The Sonic booms in the sky over Gaza

Published: 
1 Jan 2014

During its operation in the Gaza Strip following the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, on 26 June 2006, Israeli air force jets have carried out low-altitude sorties over the Gaza Strip in which they intentionally cause powerful sonic booms. The air force has used sonic booms a number of times since the completion of the Gaza disengagement plan. In the present operation, the air force has caused three or four sonic-boom sorties a night. Over the next five weeks, the air force flew three-four sonic-boom sorties night after night. In the end of July, the air force stopped the practice.

The sole purpose of these sorties is to prevent the residents from sleeping and to create an ongoing sense of fear and anxiety. Regarding the sonic booms, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that, "thousands of residents in southern Israel live in fear and discomfort, so I gave instructions that nobody will sleep at night in the meantime in Gaza ." The clear intention of the practice is to pressure the Palestinian Authority and the armed Palestinian organizations by harming the entire civilian population.

Children, in particular, suffer from the sonic booms. In the past, the Gaza Community Mental Health Center reported that the supersonic sorties caused fear among many children, which led to a loss of concentration, loss of appetite, bedwetting, and other disorders. The Center also reported that sonic booms caused headaches, stomach aches, shortness of breath, and other physical effects that appeared among both children and adults. Sonic booms also cause property damage, primarily shattered windows.

The use of sonic booms flagrantly breaches a number of provisions of international humanitarian law. The most significant provision is the prohibition on collective punishment. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is intended to protect civilians in time of war, categorically states that "Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited." The article also states that, "Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited." Air force supersonic sorties also breach the principle of distinction, a central pillar of humanitarian law, which forbids the warring sides to direct their attacks against civilians.

In November 2005, Physicians for Human Rights- Israel and the Gaza Community Mental Health Center appealed to Israel 's High Court of  Justice against the use of sonic booms. The appeal is still pending. PHR-Israel plans to file an additional appeal on the topic in the coming days.