In Destroying a Building That Housed the Associated Press, Israel Risked Its Own Safety to Protect Civilians

July 14, 2021 | Michael N. Schmitt
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During the war with Hamas in May, the IDF destroyed the al-Jalaa tower in Gaza, which was home to the central offices of the Associate Press and Al Jazeera in the Strip, as well as a Hamas electronic-warfare base where operatives were developing technology for jamming Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. The IDF warned civilians in advance of the attack, and as a result no one was injured. The attack was nonetheless widely condemned for “targeting journalists.” As a result of the warning, the terrorists were able to rescue some of their equipment prior to the airstrike. Michael N. Schmitt, a scholar of the laws of war at the United States Military Academy at West Point, examines the Israeli decision from a legal standpoint:

Should a media facility be used for military purposes, it may become a military objective. . . . For instance, if a media facility is used to communicate information of military value, it qualifies as a military objective by use and may be attacked. Even if it is not the intended target, an attacker need not consider any incidental harm to the facility in . . . an attack on another military objective.

[Yes], the journalists and their facilities were civilian in character and entitled to all attendant protections, including application of the rule of proportionality and the requirement to take precautions in attack. [But] if the Israeli reports of Hamas using the building are accurate, the entire building constituted a single military objective, damage to which did not have to factor into the IDF’s proportionality calculation.

The IDF’s hour [of advance] warning of the attack was [moreover] a paradigmatic example of an effective warning. If IDF reports that Hamas and Islamic Jihad were able to evacuate the building and remove military material from the facility before it was struck are accurate, the warning appears to have exceeded that required by the law of armed conflict because it involved some sacrifice of military advantage by the IDF.

Counter-allegations that the IDF used the attack as a ploy to end unfavorable media [coverage] are unsupported by the available facts. . . . Based on open-source information presently available, the strike complied with the law of armed conflict.

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