More on the ‘attack’ on the UNWRA school

January 11, 2009

Here is the latest from Ha’aretz on the Jabilya school incident:

The probe, which was conducted by the Paratrooper Brigade whose troops were responsible for the area, found that the army’s location system to pinpoint launch sites indicated that militants had launched a Qassam rocket into Israel from within a yard adjacent to the courtyard of the UN building.

The troops had intended to launch a smart missile to take out the Palestinian launch team but a technical malfunction made this impossible, according to the probe. The commanders of the force instead decided to fire on the Qassam team with mortar shells equipped with a Global Positioning System for accurate fire.

However, the GPS element has an error margin of 30 meters and one of the three rounds fired by the paratrooper force slammed into the building owned by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA.

Two of the rounds hit the yard used to launch rockets into Israel, killing two members of Hamas’ military wing who probably belonged to the squad that fired the rockets.

It would appear, then, that the attack was lawful under the Law of Armed Conflict, viz:

Targeting Objects. The LOAC specifically describes objects that shall not be the targets of a direct attack. Reflecting the rule that military operations must be directed at military objectives, objects normally dedicated to peaceful purposes enjoy a general immunity from direct attack. Specific protection applies to medical units or establishments; transports of wounded and sick personnel; military and civilian hospital ships; safety zones established under the Geneva Conventions; and religious, cultural, and charitable buildings, monuments, and POW camps. However, if these objects are used for military purposes, they lose their immunity. If these protected objects are located near lawful military objectives (which LOAC prohibits), they may suffer collateral damage when the nearby military objectives are lawfully engaged.


  1. You seem to be having a lot of fun recounting all the military stuff.

    Why is it so hard for you to register or verbalise any regret whatsoever about what the Israeli barrage has meant to innocent and defenceless people in Gaza?

  2. Why is it so hard for you to register or verbalise any regret whatsoever about what years of Palestinian rocket barrages, dozens of suicide attacks and decades of terrorism have meant to the innocent and defenceless people of Israel?

    Cheap shot, I know, but I’m tired and ratty.

  3. Because Israel started the war, always renews it and is the more powerful, destructive aggressor. It revels in Palestinian deaths.

  4. Hamas started this war by refusing to renew the hudna and firing scores of rockets into Israel. Even Egypt warned them not to. Hamas could have stopped the war at any time by committing to ending the rocket fire into Israel.The Arabs started exterminationary wars against Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973. And it is the Palestinians who endlessly chant, ‘We love death more than you love life’. There is no doubt who revels in death.

    I’m getting very tired of your trolling. Do you never have anything useful or interesting to say?

  5. I am talking about the foundation of Israel.

    Why do you need to be constantly entertained?

  6. I think you need to go.

  7. yeah, because you’ve lost the argument.

  8. You didn’t engage in an argument.

  9. I thought Peter Kemp was a lawyer? Not a lot of lawyerly ratiocination evident in this exchange. Just the usual emotional bias.

  10. These guys, lawyers and academics say it for me AC, from the London Times, letters to, thereof, in part (I’m too busy right now with common criminals and the law of NSW to hit the books/refresh memory on international/human rights law):

    The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire.

    For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. And yet in 2005-8, according to the UN, the Israeli army killed about 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it.

    Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.

    Is that too “emotional” for you AC?

  11. Link to the Times letter, sorry I forgot:


  12. Any comment on the booby-trapped school, Peter?

  13. Look here, Kemp, emotive accounts of the effects of military violence can be listed for both sides. See Rob’s earlier post on the people suffering in Israel at present. (Provided as a token effort to counter the flood of bias in the other direction).

    My point is you only believe there’s a case to be made that the Palestinians have suffered and that the Israelis are culpable in all cases. I do hope you practice law with a little more intellectual rigour and calm ratiocination!

  14. Rob, that thread is closed,albeit temporarily, so I’ll just make one more point re the “test”

    I agree. ‘Reasonable in all the circumstances’ is the test that should apply, as you suggest.

    Keeping in mind that the test for legality, ie “reasonable in all the circumstances”, is objective and applied by a tribunal of fact (jury or judge) not by the defendant at the time of the conduct (whose beliefs, however strong/valid can only be subjective by definition.)

    Until it gets into court, a defendant’s belief, reasonable or not, in performing certain conduct is subjective and untested. Hence the need for extreme caution, playing devil’s advocate is mandatory in decision making of that kind.

    While a defendant’s subjective analysis can be validated by a tribunal of fact as satisfying the objective test; saying at the time “I had a reasonable belief what I did was legal” doesn’t automatically make it so.

    (Sorry if that appears to be pedantic.)

    AC re:

    you only believe there’s a case to be made that the Palestinians have suffered and that the Israelis are culpable in all cases.

    Where exactly have I said Israel is “culpable in all cases”? That’s an inference you are not entitled to draw as I have consistently said and will say again that Hamas actions re rockets is also an obscenity. Innocent Israeli citizens have also suffered, that’s a given. The argument I advance, which you have not responded to satisfactorily, if at all, always returns to proportionality, a common thread in the LOAC and Geneva Conventions.

    In this case of Gaza, now, Israel is culpable of disproportionate response, and there’s legal argument as I posted above to support that assertion.I’m not advancing the case that at every level, across all avenues of International law that Israel is wrong or always wrong. They are not wrong in responding,for example, it’s a question of how they respond.

    Accusing me of “emotional bias” is not a counter argument of substance to my argument BTW.

  15. I think we can civilly disagree about the war as a whole being a disproportionate response. By the same token, I am not suggesting that Israel by abiding by the letter of the LOAC could escape condemnation in all cases.

    For example, it has been reported that Hamas’ main command centre is in an underground bunker bunker beneath Gaza’s largest hospital. I suppose technically Israel could bomb it to bits on the grounds that it was not an ‘immune object’ under the LOAC. But to do so knowing that hundreds of patients were in the hospital and would be killed or injured would be grossly ‘disproportionate’ – certainly in moral terms, and I would think also legal.

    The IDF’s then-current state of knowledge must form part of the test of proportionality, I would think.

  16. Civilly disagree. Indeed. Luckily the Bird hasn’t yet escaped his self imposed cage 🙂

    Re: your question on an alleged booby trapped school.

    The Geneva Convention, which applies to law governing wars, deals with booby traps as follows:

    Without prejudice to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict relating to treachery and perfidy, it is prohibited in all circumstances to use:

    1. any booby-trap in the form of an apparently harmless portable object which is specifically designed and constructed to contain explosive material and to detonate when it is disturbed or approached, or
    2. booby-traps which are in any way attached to or associated with:

    1. internationally recognized protective emblems, signs or signals;
    2. sick, wounded or dead persons;
    3. burial or cremation sites or graves;
    4. medical facilities, medical equipment, medical supplies or medical transportation;
    5. children’s toys or other portable objects or products specially designed for the feeding, health, hygiene, clothing or education of children;
    6. food or drink;
    7. kitchen utensils or appliances except in military establishments, military locations or military supply depots;
    8. objects clearly of a religious nature;
    9. historic monuments, works of art or places or worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples;
    10. animals or their carcasses.

    A mine is also a booby trap in a sense, but if that school was abandoned, ie no civilians were around, I don’t see how the Convention outlaws the “school booby trap,” as it appears it is only concerned with the restricted area of portability and disguising certain objects as an explosive device.

    Interestingly in WW2 the Brit Special Operations Executive (SOE-Nancy Wake and the French Resistance et al) came up with explosive devices that looked exactly like dog shit, which were put on roads that the German military used. But I notice that “disguise” appears not to qualify under the deception provisions of the Convention. 🙂

  17. Oh forgot the link to that:

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