It is a war crime to target densely packed Gaza homes
The ‘Gaza doctrine’ of collective punishment and deliberately spreading terror among civilians is illegal
Palestinians evacuate a building after what witnesses said were warning Israeli air strikes next to their homes in Gaza City yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Finbarr O’Reilly
Once again the Gaza Strip is subject to intense attack from Israeli forces. As of yesterday the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has documented 593 killed, among them 483 civilians – 151 children, 82 women – and 3,197 injured. Among the injured are 926 children and 641 women, although this does not include the figures for the border areas or the Shejeia area.
Once again it is the civilian population which is targeted, deliberately brought into the eye of the storm.
Everyone in the Gaza Strip is exhausted, worried and terrified. This is as Israel intended. We believe that Israel is deploying the “‘Gaza doctrine”, a policy with its roots in the Dahiya doctrine first witnessed in the 2006 Lebanon war, and subsequently refined in the Gaza Strip.
The purpose of the Gaza doctrine is straightforward: disproportionate force is used to cause terror among the civilian population to exert political pressure on the authorities in Gaza.
This policy of collective punishment, of deliberately causing terror, is unequivocally illegal but it is all too real.
This policy is evident in the intense bombardment of the Gaza Strip that preceded the start of the current offensive. For two weeks following the tragic kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, open areas in the Gaza Strip were subject to intense bombardment. There is no military advantage to be acquired from the targeting of empty fields or desolate places. The purpose was instead to demonstrate Israel’s force and presence. We could not sleep. We were constantly shaken by the thundering impact of one-tonne bombs.
However, the most obvious illustration of this policy in practice has been the widespread targeting of the homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters. These homes are typically targeted in two phases whereby a “warning” is issued to the house in question so that it may be evacuated. This warning takes the form of either a dud missile (termed “roof knocking”) or a phone call. The house is then targeted and destroyed, anywhere from five to 15 minutes later or sometimes even longer.
How is the destruction of these homes justified?
The law of armed conflict states that only combatants and military objectives may be targeted. Civilians and civilian objects are protected from direct attack.
DestructionMilitary objectives are “those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralisation, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage”.
The law of armed conflict permits the targeting of combatants. As such, in principle it is possible that a house may be targeted to target the combatants contained within ( this attack is still subject to the requirement of proportionality). However, Israel has consistently issued warnings before an attack is launched, ensuring that no combatants are present.