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Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons. -- Associated Press, Dec. 27
Some geopolitical conflicts are morally complicated. The Israel-Gaza war is not. It possesses a moral clarity not only rare but excruciating.
Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger. Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis -- 6,464 launched from Gaza in the past three years -- deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people.
This has two purposes. First, counting on the moral scrupulousness of Israel, Hamas figures civilian proximity might help protect at least part of its arsenal. Second, knowing that Israelis have new precision weapons that may allow them to attack nonetheless, Hamas hopes that inevitable collateral damage -- or, if it is really fortunate, an errant Israeli bomb -- will kill large numbers of its own people for which, of course, the world will blame Israel.
For Hamas, the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians. The religion of Jew-murder and self-martyrdom is ubiquitous. And deeply perverse, such as the Hamas TV children's program in which an adorable live-action Palestinian Mickey Mouse is beaten to death by an Israeli (then replaced by his more militant cousin, Nahoul the Bee, who vows to continue on Mickey's path to martyrdom).
At war today in Gaza, one combatant is committed to causing the most civilian pain and suffering on both sides. The other combatant is committed to saving as many lives as possible -- also on both sides. It's a recurring theme. Israel gave similar warnings to Southern Lebanese villagers before attacking Hezbollah in the Lebanon war of 2006. The Israelis did this knowing it would lose for them the element of surprise and cost the lives of their own soldiers.
That is the asymmetry of means between Hamas and Israel. But there is equal clarity regarding the asymmetry of ends. Israel has but a single objective in Gaza -- peace: the calm, open, normal relations it offered Gaza when it withdrew in 2005. Doing something never done by the Turkish, British, Egyptian and Jordanian rulers of Palestine, the Israelis gave the Palestinians their first sovereign territory ever in Gaza.
What ensued? This is not ancient history. Did the Palestinians begin building the state that is supposedly their great national aim? No. No roads, no industry, no courts, no civil society at all. The flourishing greenhouses that Israel left behind for the Palestinians were destroyed and abandoned. Instead, Gaza's Iranian-sponsored rulers have devoted all their resources to turning it into a terror base -- importing weapons, training terrorists, building tunnels with which to kidnap Israelis on the other side. And of course firing rockets unceasingly.
The grievance? It cannot be occupation, military control or settlers. They were all removed in September 2005. There's only one grievance and Hamas is open about it. Israel's very existence.
Nor does Hamas conceal its strategy. Provoke conflict. Wait for the inevitable civilian casualties. Bring down the world's opprobrium on Israel. Force it into an untenable cease-fire -- exactly as happened in Lebanon. Then, as in Lebanon, rearm, rebuild and mobilize for the next round. Perpetual war. Since its raison d'etre is the eradication of Israel, there are only two possible outcomes: the defeat of Hamas or the extinction of Israel.
Israel's only response is to try to do what it failed to do after the Gaza withdrawal. The unpardonable strategic error of its architect, Ariel Sharon, was not the withdrawal itself but the failure to immediately establish a deterrence regime under which no violence would be tolerated after the removal of any and all Israeli presence -- the ostensible justification for previous Palestinian attacks. Instead, Israel allowed unceasing rocket fire, implicitly acquiescing to a state of active war and indiscriminate terror.
Hamas's rejection of an extension of its often-violated six-month cease-fire (during which the rockets never stopped, just were less frequent) gave Israel a rare opportunity to establish the norm it should have insisted upon three years ago: no rockets, no mortar fire, no kidnapping, no acts of war. As the U.S. government has officially stated: a sustainable and enduring cease-fire. If this fighting ends with anything less than that, Israel will have lost yet another war. The question is whether Israel still retains the nerve -- and the moral self-assurance -- to win.
--This article originally appeared in the Washington Post.
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 coverage.
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 media coverage.)
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" withIsrael. 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 wards. 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.
This article can also be read at: Aish.com
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard Law School and author of The Case for Israel.
...and more from him (almost a year ago):
An op-ed by Harvard Law School
Professor Alan M. Dershowitz
The Jerusalem Post
March 13, 2008
Article 51 of the United Nations Charter guarantees its members “the inherent right to…individual self defense” against “an armed attack.”
In January 2006, Hamas was elected to govern the Palestinian Authority. After Israel ended its occupation of Gaza and removed all of its settlers, Hamas threw the Palestinian Authority out of the Gaza and assumed de facto as well as de jure control over the entire Gaza Strip. Its leaders then instructed its military wing to direct rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel.
At first these rockets were Kassams with a relatively short range. Now they include Katyushas, which can reach Israel’s large cities, including Ashkelon, with its population of 120,000 civilians. Hamas has officially declared that its policy is to develop or smuggle even longer range missiles capable of reaching Israel’s largest city Tel Aviv and its lifeblood, Ben Gurion Airport. It has promised to keep aiming its missiles at civilian targets until the Jewish state is finally destroyed.
If this is not an “armed attack” under Article 51, then I don’t know what is. The only argument against it being an armed attack is that rocketing civilian population centers, as Hamas is doing, is a war-crime. International law prohibits, even during a declared war, the deliberate targeting of civilians or the bombing of areas of civilian population centers with absolutely no military significance.
But war-crimes may also constitute an armed attack: Hitler’s invasion of Poland was both, as the Nuremberg Tribunal determined. If anything, an armed attack that is also a war crime justifies the right of self-defense even more than a mere armed attack.
Nor can it be said that these attacks on Israeli towns and cities are merely the work of individual terrorists or terrorist groups. The military wing of Hamas is in fact a terrorist organization, as the Untied States and the European Community have recognized. But since Hamas is in political and military control of the liberated Gaza Strip, the military wing of Hamas is also the official army of that government, as Hamas itself has proclaimed.
What then are Israel’s rights under international law, under the law of war, under historical precedents and under various treaties and human rights concepts? What have, and what would, other nations whose cities and towns were attacked by enemy rockets do? Israel certainly has the right to counterattack its enemy, destroy its capacity to fire rockets and engage in “belligerent reprisal.”
The only constraint on Israeli action is “proportionality.” Israel’s military actions must be proportional. But proportional to what? Certainly not to the actual number of people who have thus far been killed or injured by rocket attacks. Israel has spent an enormous amount of money building shelters to protect against rockets. Close to a thousand rockets have been aimed at southern Israel in recent years. Each one of them had the capacity to kill dozens, if not hundreds of civilians. The fact that no Hamas rocket has yet hit a school bus, a kindergarten, an ambulance, a synagogue, or a school yard is simply happenstance. It is only a matter of time until this happens. No nation has to wait until the goals of its enemy are fulfilled before it engages in a proportional response. Proportion must be defined by reference to the threat posed by the enemy and not by the harm it has produced. No nation need allow its enemies to play Russian Roulette with its children.
Israel has tried several options, each of which has been condemned by vocal members of the international community, human rights groups and religious organizations - some of whom have been silent about the Hamas war crimes that precipitated the Israeli actions. Israel has tried economic sanctions, border controls, targeted attacks on terrorists and ground incursions. Each of these generally acceptable war measures carry with it the risk of some civilian casualties. The reason for this is that the distinction between combatants and civilians has deliberately been blurred by Hamas.
Rockets are fired from densely populated areas, precisely in order to force Israel into choosing between allowing its own civilians to continue to be killed by its inaction, or taking actions that risk hurting killing some Palestinian civilians. Either way Hamas wins. If Israel does nothing, then Hamas accuses it of impotence. If it does something, then Hamas accuses it if disproportionally. Hamas leader Khaled Maashal characterized Israel’s military actions in Gaza as “the real Holocaust.” Even Mahmoud Abbas, the so-called moderate Palestinian leader in the West Bank said that Israel’s military efforts to stop the rockets was “more than a Holocaust.”
The time has come for Israel’s critics to tell Israel what it should do in the face of these escalating rocket attacks on its civilian population centers. If economic sanctions, border controls, targeting terrorists and ground incursions should not be done, what are the alternatives?
The answer to this question is important not only to Israel, but to the United States and other democratic nations that will surely face the prospect of having to take actions to prevent terrorist attacks by enemies who deliberately hide among civilians. The barrage of unconstructive criticism directed against Israeli self-defense actions will only encourage more terrorism of this kind.