‘You Can’t Knock on Their Door’: Israel Strikes Some Gaza Targets Without Checking for Civilians in Real Time

Two weeks since the air force attack in Deir el-Balah that killed nine members of the Sawarkah family, who were living in a structure that the army had defined as an Islamic Jihad “terror infrastructure,” the Israel Defense Forces are still investigating why the green light to bomb the building wasn’t based on updated information.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 50

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 50Haaretz

But an inquiry conducted by Haaretz shows that this conduct isn’t unusual. According to sources in the defense establishment, the IDF often bombs terror targets in Gaza that were included in its target bank long before the strike without checking in real time whether there are civilians at the site or whether the site has been converted into residences.

The IDF is continuing to claim that the structure bombed was an Islamic Jihad “training installation.” Security sources familiar with the incident say it wasn’t a family home, but shacks with embankments and surrounding fences typical of a training compound. However, a photo of the structure from 10 months ago obtained by Haaretz shows the site had one small shack surrounded by a torn fence that allowed free access and that there were no embankments. On the other hand, there were also no visible items of the type associated with a family dwelling or the presence of children.

After it was revealed that the information on the structure was not updated before it was bombed, the army argued that it had done another check a few days before the bombing. However, the last check dealt with the conditions for a strike and the restrictions imposed on it – but the building’s situation and updated intelligence information were not checked. The family’s neighbors say that in recent years the building was occupied by civilians.

Southern Command head Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi said this week, “Such things can happen. We weren’t surprised by it, while on the other hand this was not a result that we wanted.” In an interview with Army Radio, Halevi repeated the claims that the compound “served Islamic Jihad for several rounds of clearly military activity,” and said, “We act meticulously.”

He added, “We know [how] to attack slowly and more carefully, but our job is to look at the entire equation. If we attack slowly and act too carefully, it’s liable to harm us. The dilemma is between the residents of the south and the residents of Gaza. If you know that you are living near terror infrastructure, then leave the area when the escalation starts.”

A security source said that if the army classifies a place as “terror infrastructure” there are very few restrictions on attacking it, especially if it’s in an agricultural region or distant from a residential area. He said the assumption is that there are not meant to be civilians in military installations and that those harmed will be terror operatives staying in the site. “Targets like a warehouse for weapons aren’t always checked [again] by the IDF before an attack; there’s no way for the IDF to check that,” he said. “You can’t knock on their door.”