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From the field

Firing Qassam rockets at a civilian population is a war crime

From June 2004 to the end of March 2006, thirteen civilians, five of them minors, were killed by Qassam rockets that Palestinians fired into Israel and at Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. Eight of the victims were Israeli, four were Palestinian, and one a Chinese national. The rocket attacks also caused substantial property damage.

The Palestinian organizations responsible for the rocket-fire state openly that one of their aims is to kill Israeli civilians. Deliberate attacks on civilians are both immoral and illegal. The willful killing of civilians is classified as a grave breach in the Fourth Geneva Convention and as a war crime that is unjustifiable under any circumstances. Furthermore, Qassam rockets are themselves illegal, even when aimed at military objects, because the rockets are so imprecise, and thus endanger civilians situated in the area in which the rockets are fired or where they land. Therefore, the persons involved in firing the rockets violate the requirements of distinction and proportionality, which are fundamental principles of international humanitarian law.

To aggravate matters, many of the rockets are fired from, or near, areas in which civilians live. International humanitarian law prohibits attacks from inside or near the homes of civilians, and from using civilians as human shields. IHL's objective is to reduce to a minimum injury to civilians during an anticipated military response by the other side. The Palestinian organizations that carry out the attacks against Israel from within or near a populated area breach this rule; in doing so, the organizations show their indifference to the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives.

The Palestinian Authority has the duty to prevent attacks against Israeli civilians. In failing to take action to cease the rocket fire from being launched near civilian homes, the PA also breaches its duty to protect its own civilians who are not taking part in the hostilities.

The firing of Qassam rockets is illegal, and Israel has the right, and even the obligation, to protect its citizens from the attacks. However, in doing so, it must comply with international humanitarian law. The army is not permitted to consider the entire general area from which the rockets were fired as one target-area. The laws of war require the sides to direct their attacks only against specific military objects, to take cautionary measures to prevent injury to civilians, and to refrain from acts that are likely to cause incidental loss of civilian lives, when the loss is excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated.

The Palestinian Authority must do everything it can to cease the Qassam rocket fire, and the Palestinian organizations must cease attacks aimed at civilians.