Israeli human rights organization Bâ€™Tselem has issued an information sheet stating that the interpretation presented by the Israeli forces spokesperson — that it is enough for a person to be involved in a military activity to render his home and his neighborsâ€™ homes legitimate military targets without having to prove any connection between his activity and the house in which he and his family live — is unfounded and illegal.The organization added, according to WAFA Palestinian News & Info Agency’s recent report:
‘It is not a coincidence that the number of uninvolved civilians killed or injured by these bombings is growing. The law is meant to protect civilians and, unsurprisingly, violating it has lethal consequences. Euphemisms such as ‘surgical strikes’ or ‘operational infrastructure’ cannot hide the facts: illegal attacks of homes, which constitute punitive home demolition from the air, come at a dreadful cost in human life.’
The fact sheet details a discussion which would cast considerable doubt over the legality of Israelâ€™s targeting of what it claims were houses belonging to Hamas operatives.
International humanitarian law defines a military target as follows: â€ś[â€¦] military objectives are limited to 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 neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.â€ť (Article 52 (2), Protocol I Additional to the Fourth Geneva Convention)
WAFA further reports that, according to the official interpretation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, objectives which, by their nature, make an effective contribution to hostile military action â€“ such as weapon storage, military bases and communication centers used by the military â€“ are considered military targets.
However, although civilian sites may serve as military bunkers or headquarters, and accordingly become legitimate military targets, the law states that if any doubt arises as to the use of a civilian site and its effective contribution to hostile military actions, it must be considered civilian.
Attacking any such structure must provide a definite military advantage.
Although the actuality of Gaza civilian houses contributed effectively to hostile military action was in fact doubted, Israeli forces targeted them anyway.
B’Tselem defines the aim of international humanitarian law as being:
‘…to minimize harm to civilians under warfare and to restrict the warring parties… it is not open to any and all interpretations. The word of the law must be interpreted in its original spirit, in keeping with its overreaching aim: to provide maximum protection to civilians.’
According to the organization, the Israeli army spokesperson, over the course of the current operation, has changed the wording of statements concerning the bombings on Gaza, in an apparent attempt to retroactively match his reports of reality to the requirements of the law.
First statement (July 8): ‘Among the targets attacked were four homes of activists in the Hamas terror organization who are involved in terrorist activity and direct and carry out high-trajectory fire towards Israelâ€¦’.
The next day, another statement was issued which reported that the military had attacked additional homes of Hamas activists ‘which functioned as command and control infrastructure for the organization’ or as ‘a control center for advancing terrorism’.
The same evening, the spokesperson stopped reporting that homes were destroyed, stating instead that ‘the operational infrastructure of a senior Hamas functionary was attacked’.
Chris Carlson is a student of religion at Mount Mercy University, United States, and has been a regular volunteer with the IMEMC since 2013. He assisted in providing extensive coverage of the 2014 Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip and continues, into the present day, with the issues at hand. He can be reached via email at c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g.