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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.

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Tags: Middle East, Security

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

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