Israel’s military action against Hamas terrorist rockets is a preview of what the entire civilized world is likely to face in the near future.
Islamic militant terrorists — whether they are called al-Qaida, Isis, Hamas, or Hezbollah — all use similar tactics. They target civilians while hiding among civilians in order to induce democracies to kill civilians so that the media will show gruesome pictures of dead children and blame these deaths on the democracy, rather than the terrorists who use children and other civilians as human shields.
The democracy is then put to the tragic choice of either allowing terrorist attacks against its own civilians or taking military action that risks the lives of enemy civilians.
That is precisely the choice that Israel has had to make as hundreds of rockets are directed at its cities from densely populated civilian areas in Gaza. Israel has been very careful to try to minimize civilian casualties. They drop leaflets, make phone calls and even send noisemaking bomblets to warn civilians to leave areas to which rockets are being fired. Mostly the civilians leave. Sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, the Israeli military does not fire at the rockets, thereby putting their own civilians at risk.
Yet some in the media describe the current situation in Gaza as a “cycle of violence.” The reality, of course, is that there is no such cycle. It is a one-way street that Hamas has driven down precisely in order to create the illusion of a cycle with equal blame on both sides.
There is no comparison — legally, morally, diplomatically or by any other criteria — between what Hamas is doing and how Israel is responding. Hamas is willfully and deliberately committing a double war crime by targeting Israeli civilians and using Palestinian civilians as human shields. The deliberate targeting of civilians, as Hamas admits — indeed boasts — it is doing, is a clear war crime. Hamas has specifically aimed its lethal rockets at Beersheba, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. This is a war crime.
Moreover, it is firing these rockets from hospitals, schools, and houses in densely populated areas in order to cause Israel to kill Palestinian civilians. This too is a war crime.
This has been called Hamas’ “dead baby strategy.” It deliberately puts Israel to the tragic choice of attacking the rockets and killing some children who are used as human shields, or refraining from attacking the rockets and thereby placing their own children at risk.
Israel has generally chosen the option of refraining from attacking legitimate military targets, but when any human shields are inadvertently killed or injured, Hamas stands ready to cynically parade the dead civilians in front of television cameras, which transmit these gruesome pictures around the world with captions blaming Israel.
Hamas has also adamantly refused to build bomb shelters for its civilian population. It has built shelters but has limited access to them to Hamas terrorists. This is precisely the opposite of what Israel does — building shelters for its civilians and placing its soldiers in harm’s way.
Most recently Hamas has forced or encouraged civilians to stand on the rooftops of military targets so as to prevent Israel from attacking these entirely appropriate targets. Indeed a lawsuit is now being brought in Israel, against the Israeli military, urging it to ignore these human shields and to attack the military targets.
The argument is that unless the military targets are attacked, Israeli civilians will die, and a democracy has the obligation to prefer the lives of its own civilians over the lives of enemy civilians. Thus far the Israeli military has refrained from attacking military targets that are protected by human shields.
Nor was there any symmetry between the kidnapping and brutal murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas operatives and the equally despicable killing of an Arab teenager by a handful of Israeli individuals.
The Hamas-inspired kidnapping was part of a long term Hamas policy. Hamas has built dozen of tunnels between Gaza and Israel for the sole purpose of kidnapping and/or killing Israeli civilians. I have been inside one such tunnel, whose exit was just yards away from an Israeli kindergarten with dozens of children. The killing of the three Israeli teenagers was a result of Hamas’ policy, regardless of whether the specific decision to kill the youths was or wasn’t made at the top levels of the Hamas leadership.
The killing of the Palestinian youth, to the contrary, was clearly against the wishes of the Israeli government, the Israeli people, and Israeli policy. It was the act of deranged extremists — an act that hurt Israel terribly both internally and externally. Yet many in the international media insist on comparing these two very different atrocities.
The entire civilized world should be standing behind Israel as it defends itself against war crimes, because what Israel is doing is precisely what every democracy would do if faced with similar threats to its civilian population. That so many continue to support — or remain silent about — those who commit these war crimes tells us something deeply disturbing about their values and prejudices.
The world must come to realize that the major conflict today is between Islamic extremists who will stop at nothing to achieve their theological-political-military goals, and democracies that must fight these extremists while complying with the rule of law. Israel should be praised for leading the way.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School. His latest book is his autobiography, "Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law." Read more reports from Alan M. Dershowitz — Click Here Now.
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