Tuesday, December 19, 2006
We regret that our press release below (“OPT: Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks”) gave many readers the impression that we were criticizing civilians for engaging in nonviolent resistance. This was not our intention. It is not the policy of the organization to criticize non-violent resistance or any other form of peaceful protest, including civilians defending their homes. Rather, our focus is on the behavior of public officials and military commanders because they have responsibilities under international law to protect civilians.
It has also become clear to us that we erred in assessing the main incident described in the press release. We said that the planned IDF attack on the house of a military commander in the Popular Resistance Committee, Muhammadwail Barud, fell within the purview of the law regulating the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict. We criticized Barud for reportedly urging civilians to assemble near the house in order to prevent the attack, in apparent violation of that law. Our focus was not on the civilians who assembled, their state of mind, or their behavior (such as whether they willingly assembled or not), but on Barud for risking the lives of civilians.
We have since concluded that we were wrong, on the basis of the available evidence, to characterize the IDF’s planned destruction of the house as an act of war. If the planned attack against the house – a three-story building housing three families - was, in fact, an administrative action by the Israeli government aimed at punishing a militant for his alleged activities, the law regulating the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict would not apply and could not be violated.
An important consideration in this regard is whether the IDF had reason to believe that the house was being used for military purposes at the time of the planned attack. To date, Human Rights Watch has not obtained conclusive evidence as to whether the house was being so used, but eyewitnesses we have been able to speak with, including two journalists on the scene, claim they saw no such evidence. The IDF, moreover, has not responded to our requests to explain what military objective it could have had in targeting not a militant but his home after having ordered it vacated.
We recognize that it is important to view the planned destruction of Barud’s house in light of Israel’s longstanding policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, sharply increased in Gaza since June, of demolishing houses not as legitimate military targets but as a punitive measure. HRW has repeatedly criticized Israel for unlawful demolition of houses.