In his new book, “Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel’s Just War Against Hamas,” former Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz defends Israel’s decision to launch Operation Protective Edge this summer to destroy tunnels Hamas planned to use to kidnap Israelis. The just-released e-book (RosettaBooks with Gatestone Institute), which will come out in hard cover in November, argues that the larger death toll on the Palestinian side in the war was the result of a deliberate strategy on the part of Hamas. It opens with a dedication “to all the innocent victims of Hamas’s dead baby strategy — Palestinians and Israelis alike” as well as to the IDF soldiers who died in the war. With chapter titles like, “Hamas’s Threat to Israel’s Airport Threatens a Two-State Solution” and “ISIS is to America as Hamas is to Israel,” the book combines chapters penned as the conflict raged, along with older writings. Prior to Rosh HaShanah, Professor Dershowitz spoke with The Jewish Week about what he terms Hamas’ “dead baby strategy,” his views on Jimmy Carter and J Street, and Israel’s methods in fighting Operation Protective Edge.
Jewish Week: Is there any way for Israel to win the public relations war against what you term Hamas’ ‘dead baby’ strategy? What factors enable this strategy to succeed?
Alan Dershowitz: As long as Hamas wins the war of public relations it will continue to do this every two years. The people responsible for [the death toll on both sides] include Hamas, Jimmy Carter, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the National Lawyers’ Guild, and anybody who is encouraging Hamas to use this ‘dead baby’ strategy of racking up the death toll on the Palestinian side. They have blood on their hands.
That’s accusing some really prominent people of culpability.
Jimmy Carter calls Israel an apartheid country and accuses it of war crimes. … He and Bishop Tutu should share the ‘Hamas Peace Prize’ because they have encouraged Hamas to do this again and again — to use children as human shields — because it works to stir public opinion against Israel … If someone robs a bank and holds a child in front of him and then starts firing at civilians, and the police fire to try and stop him and accidentally kill the child, who is responsible for the death of that child?
Hamas only builds shelters for Hamas fighters and then fires from civilian areas, so of course you will have a disparity in the death toll, because that is Hamas’s strategy, and that has nothing to do with proportionality. Then the media plays a numbers game — this many Israeli dead and this many Palestinians, and the reporting is shallow so some people don’t understand why this is happening.
Is it possible some of the people who condemn Israel do not have hate in their hearts but are moved by compassion over the death toll of Palestinian civilians? And that some on the left are sincere as opposed to motivated by bias?
Yes, there are people who think only with their hearts … Look, the only weapons I have are my honest words and facts … There are people like [journalist] Peter Beinart who simply will not give Israel any benefit of the doubt, and have made their careers on this …When J Street would not join a unity demonstration, that made it clear J Street is not a pro-Israel organization.
A colleague recently suggested to me that perhaps Israel overreacted and fell into a trap in launching Operation Protective Edge this summer since clearly, as you point out, Hamas wanted Israel to attack, launched rockets from densely populated civilian areas and perhaps wanted their civilians to die. Could this have been one big trap and mistake?
Israel is a democracy — its government represents its people, including the people of Sderot, of Ashdod and Ashkelon — they have the right to demand of government they not accept rocket attacks and not be sitting ducks while terrorists are attempting to tunnel into Israel to commit kidnappings. Did the U.S. fall into a trap after 9/11? Did it make sense to go to war in Iraq? Maybe not. What should Israel do—ignore the people of Israel? The people who critique Israel believe they know better and they know more. Yes, it is a trap, but what Israel did was also the right thing because it was being attacked, and it has to protect the lives of its own citizens even if it means it will lose the public relations war.
Do you believe Israel truly did everything humanly possible to avoid killing Palestinian civilians while defending its own people? How do you know?
How do we know Israel did all it could to protect civilian life? For starters, Israel has every reason to do all it can to reduce civilian deaths. When Palestinian civilians die, Israelis themselves complain, and the international community condemns Israel. There would be no rational reason for Israel to try to kill Palestinian civilians. Is Israel perfect? Could they issue more warnings? Do they ever make a mistake? I can’t say they never did. But there are examples in my book of the ways in which the IDF tried to protect Palestinian civilians and Hamas undermined these efforts. You have to understand who is responsible for these civilian deaths. Hamas is attacking from behind their civilians and, when Israel does all it can to warn the civilians to leave, Hamas tells those civilians not to leave. Israel’s ratio of civilian to combatant casualties is one to one—that’s a four-time better success rate at avoiding civilian casualties than the U.S. has in Afghanistan and Iraq. Russia has killed hundreds of civilians to every combatant.
But some say that Gaza is so crowded there’s nowhere for civilians to go.
Not true. Look, in my book I outline how Hamas, which is a kleptocracy, meaning it steals from its own people and builds high-rises, had one such high-rise that was a command center. Israel gave a warning before it hit the building and not a single person was hurt because they simply left the building. Some say Hamas has to fight in densely populated areas because there are no open areas. But look on Google Earth. In between major cities, there are large open areas that Hamas could easily have used for launching rockets and building tunnels. Their answer is, “If we were in the open Israel would get us.” Yes. But the fact that, as a fighter, you would put yourself in harm’s way is not a reason to fail to do that and instead choose to commit a double war crime by using your civilians as shields.