HRW Report on Civilian Targeting Based on Unreliable Witnesses
13 August 2009 , 17:03
Terrorist Hiding Amongst Civilians with White Flags
Terrorist Hiding Amongst Civilians with White Flags. Photo: Inside Video
The Human Rights Watch report which claims that IDF soldiers killed eleven Palestinian civilians holding white flags is based on unreliable witness reports.

The report in question is based upon the testimony of a number of Palestinians whose credibility has not been substantiated.

The soldiers and officers of the Israel Defense Forces are obliged to respect any individual presenting a white flag as a symbol of surrender or of non-combatant status and to avoid causing him or her harm.  The wartime reality in the Gaza Strip was made especially complex due to the intensive nature of combat and Hamas' cynical exploitation of civilians as human shields.  Furthermore, Hamas took advantage of Israel's obligation to avoid harming civilians to the greatest extent possible and deliberately chose to locate the battlefield in the middle of a populated civilian area. 

Sadly, Hamas terror operatives ruthlessly pervert the intent of the IDF's obligations to prevent harm to civilians by exploiting those with white flags as cover for belligerent action and to protect themselves from return fire. Any person who displays a white flag in this way acts illegally, does not enjoy protection from retaliatory action, and endangers nearby civilian populations. As a clear example of this practice, the video below shows a Hamas terrorist planting an explosive device and hiding amongst civilians who are waving white flags.


Merely displaying a white flag does not automatically grant immunity, and in cases of suspicion that a person holding a white flag is endangering security forces, they are authorized to take necessary precautionary steps and, in accordance with rules of engagement, to verify and neutralize the threat.

IDF forces received unambiguous orders prohibiting fire upon identifiable non-combatants and to assist, to the greatest extent possible, injured Palestinians, even under fire.  Throughout combat operations, the IDF did all it could to warn civilian populations via the distribution of more than two million flyers, more than 300,000 phone calls to Palestinian homes, and warnings issued through local media outlets in an attempt to move residents as far as possible from combat zones.

The Israel Defense Forces operate without compromise in accordance to normative morals that guide them in all missions, even under difficult and complex circumstances.  IDF troops were instructed prior to and during Operation Cast Lead based on standing orders, best-practices, and international law.  Investigations into IDF combat operations have clearly shown that IDF soldiers acted in accordance with the rule of war as defined by international law despite the complex nature of combat.

That said, the Israel Defense Forces are obligated to investigate any claim of behavior that allegedly deviates from IDF codes of conduct, commands, or international law.  As the IDF has done and continues to do so, a number of incidents are currently under investigation, some of which are criminal.  Within the framework of these investigations, relevant information is gathered from within the IDF and other sources with regard to the incidents.  The Military Advocate General then decides whether to continue the investigations and what additional steps, if any, are to be taken.  The IDF will not hesitate to thoroughly investigate any incident or testimony that provides cause for such.