Practice Relating to Rule 23. Location of Military Objectives outside Densely Populated Areas
Israel’s Manual on the Laws of War (1998) prohibits “mingling military targets among civilian objects, as for instance, a military force located within a village or a squad of soldiers fleeing into a civilian structure”.
Israel’s Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) states that “it is prohibited to scatter military targets among civilian installations in an attempt to prevent an attack on them”.
The Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) is a second edition of the Manual on the Laws of War (1998).
In 1992, in a letter to the UN Secretary-General, Israel stated:
Operating with cruel indifference to the fate of innocent Lebanese civilians, Hizbollah and other terrorist organizations continue to use civilian centres as bases of operation. Therein lies the true cause of the suffering of the civilian population of southern Lebanon.
In 1996, the Monitoring Group on the Implementation of the 1996 Israel-Lebanon Ceasefire Understanding, consisting of France, Israel, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and the United States, pleaded with combatants to respect the precautionary measure of separating military objectives from densely populated areas, re-emphasizing that artillery fired from populated areas endangered civilians. The Monitoring Group also asked combatants to take all necessary precautions during military operations launched from the vicinity of populated areas.
The Report on the Practice of Israel states: “The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] endeavours, to the maximum extent possible, not to place military objectives within or in the vicinity of densely populated civilian areas.” The report remarks, however, that demographic changes have sometimes caused certain longstanding military bases to end up in mainly civilian areas. The IDF General Headquarter in Tel Aviv is cited as an example.
In 2006, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated:
The deliberate placement of missile launchers and stockpiles of weapons in the heart of civilian centers, frequently inside and beneath populated apartment blocks, means that [the risk of collateral injury to civilians] is tragically high. This dilemma posed by this violation of the fundamental humanitarian principle of distinction between combatants and civilians has been exceptionally acute in densely populated areas in south Beirut, where Hizballah has deliberately located its headquarters and terrorist strongholds.
In 2009, in a report on Israeli operations in Gaza between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 (the “Gaza Operation”, also known as “Operation Cast Lead”), Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated:
The parties in control of the territory where the hostilities take place also have obligations under the Law of Armed Conflict to minimise civilian harm, including with regard to their own population. Thus, the parties to the conflict “shall, to the maximum extent feasible, take the other necessary precautions to protect the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian objects under their control against the dangers resulting from military operations.” [1977 Additional Protocol I, Article 58(c)]. This means they should “avoid locating
military objectives within or near densely populated areas” [1977 Additional Protocol I, Article 58(b)]. … To do the opposite – to place weapons systems in or near apartment buildings, schools, mosques or medical facilities … – violates the Law of Armed Conflict, because such tactics inevitably increase civilian casualties beyond what otherwise might occur in connection with an attack on a legitimate military target.
[emphasis in original; footnotes in original omitted]