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Alan Dershowitz

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Why a Cease-Fire Will Not Last

by Alan Dershowitz, posted Nov 29, 2012

 A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas may end the immediate exchange of rockets, but it is not likely to be of long duration. That is because every time Hamas fires rockets into Israel, it creates a win-win-win situation for itself.

The first win is that it terrorizes Israeli civilians, killing some, wounding others and creating panic among millions of Israelis who fear being hit. This show of strength enhances Hamas' standing within much of the Muslim world.

The second win is that by firing these rockets from densely populated areas in Gaza City, rather than from the many open fields outside of the populated areas in the Gaza Strip, Hamas provokes Israel into targeting the rockets and the terrorists who fire them. As soon as the terrorists fire the rockets, they run to special underground bunkers that are open only to the terrorists, thereby leaving civilians above ground and vulnerable to Israeli rockets.

This is a deliberate tactic employed by Hamas over many years and designed to bring about international condemnation of Israel for inadvertently killing Palestinian civilians. Israel’s only other options would be to allow Hamas rockets to be fired unanswered into Israel, or to conduct a ground war which would result in even greater international condemnation.

The third win for Hamas is that every time it fires rockets into Israel and provokes Israel into returning fire, it weakens the Palestinian Authority — its arch enemy in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has renounced violence, but it has no choice other than to support Hamas’ violence against Israel, which is popular among many Palestinians. The end result is a strengthened Hamas, which is seen as doing something and a weakened Palestinian Authority, which is seen as doing nothing.

The proof that this win-win-win strategy is working for Hamas can be seen on television, in the newspapers, at the United Nations and among the chattering classes. Virtually everyone acknowledges that Israel has the right to defend itself, but that Israeli military actions — particularly if they are tough enough to achieve a modicum of success — do more harm than good to Israel’s standing around the world. That is precisely the reaction that Hamas has been counting on — and with repeated success.

They attack Israel, thus committing the double war crime of using Palestinian civilians as human shields and targeting Israeli civilians. Yet it is Israel that is criticized for engaging in entirely lawful activities, such as conducting a military blockade of Gaza designed to prevent new rockets and rocket material from reaching Hamas terrorists, and targeting Hamas terrorist leaders and Hamas fighters who fire rockets at Israeli civilians.

So long as this dynamic continues, it will be in Hamas’ interest to do precisely what it did in 2008 and again now: start a new battle by firing rockets at Israeli civilians from behind its Palestinian human shields, provoke Israel into responding, and calling on the international community to condemn Israel for killing its babies.

This “dead-baby strategy” has been acknowledged by Hamas leaders, who refer to the victims as “martyrs” and proclaim that Palestinian children and women “have formed human shields . . . in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine.” This strategy always works with an international media that cannot resist showing pictures of the dead babies who are brought to them by Hamas leaders (even when, as in one case, the baby was killed by a misfiring Hamas rocket.)

The real victims of this gruesome strategy are the Palestinian civilians who are cynically used as human shields. Hamas leaders refer to them as martyrs, because they are being used to implement this win-win-win strategy. There is growing evidence that at least some Gaza civilians are fed up with the Hamas strategy. They complain that too few Hamas fighters are being killed and too many Palestinian civilians are dying. They complain that Hamas has deliberately built underground bunkers only to protect its fighters but not its civilians.

Unfortunately, the Gaza Strip is not a democracy. It is tyranny ruled by Hamas killers, who have no hesitation in murdering Palestinians who express disagreement with their strategy. It is unlikely, therefore, that the views of the dissatisfied Palestinians in Gaza will have any impact on the Hamas strategy.

What we can expect, therefore, is a relatively short truce — Hamas calls it a “hudna” — that will last until Hamas decides it is time to invoke its strategy once again. Israel will respond, as it has in the past. In Israel this is called, “mowing the lawn” — cutting down Hamas periodically with no real expectation that the deadly grass will not continue to grow.

The only solution to this recurring problem is for the international community and the media, once and for all, to expose the Hamas strategy, to condemn it, and to deny Hamas the diplomatic and media victory it seeks to achieve by its double war crimes. 

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

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