Violence has gone on too long – we have lost all hope by Raji Sourani

16/07/2014
Press release
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Raji Sourani, former FIDH Vice President and Director of PCHR, wrote an op-ed which was published in the Independent (Ireland).

Once again the Gaza Strip is subject to intense attack from Israeli forces. Once again it is the civilian population who 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. Israel is deploying the ‘Gaza doctrine’, a policy with its roots in the Dahiya doctrine first witnessed in the 2006 Lebanon war, but subsequently refined in the Gaza Strip.

The purpose of the Gaza doctrine is straightforward: to cause suffering and terror amongst the civilian population in order 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 shook 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 subsequently targeted and destroyed, anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes later, or sometimes even longer.

How is the destruction of these homes justified?

The law of armed conflict states clearly that only fighters and military objectives may be targeted. Civilians and civilian objects are protected from direct attack. Military 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 neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.’

The law of armed conflict does permit the targeting of fighters. As such, it is possible that a house may be targeted in order to target the fighters contained within (of course, it must still be subject to the requirement of proportionality). However, Israel has consistently issued warnings before an attack is launched, ensuring that no fighters are present.

A home may also be targeted if it is being used to ‘make an effective contribution to military action’; i.e. if it is being used to store weapons or as a base from which attacks are launched. However, in the overwhelming majority of cases documented by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, we have not found evidence that homes have been used to either store weapons (demonstrated by secondary explosions) or as a base from which to launch attacks (determined through interviews with neighbours and witnesses). If a home does not satisfy these criteria then it is not a military objective and cannot be attacked. Significantly, the law of armed conflict clearly states that: ‘In case of doubt whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed not to be so used.’

A home cannot qualify as a military objective just because it is owned by a fighter.

Simply put, there is no military necessity justifying the destruction of these homes: it is straightforwardly illegal to target civilian objects. In fact it is a war crime. Issuing a warning does not change this fact: it remains illegal to attack a home.

The only conclusion we can draw is that these are punitive house demolitions, and it is significant that Israel has resumed its policy of punitive house demolitions in the West Bank in recent weeks.

This is why we are forced to conclude that Israel has revitalised the Dahiya doctrine, and refined it for use in Gaza.

If the objective is to cause terror it is working. The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. These homes that are targeted are not isolated. They are in the middle of densely populated residential areas. Even if one home is targeted, many others will inevitably be affected. This is why the rate of civilian casualties is so high. As of Monday, 14 July, PCHR has documented 162 deaths, including 137 civilians. That is a rate of almost 85% civilian casualties.

The reason is simple: you cannot drop a one tonne bomb in a residential area without causing catastrophic damage to any civilians or civilian objects nearby.

In the face of this reality, what is our demand? It is not extravagant, or unreasonable. We want to be treated as equals. We want our rights to be respected, and protected. We ask that international law be applied, equally, to Israel and Palestine, to Israelis and Palestinians. The rule of international law must be respected, and all those responsible for violations of international law must be held to account.

We demand the rule of law.

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