Israel is not liable to pay damages to two Gaza companies whose property was
demolished during a July 2006 IDF aerial raid on the southern Gaza Strip, the
Beersheba District Court ruled on Wednesday.
The air force conducted the
raid on July 16, 2006, to destroy the infrastructure of a tunnel intended to be
used to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel. Three days later, on July 19,
2006, the IDF bulldozed the tunnels. The army said it carried out these military
actions to prevent terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.
Palestinian companies – named in the lawsuit as Masri Gabon Ltd and Haprahim
L’Efroahim Ltd – complained that the aerial attack and subsequent IDF bulldozer
action in the Gaza border region destroyed their poultry coops, which had been
located on land above the tunnels.
The Palestinians sued the Defense
Ministry for NIS 8 million in damages, arguing that there was no operational
justification for destroying the privately owned coops, because they were not a
Therefore, the Palestinians’ lawyer, attorney Zaki Kamal,
contended, the state could not argue that it was not liable for damage claims on
the grounds that its actions were carried out within the context of a lawful
In response, lawyers for the state admitted that the
IDF had destroyed the coops, but argued that it had done so as part of an act of
war, since there had been no way to destroy the tunnels without also demolishing
the property above them.
Therefore, the Defense Ministry argued, the
state is not liable for damages.
Judge Shlomo Friedlander examined the
Palestinians’ claim in the context of the Torts Law, which stipulates that the
state is not civilly liable for an act carried out by the IDF as part of an act
of war, which includes any act of war against terrorism or insurrection, or to
prevent terrorism or hostilities that endanger life.
testimony from IDF officers involved in the Gaza operations and evidence from
military logbooks, Friedlander said that the specific acts the army carried out
in this case met the definition of an act of war, and that the coops had been
destroyed specifically because of suspected tunneling operations beneath
Based on this evidence, Friedlander said that “the IDF would not
have destroyed the coops, causing damage to civilians, if it had not had
authoritative expert intelligence providing a basis for the military need to
The Palestinians also argued that the IDF had been
negligent because its decision to destroy the coops, which belonged to innocent
civilians, was disproportionate in the context of the risk posed by tunnels in
the Gaza Strip.
Friedlander said the burden of proving the IDF acted
negligently in destroying the coops fell with the Palestinian
“The plaintiffs have not brought any evidence of negligence
on behalf of the defendant,” the judge said.
However, Friedlander noted,
the Defense Ministry had brought detailed evidence, including excerpts from
operational logbooks and aerial photographs, to support its version and to back
up its arguments that the military actions regarding the tunnels were
Friedlander said that there had been a “vital necessity” to
destroy the tunnels to prevent terrorist activity, and it had not been possible
to do so without also demolishing structures above the tunnels, and therefore
the collateral damage had been proportionate.
However, the judge said,
since the coops were private property and the Palestinian plaintiffs themselves
had not been involved in any terrorist activity, the court had deliberated
whether they had a claim under international humanitarian law to compensation
because Israel had taken their property for security
Friedlander noted that under international law, civilians
who suffer proportional damage as a result of a lawful military attack are left
to bear the cost of their losses, despite calls for a change in this policy that
would entitle such victims to compensation.
“It is unfortunate for those
animals who perished and for those civilians who suffered a severe blow to their
property rights, their livelihoods and their hard work,” he
“However, the State of Israel is not the correct recipient of [the
Palestinian civilians’] grievances and for their compensation claims. The
plaintiffs should direct [these] to the terrorists, their agents and their
collaborators responsible for digging the tunnels, and to the prevailing regime