ABC Australia’s One-Sided Article About HRW Report Mischaracterizes International Law

August 6, 2021 Update: The ABC has corrected its article. For more information see below.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has published an article about Human Rights Watch’s latest anti-Israel report that is even more biased than the HRW report itself. ( “Human Rights Watch alleges Israeli attacks were not aimed at military targets,” July 27, 2021 by Sowaibah Hanifie).

The article contains an inaccurate characterization of international law:

HRW said it investigated three Israeli air strikes that killed 62 Palestinian civilians and found there was no evidence military targets were in the vicinity and that residents were not informed before at least one attack.

Under international humanitarian law, warring parties can target only military objectives and must take precautions to minimise harm to civilians, including by providing warning of a planned attack.

“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” said Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch.

“Israeli authorities’ consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes, as well as Palestinian forces’ rocket attacks toward Israeli population centres, underscores the importance of the International Criminal Court’s inquiry.”

In response to HRW’s findings, the Israeli military said it exclusively strikes military targets, assesses potential collateral damage and makes an effort to reduce harm to uninvolved individuals including, when possible, giving them prior warning.*

(Emphasis added.)

International law does not require warning of a planned attack in all cases, but rather, only when practicable. For example, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross:

Australia’s LOAC Manual (2006) states:

When a planned attack is likely to affect the civilian population, those making the attack are required to give, if practicable, effective advance warning of the attack to the authorities or civilian population. This requirement must obviously be applied in a commonsense manner in light of all other factors. If the proposed action is likely to be seriously compromised by a warning then there is no requirement to provide any warning. 

(Emphasis added.)

US and UK military manuals provide similar guidance.

Even the HRW report itself stated that, “under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, warring parties may target only military objectives. They must take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians, including by providing effective advance warnings of attacks.” (Emphasis added.)

In addition, the article in question has omitted important and relevant information.

The article discusses an explosion at the home of the al-Masri family, which occurred on May 10. The AP reports that the IDF stated that explosion was caused by an errant rocket from Hamas or another armed militant group inside of Gaza, and was not an IDF attack. An analysis by CAMERA’s Associate Director Alex Safian, published by the Besa Center, estimated that more than a third of the casualties in Gaza were caused by such errant rockets from Hamas or other Gaza armed groups. Yet, the ABC reporting makes no mention of this as even a possibility, but instead attributes the attack only to Israel.

Finally, the ABC article said, of an attack on a house in the Al-Shati refugee camp:

Later that week, another strike destroyed a building in the al-Shati refugee camp, killing 10 people, including two women and eight of their children.

Like the previous strike, HRW said all of the people interviewed said they were not aware of militants being in or near the building at the time of the attack. 

Abu Hattab lived in the building for 30 years with his family and said there was no warning before the missile hit.

“I ran back towards the smoke and saw it was my house. It was all rubble. I felt like everything was revolving around me,” he told HRW.

The HRW report itself states, “The Israeli military said it targeted a building in al-Shati camp on the night of May 15 because ‘a number of Hamas terror organization senior officials [were] in an apartment used as terror infrastructure,’ and that the attack killed 10 people.” Yet, this information was omitted from the ABC article.  

CAMERA has contacted the ABC, seeking a correction.

*Update: At the ABC’s request, this article has been updated to include a longer quote from Hanifie’s article. CAMERA is still awaiting correction from the ABC. 

August 6, 2021 Update: The ABC has corrected its misleading article. The updated article no longer claims that Israel was required to provide warning of a planned attack. Further, the ABC has added the information that, according to the IDF, the explosion that killed members of the Al-Masri family was caused by an errant rocket from Hamas or another armed militant group inside of Gaza, and was not an IDF attack, as well as that a number of Hamas militants were inside the building that was targeted in the al-Shati camp. 

CAMERA commends the ABC for the correction.