By Mr. Dershowitz, law professor at Harvard. January 8, 2009.
As Israel persists in its military efforts – by ground, air and sea – to protect its
citizens from deadly Hamas rockets, and as protests against Israel increase
around the world, the success of the abominable Hamas double war crime
strategy becomes evident.
The strategy is as simple as it is cynical: provoke Israel by playing
Russian roulette with its children, firing rockets at kindergartens, playgrounds
and hospitals; hide behind its own civilians when firing at Israeli civilians; refuse
to build bunkers for its own civilians; have the TV cameras ready to transmit
every image of dead Palestinians, especially children; exaggerate the number of
civilians killed by including as “children” Hamas fighters who are 16 or 17 years
old and as “women,” female terrorists.
Hamas itself has a name for this. They call it “the CNN strategy” (this is not to
criticize CNN or any other objective news source for doing its job; it is to
criticize Hamas for exploiting the freedom of press which it forbids in Gaza).
The CNN strategy is working because decent people all over the world are
naturally sickened by images of dead and injured children. When they see such
images repeatedly flashed across TV screens, they tend to react emotionally.
Rather than asking why these children are dying and who is to blame for
putting them in harms way, the average viewer, regardless of their political or
ideological perspective, wants to see the killing stopped. They blame those
whose weapons directly caused the deaths, rather than those who provoked
the violence by deliberately targeting civilians. They forget the usual rules of
morality and law.
For example, when a murderer takes a hostage and fires from behind his
human shield, and a policeman, in an effort to stop the shooting accidentally
kills the hostage, the law of every country holds the hostage taker guilty of
murder even though the policeman fired the fatal shot. The same is true of the
law of war. The use of human shields, in the way Hamas uses the civilian
population of Gaza, is a war crime – as is its firing of rockets at Israeli civilians.
Every human shield that is killed by Israeli self defense measures is the
responsibility of Hamas, but you wouldn’t know that from watching the media
The CNN strategy seems to work better, at least in some parts of the world,
against Israel that it would against other nations. There are many more protests
– and fury – directed against Israel when it inadvertently kills fewer than 100
civilians in a just war of self defense, than against Arab and Muslim nations and
groups that deliberately kill far more civilians for no legitimate reason.
It isn’t the nature of the victims, since more Arabs and Muslim civilians
are killed every day in Africa and the Mid East by Arab and Muslim
governments and groups with little or no protests. (For example, on the first
day of Israel’s ground attack, approximately 30 Palestinians, almost all Hamas
combatants, were killed. On the same day an Islamic suicide bomber blew
herself up in a mosque in Iraq, killing 40 innocent Muslims. No protests. Little
It isn’t the nature of the killings, since Israel goes to extraordinary
lengths to avoid killing civilians – if for no other reason than that it hurts their
cause – while Hamas does everything in its power to force Israel to kill
Palestinian civilians by firing its missiles from densely populated civilian areas
and refusing to build shelters for its civilians.
It isn’t the nature of the conflict, because Israel is fighting a limited war
of self defense designed to protect its own civilians from rocket attacks, while
most of those killed by Arabs and Muslims are killed in genocidal and tribal
warfare with no legitimate aim.
The world simply doesn’t seem to care when Arabs and Muslims kill large
numbers of other Arabs and Muslims, but a qualitatively different standard
seems to apply when the Jewish state kills even a relatively small number of
Muslims and Arabs in a war of self defense.
The international community doesn’t even seem to care when Palestinian
children are killed by rocket fire – unless it is from Israeli rockets. The day
before the recent outbreak, Hamas fired an anti-personnel rocket at Israeli
civilians but the rocket fell short of its target and killed two Palestinian girls. Yet
there was virtually no coverage and absolutely no protests against these
“collateral” civilian deaths. Hamas refused to allow TV cameras to show these
dead Palestinian children, who were killed by their own rockets. Nor have there
been protests against the cold blooded murders by Hamas and its supporters of
dozens of Palestinian civilians who allegedly “collaborated” with Israel.
Indeed Hamas and Fatah have killed far more Palestinian civilians over
the past several years than have the Israeli, but you wouldn’t know that from
the media, the United Nations or protesters who focus selectively on only those
deaths caused by Israeli military actions.
The protestors who fill the streets of London, Paris and San Francisco were
nowhere to be seen when hundreds of Jewish children were murdered by
Palestinian terrorists over the years.
Moreover, the number of civilians killed by Israel is almost always exaggerated.
First, it widely assumed that if a victim is a “child” or a “woman”, he or she is
necessarily a civilian. Consider the following report in Thursday’s NY Times:
“Hospital officials in Gaza said that of the more than 390 people killed by Israeli
fighter planes since Saturday, 38 were children and 25 women.” Some of these
children and women were certainly civilians but others were equally certainly
combatants: Hamas often uses 14, 15, 16 and 17 year olds as well as women
as terrorists. Israel is entitled, under international law, to treat these children
and women as the combatants they have become.
Hamas cannot, out of one side of its mouth, boast that it recruits
children and women to become terrorists, and then, out of the other side of its
mouth, complain when Israel takes them at their word. The media should look
closely and critically at the number of claimed civilian victims before accepting
self-serving and self-contradictory exaggerations.
By any objective count, the number of genuinely innocent civilians killed by the
Israeli Air Force in Gaza is lower than the collateral deaths caused by any nation
in a comparable situation. Hamas does everything in its power to provoke Israel
into killing as many Palestinian civilians as possible, in order to generate
condemnation against the Jewish state. They have gone so far as firing rockets
from Palestinian schoolyards and hiding their terrorists in Palestinian maternity
Lest there be any doubt about the willingness of Hamas to expose their
families to martyrdom, remember that the Hamas terrorist leader recently killed
in an Israeli air attack sent his own son to be a suicide bomber and then refused
to allow his family to leave their house even after learning that he and his house
had been placed on the list of military targets.
Nor is this double standard – applied to Israel on the one hand, and Arab and
Muslim nations and groups on the other hand – limited to the current situation in
Gaza. It has provided an excuse for the international community to remain silent
in the face of massive human rights violations including genocides perpetrated
by Arabs and Muslims around the world for years. Many of those who protest
Israeli self-defense actions remain silent in the face of real genocides – such as
that in Darfur.
The reality is that the elected and de facto government of Gaza has declared
war against Israel. Under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, they have
committed an “armed attack” against the Jewish state. The Hamas charter calls
for Israel’s total destruction.
Under international law, Israel is entitled to take whatever military action
is necessary to repel that attack and stop the rockets. It must seek to minimize
civilian deaths consistent with the legitimate military goal, and it is doing
precisely that, despite Hamas efforts to maximize civilian deaths on both sides.
The best outcome for purposes of producing peace would be the destruction or
substantial weakening of Hamas, which rejects the two-state solution. Israel
and the Palestinian Authority could then agree on a peace that would end both
the Israeli occupation and the rocketing of Israeli civilians.