Israel's obligations in responding to rocket and mortar fire

Published: 
1 Jan 2011

Under international humanitarian law, a breach by one side does not allow the adversary to relate to the entire area from which the rocket and mortar fire is launched as a legitimate military target.  Although Israel has the right, and even the obligation, to protect its citizens from rocket and mortar attacks, it must do so by using means that comport with the requirements of international humanitarian law. The laws of war require the sides to direct their attacks only against specific military objects, to use means of warfare that cause harm proportionate to the purpose, location, and nature of the object, 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.

Therefore, B'Tselem calls on the prime minister and the minister of defense to order the IDF to take all means of caution necessary to prevent injury to Palestinian civilians in the IDF's response to rocket and mortar fire, and to ensure that the military action comports with international humanitarian law. Failing to do so, they and the relevant military echelon also might be held personally responsible for the commission of war crimes.