If this were the first time that Hamas deliberately provoked Israel into self-defense actions that resulted in the unintended deaths of Gaza civilians, the media could be excused for playing into the hands of Hamas. The most recent Hamas provocations — having 40,000 Gazans try to tear down the border fence and enter Israel with Molotov cocktails and other improvised weapons — are part of a repeated Hamas tactic that I have called the “dead baby strategy.” Hamas’ goal is to have Israel kill as many Gazans as possible so that the headlines always begin, and often end, with the body count. Hamas deliberately sends women and children to the front line, while their own fighters hide behind these human shields.
Hamas leaders have long acknowledged this tactic. Fathi Hammad, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, stated as far back as 2008:
For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry, at which women excel, and so do all the people living on this land. The elderly excel at this, and so do the mujahideen and the children. This is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly, and the mujahideen, in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine. It is as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: ‘we desire death like you desire life.’
Hamas used this tactic to provoke two wars with Israel in which its fighters fired rockets from civilian areas, including hospitals, schools and mosques. When Israel responded, it tried its best to avoid civilian casualties, dropping warning leaflets, calling residents of potential targets and dropping non-lethal noise bombs on the roofs of houses that were being used to launch rockets and store explosives. Inevitably, some civilians were killed, and the media blamed Israel for these deaths, despite the precautions it had taken.
The same was true when Hamas built terror tunnels used to kidnap Israeli civilians. The entrances to these tunnels were in civilian areas as well, including mosques and schools. Using their own civilians as human shields, while targeting Israeli civilians, is a double war crime. Yet, the media generally focusses on Israel’s reaction to these war crimes, rather than Hamas’ war crimes.
The cruel reality is that every time Israel accidentally kills a Gaza civilian, Israel loses. And every time Israel kills a Gaza civilian, Hamas wins. Israelis grieve every civilian death its army accidentally causes. Hamas benefits from every death Israel accidentally causes. That is why it encourages its women and children to become martyrs.
Calling this the “dead baby strategy” may seem cruel, because it is cruel. But don’t blame the messenger for accurately describing this tactic. Blame those who cynically use it. And blame the media for playing into the hands of those who use it by reporting only the body count and not the deliberate Hamas tactic that leads to one sided body counts.
It is true that Gaza is in a desperate situation and that it is wounded. But the wound itself is self-inflicted. When Israel ended its occupation of Gaza — removing every single soldier and settler — Gaza could have become the Singapore on the Mediterranean. It is a beautiful area with a large seacoast. It received infusions of cash and other help from Europe. Israel left behind agricultural equipment and hot houses. But instead of using these resources to feed, house and educate its citizens, Hamas built rockets, terror tunnels and Molotov cocktails. It threw dissenters off the roof and murdered members of the Palestinian Authority who were willing to recognize Israel and negotiate with it.
Hamas rejects the two-state solution or any solution that leaves Israel intact. Its only solution is violence, and the events at the fence these past days are a manifestation of that violence. Would any country in the world allow 40,000 people, sworn to its destruction, to knock down a border fence and attack its citizens living peacefully near the border? Of course not. Could Israel have done more to reduce casualties among those trying to breach the border fence? I don’t know, and neither do the legions of arm chair generals that are currently criticizing Israel for the steps it took to prevent a catastrophe among the residents of kibbutzim and towns that are proximate to the border fence.
One thing is crystal clear: Hamas will continue to use the “dead baby strategy” as long as the media continues to report the deaths in the manner in which it has reported them in recent weeks. Many in the media are complicit in these deaths because their one-sided reporting encourages Hamas to send innocent women and children to the front line.
Perhaps Israel could do a better job in defending its civilians but it is certain that the media can do a better job in accurately reporting the Hamas strategy that results in so many innocent deaths.
There is a marvelous cartoon that illustrates the difference between Hamas and Israel. It shows an Israeli soldier standing in front of a baby carriage with a baby in it, shielding the baby. Then it shows a Hamas terrorist standing behind a baby carriage with the baby in it, using the baby to shield him. This cartoon better illustrates the reality that is occurring at the Gaza fence than most of the “objective” reporting by the media.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of “Trumped Up, How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy.” Follow Dershowitz on Twitter @AlanDersh and Facebook @AlanMDershowitz.
This article was first published in The Hill.