(Communicated by the Foreign Ministry Spokesman)
Amnesty’s latest report, dated 18 May 2004, is currently being reviewed by the relevant Israeli authorities, and a detailed response will be presented when this review is complete. Nevertheless, several general observations regarding the demolition of structures are warranted.
While there is no question that the Palestinian population is suffering from the ongoing conflict, that suffering is a direct result of Palestinian terrorism aimed at innocent Israelis, and the need for Israel to protect its citizens from these abhorrent attacks. In this context, it is important to note that regrettably Palestinian terrorists choose to carry out many of their terrorist activities from within Palestinian population centers and abodes.
For nearly four years, Israelis have been the victims of a relentless and ongoing campaign by Palestinian terrorists to spread death and destruction, condemning our region to ongoing turmoil, killing more than 900 Israelis and injuring more than 6000.
In light of this unprecedented lethal threat, and the failure of the Palestinian leadership to comply with its obligations to fight this terrorism, Israeli security forces have sought to find new effective and lawful counter-measures that would minimize the occurrence of such attacks in general, and suicide terrorism in particular.
One such security measure is the demolition of structures that pose a real security risk to Israeli forces. When terrorists fire from within civilian structures or activate roadside charges from trees and fields, military necessity dictates the demolition of these locations. Under International Law, these structures are considered legitimate military targets. Therefore, in the midst of combat, when dictated by operational necessity, Israeli security forces may lawfully destroy structures used by terrorists.
Israel refrains whenever possible from attacking terrorist targets from the air or with artillery, in order to minimize collateral damage, a policy which entails risking the lives of Israeli soldiers. The death of 13 soldiers in ground operations in the Gaza Strip in early May 2004 is just one example of the heavy price Israel pays for its commitment to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties.
A further factor necessitating the demolition of buildings is the use made by terrorist groups of civilian buildings in order to conceal openings of tunnels used to smuggle arms, explosives and terrorists from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Other buildings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are used for the manufacturing and concealment of rockets, mortars, weapons and explosive devices to be used against Israel. The demolition of these structures is often the only way to combat this threat.
In conclusion, Israel must take the necessary measures to protect the lives and security of its citizens and it is doing so in full compliance with International Law, while making earnest efforts to uphold the rights of Palestinians not involved in terrorism.