By Alan M. Dershowitz
As the rockets continue to fall in Israel and Gaza, it is important to understand Hamas’s tactic and how the international community and the media are encouraging it. Hamas’s tactic is as simple as it is criminal and brutal. Its leaders know that by repeatedly firing rockets at Israeli civilian areas, they will give Israel no choice but to respond. Israel’s response will target the rockets and those sending them. In order to maximize their own civilian casualties, and thereby earn the sympathy of the international community and media, Hamas leaders deliberately fire their rockets from densely populated civilian areas. The Hamas fighters hide in underground bunkers but Hamas refuses to provide any shelter for its own civilians, whom they use as “human shields.” This unlawful tactic puts Israel to a tragic choice: simply allow Hamas rockets to continue to target Israeli cities and towns; or respond to the rockets, with inevitable civilian casualties among the Palestinian “human shields.”
Every democracy would choose the latter option if presented with a similar choice. Although Israel goes to great efforts to reduce civilian casualties, the Hamas tactic is designed to maximize them. The international community and the media must understand this and begin to blame Hamas, rather than Israel, for the Palestinian civilians who are killed by Israeli rockets but whose deaths are clearly part of the Hamas tactic.
Every reasonable commentator has agreed with President Obama that Hamas started this battle by firing thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians. Every reasonable commentator also agrees with President Obama that Israel has the right to defend its citizens. But many commentators fault Israel for causing Palestinian civilian casualties. But what is Israel’s option, other than to simply allow rockets to be aimed at its own women and children. As President Obama observed when he went to Sderot as a candidate:
The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens. And so I can assure you that if…somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.
Israel should continue to make every effort to reduce civilian casualties, both because that is the humane thing to do and because it serves their interests. But so long as Hamas continues to fire rockets from densely populated civilian areas, rather than from the many open areas outside of Gaza City, this cynical tactic-which constitutes a double war crime-will guarantee that some Palestinian women and children will be killed. And the Hamas leadership prepares for this gruesome certainty by arranging for the dead babies to be paraded in front of the international media. In one such case, the Palestinian radicals posted a video of a dead baby who turned out to have been killed in Syria by the Assad government, and in another case, they displayed the body of a baby who had been killed by a Hamas rocket that misfired, falsely claiming that it had been the victim of an Israeli rocket.
As Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan has said, the Israeli Army does “more to safeguard civilians than any Army in the history of warfare.” This includes dropping leaflets, making phone calls and providing other warnings to civilian residents of Gaza City. But Hamas refuses to provide shelter for its civilians, deliberately exposing them to the risks associated with warfare, while it shelters its own fighters in underground bunkers.
The Hamas tactic is also designed to prevent Israel from making peace with the Palestinian Authority. Even Israeli doves are concerned that if Israel ends its occupation of the West Bank, Hamas may take over that territory, as it took over Gaza shortly after Israel ended its occupation of that area. The West Bank is much closer to Israel’s major population centers than Gaza. If Hamas were to fire rockets from the West Bank at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel would then have to respond militarily, as it has in Gaza. Once again, civilians would be killed, thus provoking international outcry against Israel.
What we are seeing in Gaza today is a replay of what happened in 2008 and 2009, when Israel went into Gaza to stop the rocket fire. The result was the Goldstone report which put the blame squarely on Israel. This benighted report-condemned by most thoughtful people, and eventually even critiqued by Goldstone himself-has encouraged Hamas to go back to the tactic that resulted in international condemnation of Israel. This tactic will persist as long as the international community and the media persist in blaming Israel for civilian deaths caused by a deliberate Hamas tactic.