Human rights group B’Tselem on Tuesday said it had evidence that two Gaza Strip teenagers were killed in a July strike in the coastal enclave by what were intended to be non-lethal Israeli warning missiles.
The rights group also charged that video footage of the incident later issued by the Israel Defense Forces was edited to exclude the moment when the boys were hit, a claim the military said was “totally baseless and false.”
In a report, B’Tselem said that Amir al-Nimrah and Louay Kahil, both 14, were killed on July 14 as the IDF prepared to bomb the partially constructed al-Katibah building in Gaza City during an escalation of violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
In response to the B’Tselem report, the army said “no persons were identified on the roof of the building at the time of the attack” and said the matter was being investigated.
The army said at the time that the building was “a Hamas terror organization urban warfare training facility.”
In recent years, the IDF has often used a so-called “roof-knocking” procedure to avoid casualties at an intended target, whereby the air force fires small “low-explosive munitions” at the roof of the building it is planning to bomb, thus warning residents to evacuate ahead of the strike.
Four such rockets were fired at the al-Katibah building over a period of about 20 minutes before 6 p.m. on the day of the strike. According to the report, shrapnel from the warning missiles killed al-Nimrah and Kahil, who were sitting on the roof of the building at the time.
Multiple weapons experts who reviewed images of the fragmentation pattern caused by the warning missile said “it indicates the presence of shrapnel—indicating that the munitions used was specifically designed as an anti-personnel weapon,” the report noted.
“Israel claims that these warnings are legal and are meant to protect civilians,” B’Tselem said. “However, quite to the contrary, missiles launched as ‘roof knocking’ form part of an attack, for all intents and purposes.”
“It is unknown if the two teenagers were visible to the military before the first strike,” the report continued. “If they were, they should not have been targeted. But if not, it follows that the Israeli military cannot justifiably rely on its aerial surveillance technologies to avoid civilian casualties.”
The warning missiles were followed by munitions that destroyed the structure, injured 23 other people, and also damaged a mosque and cultural center, B’Tselem said.
The IDF later tweeted footage of the strike that included what it said was each individual warning missile hitting the roof. In none of the clips can the teenagers be seen on the roof.
The army said at the time that the bombing exposed a tunnel under the building, which it said was “part of a tunnel network dug by the Hamas terror organization all through the Gaza Strip.
“The building, which was used by the Gazan residents for public services and housing, was turned by the Hamas terror organization into a training facility. The strike was conducted after the residents of the building were warned in advance by IDF forces,” the army said.
However, B’Tselem claimed that its examination of the clips found that the video of what was supposed to be the first warning shot hitting the roof was really footage of the third missile in the sequence, seen from a different viewpoint.
The probe of the bombing videos and the airstrike was carried out by Forensic Architecture, a research group based at the University of London that uses architectural technologies to investigate human rights violations.
“Our investigation found that the sequence of videos published through the @idfspokesperson Twitter account edited out the first, fatal strike,” B’Tselem said. “The published footage did show four strikes in sequence, but that sequence did not reflect reality: the first strike featured in the published sequence was in fact the third warning strike, from a different angle.
“We could not only show that Kahil and a-Nimrah were killed by a deadly missile, but also expose the underhanded way in which the Israeli military presented details of such strikes to the public,” said Nicholas Masterton, a researcher with FA who worked on the project.
In a short documentary clip about the incident published with the report, B’Tselem included videos apparently taken by Palestinians who climbed up onto the roof after the first warning shot and before the final devastating airstrike. The footage showed several people gathered around the spot where the teenagers had been sitting, as well as what B’Tselem said was the impact point of the missile.
“We decided to spend time investigating this case because warning strikes are an essential part of the Israeli military’s claims to high ethical standards,” said Eyal Weizman, an Israeli expat and Forensic Architecture’s director. “But such warnings are sometimes delivered with the same missiles that are used elsewhere to kill.”
“Further, these so-called ‘warnings’ give the IDF a license, as they perceive it, to subsequently commence heavy bombardment of buildings in dense urban areas,” he continued in the report. “They can as such have the result of causing more civilian casualties, rather than preventing them.”
“Airstrikes in Gaza are marketed to the public by the Israeli military as surgical actions, designed to protect civilians, based on precision intelligence, accurate munitions, state-of-the-art surveillance, and close attention to international law,” said Hagai El-Ad, executive director of B’Tselem. “In reality, that is often nothing more than propaganda.”
Responding to the B’Tselem report, the IDF spokesperson’s office said that an examination of the case had shown that “no persons were identified on the roof of the building at the time of the attack.” It said the matter was being looked into by the Military Advocate General.
However, the military insisted that the “roof-knocking” procedure was entirely in line with international law and “as has been proven countless times in the past, this measure has helped to reduce harm to civilians located in or near structures that are military objectives.”
On the allegation that the video it issued was misleading, the army said the claim would be examined but “any allegations that the IDF knowingly distorted or edited video footage are totally baseless and false.”