In the continuity of the last article about the current Israeli dreadful siege on Gaza, this text will try to examine the way the Israeli army adopts legal tactics that supplies its supporters — how else calling these people who go out at night and sit on Sderot hills to watch the ‘show’ of the IDF bombing Gaza ? — with a narrative that only ‘a little’ of disingenuousness would transform into an argument. History has showed us that, if repeated by enough people and enough times with the same rhetoric construction (“Israel has the right to self-defense!”, “Palestinians use Human shields!”, “Only hating terrorists get their houses destroyed!”), these arguments appear to gain a certain legitimacy both at the national and international scale. How else could have this deadly apartheid situation continued otherwise?
In September 2013, I wrote an article entitled “Law as a Colonial Weapon,” about the way the IDF has made use of its legal corps to legally organize and justify the occupation of Palestinian territories. The techniques described in it (mostly thanks to Ra’anan Alexandrowicz‘s fim, The Law in these Parts) mostly applies to East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the withdrawal of all Israeli bodies and settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005. This article therefore constitutes a short examination about the way the law is also used as a weapon in Gaza; in this case, as a military siege one. Before starting my argumentation, I feel compelled to say that I will be using the Israeli army’s terminology to make a point about its legal tactics, but we should remain very careful about all discursive hints that would legitimize the very process of “targeted assassinations” without due trial conducted by the State of Israel on territories that it controls.
The most important problem that the IDF’s legal corps have to solve when wanting to justify the death of hundreds of civilians in their strikes against Palestinian “combatants,” consists in finding ways to transform the status of these civilians into an ambiguous legal position where they would be considered as somehow accomplices with the “combatants.” The logic of geographical proximity is often used, just like for the American drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen (see past article): it consists in affirming that bodies living in the direct surroundings of one or several “terrorists” are necessary involved with them. This is where the Israeli myth of “Human shields” appear (I heard it myself in Israel from people who are said to politically leans toward the left!). “Terrorists” would use civilians to protect themselves from strikes and these same civilians would be considered as “collateral damage” (we should stop on the true signification of such a phrase often used by the military). Gaza is an extremely dense territory (4,603 bodies per square kilometers on the entire strip), which makes this argument difficult to carry (disingenuousness has however no limits!).
The IDF thus use a more elaborated military tactic to intervene within the legal realm. Whoever reads articles in the Western press about the on-going siege on Gaza must be familiar with it, since such a press is always eager to be part of the legitimization process. The tactic entitled “knock on roof” constitutes in the firing of a small explosive rocket on the roof of a house, thus warning its inhabitants of the imminent destruction of the building by a more explosive bomb. The video presented above (thank you Shela) is illustrative of this process. The video starts with the warning shot and ends, 58 seconds later with the destruction of the concerned house and probably some others around. The title of the video insists on the extremely short time that is imparted to Palestinians to evacuate their house. This aspect of the problem should definitely be considered, however, claiming that more time should be given would be arguing within a system that is profoundly illegitimate and we should therefore refrain ourselves from doing so.
As shown by the operative research council Forensic Architecture (whose work is absolutely crucial in the field of architecture) in their investigation of an Israeli drone strike in Gaza in January 2009 (see video below), the rationale behind the “knock on roof” tactic consists in demonstrating that the warning transforms the legal status of a given population. In other words, bodies who would have not evacuated their house — or did not evacuate fast enough as we saw above — can be considered as legitimate “collateral damage” from a legal military stand point. We could discuss on the ambiguity of the way the warning is addressed (is receiving a small rocket on one’s house’s roof really universal language to say “get out of the house” ?), we could also write a philosophical treatise of the “coup de semonce” (warning shot), yet, once again, it would divert from the real problem that is the manipulation of the status of civilian that can only be affected by the civilian’s actions themselves. In other words, there is nothing an army can possibly do to change the legal status of a population it attacks, only the civilians’ behaviors (that does not involve staying in their own house) can change it. What this means is that the warning does not change anything to the fact that each killing of civilians is a war crime that should be imputed to the attacking army. The use of disingenuous legal arguments is however fundamental to the actions of the Israeli army as the only thing that prevents an intervention from the international community seems to occur at the discursive level: as long as there would be arguments that vaguely appear as legitimate, there will be a more or less explicit support to the State of Israel’s policies and military operations against Palestinians civilians.
Video by Forensic Architecture: Case study no. 4: Beit Lahiya, Gaza, January 9, 2009 ///
ADDENDUM: Additional articles about the “Knock on Roof” tactic:
– “Knock, Knock…Bomb” by Craig Jones on War, Law, Space (July 11, 2014)
– “Gaza Bombings: Lethal Warnings” by Eyal Weizman on Al Jazeera (July 14, 2014)