Mobile text message, call or warning shot: The Israeli army uses the controversial “roof knocking” technique in some of its bombardments on Gaza to ask civilians to evacuate before an imminent attack and thus protect themselves against possible charges
On Saturday afternoon, in the Palestinian enclave blocked by Israel for almost 15 years, Jawad Mehdi, owner of a commercial building that houses international media offices, receives a call from an Israeli official.
On the phone, he is asked in Arabic to organize the evacuation of the building within an hour. The owner tries to negotiate an additional term. The conversation drags on. The 13-story tower, evacuated in panic, is pulverized an hour later.
The Israeli army, which invented the “roof knocking”, baptized “hakesh bagag” in Hebrew since 2009 and adopted in 2016 by the US military in Iraq, introduced this warning firing technique – extended to calls, messages or even the launch of brochures- in his war communication.
But according to human rights NGOs, the warning does not relieve the “attacking forces” of their responsibility under international humanitarian law.
In 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli army boasted of having issued nearly 165,000 warning calls to Gaza from military intelligence headquarters, often prerecorded messages in Arabic.
Since then, cameras have been installed under the cockpits and the military regularly broadcasts videos showing the technique “in action.”
“We sent a small, empty missile to hit the roof and let civilians know they have to evacuate the building. We remain under observation to make sure they leave, ”an Israeli military aviation official told AFP, who demanded anonymity. “When we have the greatest possible certainty about the evacuation of the building, we shoot,” he says.
While this protocol official is primarily referring to “moral reasons”, prompting the army to limit “collateral damage to civilians”, Israel also intends to protect itself against potential charges.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened an investigation for alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories, in particular during the 2014 Gaza war.
The Israeli military prosecution is included in the development of some of these warning protocols.
Mohamad al Hadidi wonders why he never received that call last Saturday, when his wife and four of their five children were killed in an Israeli bombardment of a building in the Al Shati camp, where the family was spending the night. “What have we done to deserve to be bombed, without any warning, without being asked to evacuate?”
The army did not provide figures on the number of “roof knockings” since the beginning, on May 10, of the military escalation with Hamas, a movement in power in Gaza.
“We have directed more than 1,000 attacks. When it comes to infrastructure, we can use this technique, but not when it comes to the elimination of terrorists”, says the head of military aviation.
In the bombing that killed Mohamad al Hadidi’s family, the army claims to have targeted “Hamas commanders” who were in an apartment.
Palestinians who experienced this strange interaction with the enemy describe the tension, stress and even the trauma left by these few minutes in which their survival is at stake. They describe what they were able to take or had to leave before running off.
For Amnesty International, “issuing a warning does not absolve the attacking forces of their obligations under international humanitarian law towards civilians,” its spokesperson for the region, Sara Hashash, told AFP.
“In many cases, the basic warning elements are lacking, such as the time of the attack, the places to go to safety or the guarantee of a safe and timely evacuation,” he explains.
In the case of the launch of an empty missile on the roof, families may also think that it is a false alarm or that the attack is over, the NGO explained in a report in 2014.
“There were cases of deadly attacks, launched very shortly after the warning to civilians,” estimates the regional spokeswoman.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.