Skip to content Skip to footer

The Dahiya Doctrine: State Terrorism and a Philosophy of War Crime

Israel has implemented the Dahiya Doctrine in Gaza, using disproportionate and indiscriminate force against the civilian populace through the targeting of schools, religious institutions and government infrastructure.

Part of the Series

What Is the Dahiya Doctrine?

In the 2006 Lebanon War, Israel Defense Force Northern Commander Gadi Eisenkot, now the deputy chief of general staff, recommended and had approved the application of a military strategy that would target and destroy an entire civilian area rather than fight to overtake fortified positions one by one. This was in an effort to minimize IDF casualties while at the same time holding the entire civilian populace accountable for the actions of a few. A move some called revolutionary in modern warfare, the doctrine did away with the effort to distinguish between militant and civilian, using an overwhelming display of force through airstrikes to destroy the entire Lebanese Dahiya quarter.

The strategy itself calls for the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure in order to induce suffering and severe distress throughout the targeted population. By targeting indiscriminately, the IDF hopes to deter further military attacks against Israel, destroy its enemies, as well as influence the population to oust the militants seen as the primary target. The IDF has planned on using the strategy since 2008, and is seen as doing so in the current conflict in Gaza based on the increasing number of civilian casualties. The result so far has been the death of more than 1,200 Palestinians, including 241 children and 130 women. Of the estimated death count, more than 70 percent have been identified as innocent civilians. The Dahiya Doctrine amounts to the direct use of state terrorism and is now the functioning military policy of the IDF.

The destruction of locations such as UN Relief and Works Agency shelters, mosques and residences of unaffiliated individuals is at minimum an agreed upon collateral objective in addition to the Hamas tunnel system and the militants themselves.

The IDF argues that it has no other choice because Hamas uses locations such as these to shield military activities, making detection more difficult. After the 2008 Gaza War, the UN deployed a fact-finding mission to conduct an investigation into allegations made by both sides. The UN issued the “Goldstone Report,” which said among other things that, “On the basis of the investigations it has conducted, the Mission did not find any evidence to support the allegations that hospital facilities were used by the Gaza authorities or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities and that ambulances were used to transport combatants or for other military purposes.” One alleged war crime (hiding among the civilian population) does not give rise for the justification of another: the killing of women, children and civilians. Even now, artillery shells struck a second UN shelter resulting in civilian casualties and attacks against a power plant may have killed 15 workers trapped inside and may effectively eliminate electricity for the majority of the population.

A Policy of War Crime

State terrorism, “establishment terrorism” or “terrorism from above” is generally understood to mean the systematic and intentional use of violence against either military or civilian targets meant to create a climate of fear in a population in order to bring about a specific political objective. The idea itself can be traced back as far as recorded warfare, but no consensus currently exists because states view themselves as legitimate actors, and therefore incapable of being terrorists. Bruce Hoffman argues that there is a “fundamental qualitative difference between the two types of violence” (state and non-state actors), and that the norms and rules of war followed by states preclude various tactics from being implemented, and as such prohibits the notion of state-sponsored terrorism. While there is a qualitative difference between Israeli and Palestinian violence, namely the overwhelming suffering the Dahiya Doctrine is meant to create, there is also a severe quantitative difference in that IDF war making machines are far superior to what is being used by Hamas. More importantly, when state actors cease adherence to international norms of war, and openly state that the target is no longer the militants, but the civilian populace, their actions have clearly become war crimes.

Additional Protocol 1, Article 51 (3) of the Geneva Conventions is designed to provide civilians immunity from attack “unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.” Articles 76 (women) and 77 (children), 15 (civilian medical personnel and religious) and 79 (journalist) provide special protections for each category respectively. Israel is not a signatory to Protocol 1, but surprisingly enough Palestine is after the Palestinian Authority signed the accord on February 4, 2014, even while the United States and Israel opposed the action. In 2009, Palestine gained recognition as a nonmember observer state, and according to Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, may qualify as a state and gain full status as an ICC member. This would enable Palestine to bring war crimes charges against Israel, under a provision that allows for the charges of crimes committed before gaining state recognition as long as the alleged crimes occurred after the formation of the ICC in 2002.

In fact, the United States and Israel both oppose Palestine’s full membership in the UN specifically because it would allow the Palestinians to potentially join the International Criminal Court, and bring war crime charges. In April 2014, Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN, was clear when she said that the United States is in “firm opposition to any and all unilateral [Palestinian] actions in the international arena” because they “really pose a profound threat to Israel” and would be “devastating to the peace process.” Some see the recognition of Palestine as a nonmember state as acting as a terrorist co-conspirator with the Palestinian Authority and called successfully for the defunding of 22 percent of the budget paid by the United States. Public Law 101-246, enacted in 1990, states, “No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.”

After the 2008 war, the Goldstone Report addressed IDF strategy in 2009, determining that the “Disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy.” In fact, Additional Protocol 1, Article 51(4)(c) specifically prohibits striking “military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction,” but this is exactly what is happening in Gaza.

The Dahiya Doctrine is designed to develop deterrence, which is a political objective. Indiscriminate violence used to gain political objectives is no different than non-state actor terrorism, and should be categorized and treated as such. This policy of war crimes is flawed because if you target the civilian population and its infrastructure, you inevitably create a climate where the idea of self-defense is no longer considered radical, but a necessity. In essence, you are hastening the radicalization of an entire generation and population, and their international allies. The doctrine is doomed to fail unless a state follows through with the complete destruction of the targeted people. This is synonymous with genocide.

Join us in defending the truth before it’s too late

The future of independent journalism is uncertain, and the consequences of losing it are too grave to ignore. To ensure Truthout remains safe, strong, and free, we need to raise $41,000 in the next 5 days. Every dollar raised goes directly toward the costs of producing news you can trust.

Please give what you can — because by supporting us with a tax-deductible donation, you’re not just preserving a source of news, you’re helping to safeguard what’s left of our democracy.