Middle East

Alan M. Dershowitz: Hamas fires rockets from densely populated areas – then cynically exploits images of the inevitable civilian deaths when Israel fires back. In this photo: Smoke rises after an Israeli forces strike in Gaza City, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. (Bernat Armangue/AP)

It’s amazing and disturbing how easily Hamas manipulates the media as part of its overall strategy to turn international opinion against Israel.

For years, Hamas has used the same tactic. It fires rockets from its own heavily populated civilian areas into Israel’s civilian areas. In doing so, it commits a double war crime. It uses its own civilian population as human shields and it targets Israeli civilians.

Hamas exploits the cruel dilemma… by gruesomely parading the dead babies and other civilian victims in front of the international media.

Hamas’s leaders understand that a democracy like Israel must be responsive to the demands of its civilian population. It cannot simply allow rockets to be fired into Israel. Nor can Israel wait until a rocket hits a school bus, a kindergarten or a movie theater. Israel must act to prevent such inevitable mass-casualty events. But because Hamas deliberately fires its rockets from its own densely populated areas, rather than from the many open spaces outside of Gaza City, Israel has no choice but to try its best to target the rockets, knowing that there will inevitably be some unintended civilian casualties.

Hamas then exploits the cruel dilemma that it has deliberately imposed on Israel by gruesomely parading the dead babies and other civilian victims in front of the international media. Sometimes it even fakes these scenes, as when it used the baby killed by an errant Hamas rocket, or when it or radicals put a video online of a baby actually killed in Syria.

It may sound cruel to accuse Hamas leaders of deliberately causing the deaths of its own civilians in order to generate international sympathy, but that is the reality. This “dead baby strategy” should be obvious to all. Even Hamas leaders describe the dead babies as “martyrs,” thereby implicitly acknowledging the tactic.

Any reasonable moralist should attribute the blame for every dead civilian — Palestinian or Israeli — to Hamas, for using this double war crime tactic. But instead the media keep playing into the hands of Hamas, thereby encouraging it to repeat the tactic over and over again.

If the international community and the media want the conflict between Hamas and Israel to end, they (OR: we) must stop encouraging this gruesome Hamas tactic.

Those who blame Israel have the heavy burden of coming forward with an alternative. Should Israel simply allow the rockets to target its civilians, hoping and praying that the Iron Dome will not allow one to slip through and hit a school? And what if a school is hit and 100 children killed? Would a military response by Israel then be justified?

Some critics of Israel argue that Israel brought this situation about by closing access to Gaza and turning it into a place of desperation and poverty. But that fails to acknowledge that Hamas began to fire its rockets well before there were any closures. Indeed, when Israel ended its occupation of Gaza, it left behind farming equipment, hothouses and other materials that could have helped Gaza become a viable economic entity. Instead its leaders decided to use its resources to build rocket launchers and deadly rockets. Moreover, Egypt has now opened its access to Gaza, and Israel continues to send food, electricity, medicine and other humanitarian aid to people who are firing rockets at its civilians.

Hamas does not want peace with Israel. It wants the end of Israel. No country is obliged to commit politicide.

If the international community and the media want the conflict between Hamas and Israel to end, they (OR: we) must stop encouraging this gruesome Hamas tactic. We should condemn Hamas for its double war crimes, haul its leaders in front of international tribunals and stop incentivizing Hamas to continue with its gruesome and cynical dead baby tactic. Unless and until this is done, Hamas will have every reason for continuing to fire rockets at Israeli civilians.


Tags: Middle East, Security

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  • Kate

    Well said! Hamas must be brought to justice for terrorism they perpetrate not only on Israel but their own people!

    • midtempo

      Good luck bringing Hamas to justice. They operate outside the confines of law and justice.

  • Javier

    Wow, reading this article shames me to sponsor NPR. So far 3 Israelis has been killed vs 100+ Palestinians. This is not a war it is a massacre. The Palestinians do not have the technology or the weapons to inflict any serious damage to Israel. Only through diplomacy and a long term peace deal this conflict will be resolved. Israel needs to lift the blockade and accept the Palestinians have a right to exist. The Palestinian need to accept that Israel is there to stay. It is immoral for us, the US, to not call this as it is and let Israel as do as they please.

    • Reema Hamdan

      I’m sick of the anti-Palestine propaganda. “The bottom line is this,” Carter writes in an online excerpt posted by his publisher. “Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens — and honor its own previous commitments — by accepting its legal borders. All Arab neighbors must pledge to honor Israel’s right to live in peace under these conditions.”

      • Kerry Maxwell

        The last sentence is precisely why this will never happen.

    • sofakingozumm

      You start your statement with “…reading this article…” and then go on to show that you did not read this article at all. This is not “anti-Palestine propaganda”; rather, it’s “anti-war crimes sentiment”–and that’s something that’s shared by anyone with rational, humane thought. It’s horrible that many innocent civilians are being killed as a result of this conflict/war–and there’s no arguing that that’s largely skewed towards Palestinian civilians. But the fact remains that Hamas’ leaders are largely responsible for the specific location of Israel’s strike targets. (Re-read the article and do some external research!)

      Both Israel and Palestine need to recognize each others’ rights to exist–based on current borders–and the entire international community needs to support that.

      • noslack2327

        Israel needs to honor the borders prior to the 1967 War, and remove itself from illegally occupied territories. Why do you suppose they are called The Occupied Territories?

        • midtempo

          I think both sides are acting rationally given the circumstances of the past six decades. If Israel would stop building illegal “settlements” in the West Bank, they would have a lot more moral standing and credibility than Hamas does. But because they continue to do so, they don’t. Israel obviously wants to build so many settlements within the West Bank that they feel they have a right to annex the whole thing. Many Israelis feel that since the West Bank has places with names such as “Jericho,” that it’s their God-given right to live there.

          Mr. Derschowitz makes zero mention of the illegal settlement issue, which boils down to Israel not respecting Palestine’s right to exist in their actions. By making no mention of this, he conveniently makes it look like this is all Hamas’s fault. He also conveniently doesn’t mention how the Arab Spring has changed the region’s sympathies and how it will isolate Israel.

        • Andrew Page

          Actually, the current post-67 borders pretty much match the 1948 borders that were laid out by the UN. As for what they’re called, I imagine the Israeli’s call them something else.

    • Sinclair2

      Why would you be shamed to sponser NPR? Don’t you think it’s commendable that NPR allows everyone to speak their minds on these forums?
      If the Palestinians don’t have the technology or weapons to inflict serious damage, why do they choose to fire these rockets? The answer is simple. They want to attract attention from the world to see their discontent that Israel exists. That attention is broadcasted by the media and that is precisely what Mr. Dershowitz is telling us. Thus, Hamas is using the Media.

    • midtempo

      Wow, reading this article shames me to sponsor NPR

      Dude, this is Cognoscenti, which is explicitly the opinion pages of the WBUR affiliate of NPR. This is not NPR reporting. You will occasionally find pieces in an opinion section that you disagree with. Free speech is what makes the United States great…

  • noslack2327

    Perhaps the Palestinians would reject Hamas if the Israelis GOT OUT OF THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES (Oh, I forgot… it’s all Greater Israel, isn’t it?), AND ADHERED TO INTERNATIONAL LAW… FOR A CHANGE.

    • Our government’s support of Israel puts the American People at risk.

    • Israel needs to get out of the Occupied Territories.

    • Israel needs to learn to live with its neighbors.

    • Israel will cease to exist if it persists as a Hobbesian State.

    And, Professor Dershowitz, why don’t you move to Israel? You clearly think more of Israel than the United States of America.

    • David Eddleman

      Comments closed in other section. however, here’s a qualified apology:
      You gave me enough info that i do believe you were in Vietnam. My apologies for saying you weren’t in the military and that you were a coward. I believe I was wrong and I am sorry for those statements. I believe you did serve your country in one of the most difficult wars we ever fought with the least appreciation of any for fighting it. A “gunbunny” is a common term for 13B MOS, Field artillery. I was this E1~E5 for 4 years on the 105mm howitzers before OCS. Understandably missed.

      The reason it is qualified is that i don’t see how you could have been a platoon leader because if you were, you would know:

      1. That as a commissioned officer, you are DD214’d out of the enlisted ranks upon your receipt of your commission. You are bumped up to E7 paygrade while at Benning.

      3. Yes, I resigned my commission as 02 (1st Lt). You still must reach 02 before becoming an XO.

      4. You stated you were discharged in ’69. Commissioned officers are not “discharged”. They resign.

      USS liberty. Yes, Israel likely knew it was US flagged, however with 250,000 enemy soldiers positioned to attack will armor units, their country would have been destroyed without the element of surpise, which the USS Liberty was in a position to remove. You know as well as I that if the destruction of our country and the lives of every man, woman, and child here could be put at risk by even an ally’s vessel in the wrong place at the wrong time, we wouldn’t hesitate to take it out, and at that point, Israel was attacking that enemy force without their “allies” approval or consent..

      And to respond to your comment about the arab world agreeing to the pre-67 borders, all did except Hamas. They wanted those borders and the right to continue trying to destroy israel. Look it up.

      If that blog opens up again, feel free to copy and paste this apology into it in it’s entirety.

      • noslack2327

        No, you are wrong again. I was DISCHARGED from Active Duty, and went on Inactive Reserve. I retained the commission, however, and technically still do.I have never “Resigned” it. Why don’t you just give it up???? I do not care to have a leg remf questioning me about anything. Once again let me write that my service is none of your business. I served as an Infantry Platoon Leader and then BN S-5 in Vietnam. I was there 364 days and a wake-up. You were never there.

        You blamed the United States Navy for the Israelis’ attack on the U. S. S. Liberty in which many of our sailors were killed and wounded. You put Israel and the Israelis at a higher priority than the United States and we people whjo care more about the United States than Israel. Now, in addition to your loyalty I doubt everything you write. Move to Israel. You belong there.

      • noslack2327

        You are bumped up to E7 paygrade while at Benning.

        And… wrong again. We were paid at E5 grade. You should get your story straight before writing anything.

  • gstoitsis

    Alan Dershowitz, has the right to express his opinion and NPR to host it. It is also our right and obligation to call it for what it is: morally bankrupt and disingenuous. After all this comes as no surprise from somebody who defended the torture of the Bush/Cheney regime.

  • Derecp

    Mr. Dershowitz’s commentary is as one-sided as the situation in the Middle East that he describes. It is unhelpful, not to mention disingenuous to suggest that one side is much more to blame than the other. That kind of thinking is part of the problem, not the solution. Is is right that Hamas launches rockets into Israeli territory? Of course not. No more than it is for the Israeli government to continue to build illegal settlements in Palestinian territory. But whether Mr. Dershowitz likes it or not, nearly all the cards (or maybe better stated, bombs and bullets) are stacked in Israel’s favor. And until Israel stops using them to keep the Palestinian population in miserable, inhuman subjugation, nothing will change for the better, media manipulation or not.

  • Andrew Page

    What is it that Hamas needs that isn’t getting through the blockade? If they can get functioning, 18-foot Iranian made Fajir5 rockets through they could get anything from bushels of wheat to electron microscopes.

  • Joseph239

    I’ll accept that Hamas is that cynical. But assuming that using civilian deaths to manipulate public opinion is part of the Hamas strategy, why does Israel routinely do what its enemy wants? It appears they have been completely outmaneuvered by Hamas. Perhaps it is an unbeatable move, and perhaps responding on cue is the best the Israeli’s can come up with; I certainly don’t claim to have a better solution. But it still looks like repeating a mistake, again and again and again, with utterly predictable results.

  • Iowa Bob

    Let’s see Mr D. You are killed. It is your fault. Your friends are outraged that you were killed. It is their fault. The reporters report your death. It is their fault. The only people , according to you, whose fault it is not are those who ordered the killing and pulled the trigger. OJ called. He wants to hire you!

  • sjw81

    Great article. Media , especially TV, very easy to manipulate and they are doing fine job. Muslim Terrorists ONLY target civilians and innocents, as we constantly witness around the world and here in USA, on Sept 11…

  • Leo Gottfried

    If Hamas is not recognized who will you bring to justice? Good dilema…

  • Slack

    An eye for an eye until all are blind.

  • Laurie Seekins-Shuck

    Yeah, right! Like the Palestinians get time on the news. Hamas was created by Israel, just like the CIA created al Qaeda.