You said there were cases in which an operational necessity trumped the risk of causing harm to civilians. Could you give me an example? Say there’s a building that’s over two stories high, and you know for certain there’s a meeting between two heads of [enemy] cells in there, and you decide to take it down.
And this is when you know that there are additional civilians in there, or this is when you prefer not to check? On occasion, you do know.
Can you give me a specific example? I don’t remember much – I do remember there was this one house of five or six stories in Khirbet Khuza’a. I remember there was ‘hot’ intel data on a meeting between militants there. The head of the cell was there for sure, and a decision was made to ’knock on the building’s roof,’ (a practice in which a small missile is fired at the roof of a building as an advance warning that it will shortly be destroyed in an air strike) and then immediately after that drop a bomb on it.
What’s ‘immediately?’ Not enough time for everyone to leave. Somewhere between 30 seconds and one minute.
Did you see anyone leaving the house? Nope, actually – no one. I remember that after the ‘roof knocking,’ nobody left the house. I don’t know if that means they were being held there by force, or I don’t know what. I didn’t follow up to see whether harm was really inflicted upon civilians there, whether innocent people got killed there.
While you’re getting approval for [striking] the target, do you have any tools to find out whether there are other people in the house? You can find out.
Do you try? Absolutely, yes. You use all the means at your disposal to ascertain the number of militants that are in there, how many people, how many ‘hot spots.’ These probes don’t always work – either you didn’t manage to collect all the data you wanted, or you did and it’s not the answer you wanted to find. In any case, you decide to [bomb].
If you have all the means at your disposal to make sure there are no people [in the buildings], how come all those people were killed anyway? There’s no way we can know everything. We do everything we can to know. If some family doesn’t have a phone and there’s no verification, and despite that you went ahead and ’knocked on the roof’ and nobody came out after a few minutes – then the assumption is that there’s nobody in there.
Is there some possibility that they would decide not to leave despite a ‘knock on the roof?’ There’s nothing you can do about people who are willing to sacrifice themselves. I’m not trying to justify such behavior. But the way the IDF sees it, if, say, ‘roof knocking’ was executed [and people stayed in the building] then there’s no way we can know about it. We have no way of knowing if there are people in there who chose not to leave.
Verifying that there are no civilians in the building – is that a mandatory prerequisite for carrying out a strike? It’s not mandatory. Because even if there are civilians sometimes – [for example, while targeting] the Shuja’iyyadeputy battalion commander, [the strike] would be carried out if there weren’t too many civilians. When I say ‘too many’ I mean a double digit number.
This story, how atypical was it? This was atypical due to the fact it was a multi-story building, five or six stories –because most of the houses that were seriously flattened were two, maybe three stories, tops. It was also atypical in the sense that there was information about the presence of innocent people in there. There was data about a certain number [of civilians] and it withstood the equation, apparently – and there was simply enough of an accumulation of intelligence and verified data about the presence of heads of cells in there, that they decided that the bombing was justified.