Rocket and mortar fire into Israel

Published: 
1 Jan 2011
Updated: 
17 Apr 2013

Rocket and mortar fire as a war crime

Palestinian organizations that fire rockets and mortar shells into Israel openly declare that they intend to strike Israeli civilians, among other targets. Aiming attacks at civilians is both immoral and illegal, and the intentional killing of civilians is defined a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a war crime that cannot be justified, under any circumstance. Furthermore, the rockets and mortar shells are illegal weapons, even when aimed at military objects, as they are greatly imprecise and endanger civilians present both in the area from which they are fired and where they land, thus violating two fundamental principles of the laws of war: distinction and proportionality.

In a significant number of cases, Palestinians have fired the rockets and mortar shells from civilian residential areas. International humanitarian law (IHL) prohibits attacks from inside or near the homes of civilians, and using civilians as human shields. Palestinian organizations that choose to carry out attacks against communities in Israel from within or near populated areas breach this rule, and in doing so, demonstrate not only their intention to harm Israeli civilians, but also indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians.

The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip must do everything in its power to stop the rocket and mortar fire, and the Palestinian organizations must cease attacks aimed at civilians, in particular when they are carried out from populated Palestinian areas. The government is responsible for the breaches of international humanitarian law, due to its failure to take sufficient action to stop the firing from areas close to civilian homes, and even more so, as it actively takes part in these attacks. The persons involved in these breaches are guilty of war crimes and bear individual criminal responsibility for their acts. 

An Israeli police officer extinguishes a burning car after a Qassam rocket attack in Sderot. Photo: Amir Cohen, Reuters, 19 May 2007.
An Israeli police officer extinguishes a burning car after a Qassam rocket attack in Sderot. Photo: Amir Cohen, Reuters, 19 May 2007. 

Data

B'Tselem’s research indicates that, from June 2004 to 17 April 2013, 24 Israeli civilians (four of them minors) and one foreign national were killed in Israel by Palestinian rocket and mortar fire. In addition, five soldiers were killed, three in Israel and two in the Gaza Strip. Another Israeli civilian and three foreign nationals were killed by rocket fire at settlements in the Gaza Strip, before they were evacuated. Palestinian rocket fire also killed at least ten Palestinians (seven of them minors).One Israeli civilian (a minor inIsrael) and one soldier (in the Gaza Strip) were killed by an anti-tank missile fire.

A total of 44 persons have been killed by rocket and mortar fire, and two persons have been killed by anti-tank missiles.

According to the Israel Security Agency reports, in 2013 (until 31 March 2013), Palestinian organizations fired 15  rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, compared with 2,157 rockets and 175 mortar shells that were fired in all of 2012 (most of them during operation "Pillar of Defense"). For multi-year details  (Data source: ISA website)

 

Year
Rockets
Mortar Shells
2013 15
-
2012 2,157
175
 2011 418
258
2010   146
211
 2009  566
287
 2008  2,048
1,672
 2007  1,276
1,531
 2006  1,722
55
2005  401 
858