The current warfare between Hamas and Israel shatters several myths that have been accepted as gospel by many in the international community and the media.
MYTH 1: The primary cause of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is the occupation of the West Bank and Israel’s settlement policy.
Reality: The reality is that Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israeli cities and civilian targets has little to do with Israel’s occupation and settlement policy on the West Bank. Even if Israel were to make peace with the Palestinian Authority, the rocket attacks from Gaza would not stop. These Hamas attacks are incited by the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, Syria and others opposed to the very concept of the nation state for the Jewish people. The best proof of this reality is that these attacks began as soon as Israel ended its occupation of Gaza and uprooted all the civilian settlements from that area.
Israel left behind agricultural hot houses and other equipment that the residents of Gaza could have used to build a decent society. Moreover, there was no siege of Gaza at that time. Gaza was free to become a Singapore on the Mediterranean. Instead, Hamas engaged in a coup-d’état murdering many members of the Palestinian Authority, seizing control of all of Gaza, and turning it into a militant theocracy. They used the material left behind by the Israelis not to feed their citizens but to build rockets with which to attack Israeli civilians. It was only after these rocket attacks that Israel began a siege of Gaza designed to prevent the importation of rockets and material used to build terrorist kidnap tunnels. There are good reasons why Israel should change its settlement policy on the West Bank and try harder to achieve peace with the Palestinian Authority. But even if that were to be accomplished the rockets from Gaza would continue and Israel would have to take the kind of military steps any democracy would take to prevent its civilians from lethal aggression.
MYTH 2: What is being experienced now is a “cycle of violence”, with equal blame on both sides.
Reality: The reality, of course, is that 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. There is absolutely no symmetry between the war crimes committed by Hamas and the entirely appropriate military response by the Israeli Defense Forces.
MYTH 3: Muhammad Abbas is part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Reality: Muhammad Abbas has become part of the problem, especially in recent days. He has supported Hamas in its war crimes against Israeli civilians and has characterized Israel’s self-defense actions as “genocide” against all of the Palestinian people. I have met Abbas and found him to be a decent man who genuinely wants a peaceful solution to the conflict, but he is not a man of courage who is prepared to stand up and tell the Palestinian people the truth about the current conflict. His willingness to join together with Hamas in a governmental partnership demonstrates both his weakness and his willingness to be complicit with evil. He speaks out of two sides of his mouth, one side when he speaks in English to Western media and diplomats, and the other when he speaks in Arabic to the Palestinian street, which he knows contains many supporters of Hamas. His public support for Hamas has made it far more difficult for Israel to arrive at a negotiated solution with the Palestinian Authority. It has also made it more difficult for Hamas to stop the rocket barrage and agree to a cease fire. The entire civilized world should be standing behind Israel as it defends itself against war crimes. 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.
Professor Dershowitz’s latest book is Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law