take their belongings outside their houses before the Israeli bombardment. The time given by IOF was no more than one hour. Thus, they could not take out all their personal belongings and furniture.

    The targeted houses were not located in confrontation areas, or in areas used to fire rockets. They were distributed in different parts of the Gaza Strip. In addition, they were multi-story apartment structures. The destruction caused fear among the civilian population. These bombardments are a flagrant violation of article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that it is prohibited for the occupying power to destroy private property of individuals, groups, state, public authority, or social and cooperative organizations except if military operations deem it an unavoidable necessity. The legal interpretation of this article sets the following criteria for targeting a civilian installation:

  • the destruction during military operations;
  • the installation poses a direct danger to soldiers of the occupying power; and
  • destruction is the only remaining option to avoid the security threat.

    These criteria do not fit the cases in which IOF bombed civilian houses. It is noted that International Humanitarian Law obliges armed forced to issue a prior warning of attacks if conditions permit as such. But even after issuing the warning, these forces must take all possible precautions to avoid loss of civilian life. These precautions include canceling the attack if it is clear that the target is civilian in nature, or if there is no proportionality between the loss of civilian life and the expected military benefit.

    PCHR seriously views the IOF policy of warning resident of civilian houses, and taking this policy as a justification for damaging civilian property, especially since these houses are inhabited by civilians protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

    Related Links

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