Palestinian walks by home destroyed by Israeli air strike
A Palestinian woman walks past the remains of a house which police said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City July 15, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot

The Israeli military has long warned occupants of buildings it aims to bomb with so-called “roof knocking,” dropping a low-yield explosive or a non-explosive device on a target shortly before real bombs hit the location. But a video has reignited claims that, for a warning method, roof knocking is little more than psychological warfare.

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have used roof knocking since 2006, warning residents to flee their building immediately as a missile strike might only be moments away. While the term conjures an image of Israeli soldiers going door to door and advising civilians to leave, the practice instead involves the IDF hitting a building with a non-lethal weapon as a warning only moments before the target is obliterated.

A video posted online this week by the Gaza-based news agency Watania shows the low-yield warning shot hitting a Palestinian house 1:08 before a second blast reduces the home to rubble.

Roof knocking is often accompanied by other warning methods, such as Israelis texting or calling the people working or living inside a building that a strike is imminent even before the roof knock missile strikes the home. The IDF also drops leaflets on a block where a building has been targeted, with the warnings becoming more and more serious until the final roof knock.

Israel has maintained that the warning system provides Palestinians with more than enough time to flee their homes. Even if not, they’ve argued, the IDF has determined the targets in question have ties to attacks against Israeli civilians, often helping with the storage or development of rockets that will eventually be fired from the Gaza Strip.

Hamas leaders have had their homes targeted, and have resorted to having civilians stand near or on top of their homes has human shields to convince the Israelis not to open fire.

“The policy of people confronting the Israeli warplanes with their bare chests in order to protect their homes has proven effective against the occupation,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhi recently told Palestinian media, according to a translation. “Also, this policy reflects the character of our brave, courageous people. We in Hamas call upon our people to adopt this policy.”

Past video footage recorded from surveillance drones proved that Israeli drone operators didn’t hesitate in firing at Palestinian homes regardless of whether civilians were visible on the roof. That willingness has again been on display, with a Palestinian family of eight killed in their home even after receiving a phone call and a warning shot.

IDF personnel said the eight deaths were an accident, but defended the goal of the strike.

“The residence was the home of Odeh Kaware, a commander in the Hamas military wing,” one Israeli military official told BuzzFeed. “It was a legitimate target...Warning was given, and the assessment at the time was that the house was empty. It was a tragic mistake.”

Other videos made public by the IDF’s official YouTube channel do show the military abandoning targets because of civilian involvement.

Amnesty International has called from a United Nations investigation into war crimes committed by Hamas and Israel fighters since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8, which has so far cost nearly 200 Palestinian lives. Roof knocking was one of the human rights group’s chief complaints, with Philip Luther, Amnesty’s director of the Middle East and North Africa program, saying the short window between a warning shot and rocket strike does nothing more than terrify the home’s occupants.

“Unless the Israeli authorities can provide specific information to show how a home is being used to make an effective contribution to military actions, deliberately attacking civilian homes constitutes a war crime and also amounts to collective punishment against the families,” Luther said in a weekend statement.

“There is no way that firing a missile at a civilian home can constitute an effective ‘earning,’” he went on. “Amnesty International has documented cases of civilians killed or injured by such missiles in previous military operations on the Gaza Strip.”