Roof knocking

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Roof knocking is the equivalent of a warning shot for aerial bombing and the practice of warning inhabitants of a building before it is bombed to give the inhabitants time to flee the attack.[1] The practice has been invented and used by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) before attacking buildings that they suspect contain weapons.[2][3][4] The term "roof knocking" (Hebrew: הקש בגג[5]) or "knock on the roof" has also been used to describe the IDF practice of firing a non-explosive or low-yield device at a roof to get people there to leave.[6][7][8]


After the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, when making arrests on the ground were close to impossible, IDF started using destruction of military infrastructure as deterrent to not attack Israeli targets. The IDF sought a method to minimize harm to Gaza civilians.[9] As early as 2006 the IDF had the practice of warning the inhabitants of a building that was about to be attacked.[10] Roof knocking was used during the 2008–2009 Gaza War, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in 2014. In the six months prior to its use, Israel collected data on Hamas members, which they used to issue warnings.[4] Typically, Israeli intelligence officers and Shin Bet security servicemen contacted residents of a building in which they suspected storage of military assets and told them that they had 10–15 minutes to flee the attack,[2][8][11][12][13] although in some cases the delay has been as little as five minutes.[14]

The Israeli Government reported that the warning systems were not perfect but still highly effective. Aerial video surveillance by IDF forces confirmed many times the departure of civilians from targeted areas prior to an attack, as a direct result of the warnings.[15]

In November 2014 the most senior US military official, General Martin Dempsey, said Israel "did some extraordinary things to limit civilian casualties" during Operation Protective Edge. He gave Roof Knocking as an example to efforts by Israel to minimize Civilian casualties in Gaza.[16]


The practice has been shown to be controversial, as many human rights and news organizations have shown the 'roof knocks' to strike and kill inhabitants.[13] In July, 2014, Amnesty International called for a United Nations investigation into war crimes committed by Hamas and Israel fighters, and Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director for the organization, condemned the practice.[17]

The New York Times stated that according to Israel, Hamas asked civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings to dissuade Israeli pilots from attacking.[7] These claims are supported by video footage of an interview with Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri.[18] Hamas denied these claims. Many reporters, including from the BBC,[19] the Independent[20] and the Guardian[21] have said that they have found no evidence of Hamas forcing Palestinians to stay and become unwilling human shields.

Amnesty International has reported in a statement that it "does not have evidence at this point" that Palestinian civilians have been intentionally used by Hamas or Palestinian armed groups during the current hostilities to "shield" specific locations or military personnel or equipment from Israeli attacks". It additionally said that "public statements referring to entire areas are not the same as directing specific civilians to remain in their homes as "human shields" for fighters, munitions, or military equipment" and that "even if officials or fighters from Hamas or Palestinian armed groups ... did in fact direct civilians to remain in a specific location in order to shield military objectives ..., all of Israel's obligations to protect these civilians would still apply." Human Rights Watch said many of the attacks on civilian targets appeared to be "disproportionate" and "indiscriminate".

In some cases, residents that were warned about an impending bombing climbed up voluntarily to their roofs. In some instances these warnings have not been effective in the sense that they have been dropped onto a roof only seconds before the subsequent bombings. [2] When Nizar Rayan, a top Hamas military commander, was warned but didn't leave his home, he and his family of 15 were killed in the subsequent bombing.[2][4] When faced with similar situations, IDF commanders have either bombed, called off the bombing or launched a newly developed, relatively harmless, non-explosive missile at empty areas of the roof, in order to frighten the people gathered on the roof into leaving the building.[1][7][22] In several instances, the IDF has used a sound bomb to warn civilians before striking homes.[1][undue weight? ] In many other cases, houses in Gaza Strip were bombed without any warning. For example, in July 12, 2014 an Israeli airstrike without any warning on the home of Gaza's police chief, Tayseer Al-Batsh, and a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended, killed 18 civilians including children and injured 45 others.[23][24]

The Israeli Government reported that the warning systems were not perfect but still highly effective. Aerial video surveillance by IDF forces confirmed many times the departure of civilians from targeted areas prior to an attack, as a direct result of the warnings.[15]

Psychological warfare[edit]

According to the Israeli army, striking homes used for weapons storage, when sufficient warning is given to the residents, falls within the boundaries of international law and is legitimate.[25] According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, the warning of inhabitants by Israeli forces is psychological warfare[10] and after the first week of the Operation Cast Lead offensive, only 37 houses had been destroyed despite hundreds of warning calls, while no one can advise people not to take the threats seriously.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "IDF phones Gaza residents to warn them of imminent strikes.". (Haaretz). 2009-01-04. Retrieved 2009-01-09. 
  2. ^ a b c d Harel, Amos; Yoav Stern (2009-01-04). "IDF targets senior Hamas figures". (Haaretz). Retrieved 2009-01-09. 
  3. ^ McGregor-Wood, Simon; Miguel Marquez (2009-01-02). "Bush: U.S. Calls for Monitored Cease-fire Pact". abcNews (ABCNews Internet Ventures). Retrieved 2009-01-04.  Archived version 2009-01-29
  4. ^ a b c Schweber, Howard (2009-01-04). "Israel and Hamas: Two to Tango". The Huffington Post (, Inc). Retrieved 2009-01-10.  Archived version 2009-01-29
  5. ^ עזה: בכיר חמאס חוסל, כ-26 נהרגו בתקיפות (in Hebrew). Ynet. Retrieved 2009-01-18.  Archived version 2009-01-29
  6. ^ Stone, Jeff (July 15, 2014). "Israel 'Roof Knocking' Video Raises Question: Warning Or Human Rights Violation?". International Business Times. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c Erlanger, Steven (2009-01-10). "A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  8. ^ a b Rabinovich, Abraham (2009-01-03). "Nuclear fear drives Israel's hard line". The Australian (News Limited). Retrieved 2009-01-09.  Archived version 2009-01-29
  9. ^ "How is the IDF Minimizing Harm to Civilians in Gaza?". 
  10. ^ a b Urquhart, Conal (2006-06-28). "The call that tells you: run, you're about to lose your home and possessions". (Guardian News and Media Limited). Retrieved 2009-01-10.  Archived version 2009-01-29
  11. ^ Kurz, Anat N.; Emily B. Landau (2009-01-04). "A response to a Euro-Mediterranean appeal". (The Jerusalem Post). Retrieved 2009-01-10.  Archived version 2009-01-29
  12. ^ Opall-Rome, Barbara (January 5, 2009). "In Gaza, Both Sides Reveal New Gear". Defense News. Retrieved 2009-06-17. 
  13. ^ a b Withnail, Adam; Viney, Steven. "Israel-Gaza conflict: Israeli ‘knock on roof’ missile warning technique revealed in remarkable video". www.indepdendent. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  14. ^ "Gaza Humanitarian Situation Report - January 2, 2009 as of 14:30". UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 2009-01-02. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-01-02. Retrieved 2009-01-02. 
  15. ^ a b "The Operation in Gaza: Factual and Legal Aspects" (PDF). Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2009-07-29. pp. 50–51, 100. Retrieved 2009-09-06.  Archived version 2009-09-06
  16. ^ Rayner, Tom (7 November 2014). "". Sky News. Retrieved 28 December 2014. 
  17. ^ Withnall, Adam (July 13, 2014). "Israel-Gaza conflict: Israeli ‘knock on roof’ missile warning revealed in remarkable video". The Independent. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  18. ^ "Hamas Spokesman Encourages Gazans to Serve as Human Shields: It's Been Proven Effective". MEMRI. 
  19. ^ "Jeremy Bowen's Gaza notebook: I saw no evidence of Hamas using Palestinians as human shields", New Statesman; accessed 28 July 2014.
  20. ^ Sengupta, Kim (21 July 2014). "Israel-Gaza conflict: The myth of Hamas's human shields". The Independent. Retrieved 31 July 2014. 
  21. ^ Sherwood, Harriet (24 July 2014). "In Gaza, Hamas fighters are among civilians. There is nowhere else for them to go". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2014. 
  22. ^ "The Gaza War: a strategic analyses" (PDF). CSIS. 
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Hamas leader, 20 Palestinians killed in IAF strikes". ynet (Yedioth Internet). 2009-01-09. Retrieved 2009-01-09.  Archived version 2009-01-29
  26. ^ Balousha, Hazem; Toni O'Loughlin (2009-01-03). "Text messages and phone calls add psychological aspect to warfare in Gaza". home (Guardian News and Media Limited). Retrieved 2009-02-18.