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Opinion

Israel, Hamas, and moral idiocy

Much of the world's response is a false moral equivalence that simply encourages the terrorists.

By Alan M. Dershowitz / December 31, 2008



Cambridge, Mass.

Israel's decision to take military action against Hamas rocket attacks targeting its civilian population has been long in coming. I vividly recall a visit my wife and I took to the Israeli city of Sderot on March 20 of this year. Over the past four years, Palestinian terrorists – in particular, Hamas and Islamic Jihad – have fired more than 2,000 rockets at this civilian area, which is home to mostly poor and working-class people.

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The rockets are designed exclusively to maximize civilian deaths, and some have barely missed schoolyards, kindergartens, hospitals, and school buses. But others hit their targets, killing more than a dozen civilians since 2001, including in February 2008 a father of four who had been studying at the local university. These anticivilian rockets have also injured and traumatized countless children.

The residents of Sderot were demanding that their nation take action to protect them. But Israel's postoccupation military options were limited, since Hamas deliberately fires its deadly rockets from densely populated urban areas, and the Israeli army has a strict policy of trying to avoid civilian casualties.

The firing of rockets at civilians from densely populated civilian areas is the newest tactic in the war between terrorists who love death and democracies that love life. The terrorists have learned how to exploit the morality of democracies against those who do not want to kill civilians, even enemy civilians.

The attacks on Israeli citizens have little to do with what Israel does or does not do. They have everything to do with an ideology that despises – and openly seeks to destroy – the Jewish state. Consider that rocket attacks increased substantially after Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, and they accelerated further after Hamas seized control last year.

In the past months, a shaky cease-fire, organized by Egypt, was in effect. Hamas agreed to stop the rockets and Israel agreed to stop taking military action against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. The cease-fire itself was morally dubious and legally asymmetrical.

Israel, in effect, was saying to Hamas: If you stop engaging in the war crime of targeting our innocent civilians, we will stop engaging in the entirely lawful military acts of targeting your terrorists. Under the cease-fire, Israel reserved the right to engage in self-defense actions such as attacking terrorists who were in the course of firing rockets at its civilians.

Just before the hostilities began, Israel reopened a checkpoint to allow humanitarian aid to reenter Gaza. It had closed the point of entry after it had been targeted by Gazan rockets. Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, also issued a stern, final warning to Hamas that unless it stopped the rockets, there would be a full-scale military response. The Hamas rockets continued and Israel kept its word, implementing a carefully prepared targeted air attack against Hamas targets.

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