Israel has declared northern Gaza a war zone. They have given its civilians the opportunity to move several miles south in order to protect themselves from Israeli bombing of legitimate military targets, including Gaza City. Hamas has told the civilians to stay and serve as human shields. It is actually blocking the egress roads to safety so as to assure that civilians who want to leave cannot do so.
The feckless United Nations, instead of helping with evacuation, has told the civilians that evacuation is “impossible.”
No, it isn’t.
It may be logistically difficult and imperfect, but many civilian lives could be saved if the U.N. and other groups, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent, were to try to help families to move out of harm’s way. But Hamas wants these human shields—especially children, women, and the elderly—to remain in harm’s way. It is not enough for them that the more than 100 Israeli hostages already serve the same purpose.
Using the most vulnerable of civilians in this way is a Hamas tactic that goes back many years. As one of its leaders boasted in 2008: “For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry… The elderly excel at this, and so do… the children. This is why they have formed human shields of the women and children.”
This boast has been repeated over the years in the form of the Hamas slogan, “We love death as our enemy loves life,” as has the use of children as human shields to protect legitimate military targets against lawful Israeli bombing. In giving civilians sufficient warning to leave, Israel has gone further than other Western nations at war. In World War II, the U.S. did not warn the civilians of
Japanese cities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) that were about to be nuclear targets or were firebombed (Tokyo). Great Britain did not give the civilians of Dresden the opportunity to leave. In more recent wars—such as Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan—advance warnings were not provided before bombs were dropped.
Israel is generally held to a higher standard of morality by other governments, the media, and academia. Hamas knows this and exploits it as a weapon of war. Hamas understands that the killing of civilians—whether deliberate or collateral to legitimate military actions—is seen as wrong. But when dead children are shown on TV, many viewers fail to distinguish between deliberate targeting of civilians and unintentional collateral deaths. Hamas takes advantage of this psychological reality. Hamas has even come up with a name—”The CNN strategy”—for this misuse of morality.
I described It several years ago: “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 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.”
Israel must not permit itself to be limited in its preventive military actions by the double standard of morality imposed upon it by many and taken advantage of by Hamas. It is an all-out war against Hamas-controlled Gaza, and Israel is entitled, by any fair reading of international law, to do to Gaza City what the U.S. did to Berlin and Tokyo in 1945. It has warned civilians to leave, and if they choose to remain, as many have, or if they are prevented from leaving by Hamas, this cannot be allowed to stop Israel from accomplishing its legitimate preventive goals. The collateral deaths of Palestinian civilians, caused directly by the Hamas decision to use them as human shields, would be the moral, political, and legal responsibility of Hamas.
For far too long, Israel has been deterred from taking necessary military action by their concern about violating the double standards imposed on it by friends and foes alike. Indeed, Israeli reluctance to violate those standards allowed Hamas to re-arm and re-coordinate its military to facilitate the recent horrible massacres.
These brutal attacks against Israeli civilians must change all that. Israel should apply its own very high standards of morality in deciding how to balance the collateral deaths of Palestinian civilians against the need to prevent the intended deaths of its own civilians at the hands of Hamas. It should resolve doubts in favor of its civilians, as all nations throughout history have.
Follow Alan Dershowitz on Twitter @AlanDersh and Facebook @AlanMDershowitz.His new podcast, “The Dershow,” is on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTubeDersh.Substack.com. He is the author of Get Trump: The Threat to Civil Liberties, Due Process, and Our Constitutional Rule of Law.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.