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The predictable condemners

Alan M. Dershowitz, Jerusalem Post July 22, 2006.

The Hizbullah and Hamas provocations against Israel once again demonstrate how terrorists exploit human rights and the media in their attacks on democracies.

By hiding behind their own civilians the Islamic radicals issue a challenge to democracies: Either violate your own morality by coming after us and inevitably killing some innocent civilians, or maintain your morality and leave us with a free hand to target your innocent civilians.

This challenge presents democracies such as Israel with a lose-lose option, and the terrorists with a win-win option.

There is one variable that could change this dynamic and present democracies with a viable option that could make terrorism less attractive as a tactic: The international community, the anti-Israel segment of the media and the so called "human rights" organizations could stop falling for this terrorist gambit and acknowledge that they are being used to promote the terrorist agenda.

Whenever a democracy is presented with the lose-lose option and chooses to defend its citizens by going after the terrorists who are hiding among civilians, this trio of predictable condemners can be counted on by the terrorists to accuse the democracy of "overreaction," "disproportionality" and "violations of human rights."

In doing so they play right into the hands of the terrorists, causing more terrorism and more civilian casualties on both sides.
If instead this trio could, for once, be counted on to blame the terrorists for the civilian deaths on both sides, this tactic would no longer be a win-win situation for the terrorists.

IT SHOULD BE obvious by now that Hizbullah and Hamas actually want the Israeli military to kill as many Lebanese and Palestinian civilians as possible. That is why they store their rockets underneath the beds of civilians; why they launch their missiles from crowded civilian neighborhoods and hide among civilians. They are seeking to induce Israel to defend its civilians by going after them among their civilian "shields." They know that every civilian they induce Israel to kill hurts Israel in the media and the international and human rights communities.

They regard these human shields as shahids - martyrs - even if they did not volunteer for this lethal job. Under the law, criminals who use human shields are responsible for the deaths of the shields, even if the bullet that kills them came from the gun of a policeman.

Israel has every self-interest in minimizing civilian casualties, whereas the terrorists have every self-interest in maximizing them - on both sides. Israel should not be condemned for doing what every democracy would and should do: taking every reasonable military step to stop the terrorists from killing their innocent civilians.

NOW THAT some of those who are launching rockets at Israeli cities have announced they have new surprises in store for Israel that may include chemical and biological weapons, the stakes have gotten even higher.

What would Israeli critics regard as "proportioned" to a chemical or biological attack? What would they say if Israel tried to preempt such an attack and, in the process, killed some civilians? Must a democracy absorb a first strike from a weapon of mass destruction before it fights back? Would any other democracy be expected to do that?

The world must come to recognize the cynical way in which terrorists exploit civilian casualties. They launch anti-personnel rockets designed to maximize enemy civilian casualties, then they cry "human rights" when their own civilians - behind whom they are deliberately hiding - are killed by the democracies in the process of trying to prevent further acts of terrorism.

The very idea that terrorists who use women and children as suicide bombers against other women and children shed crocodile tears over the deaths of civilians they deliberately put in harm's way gives new meaning to the word "hypocrisy." We all know that hypocrisy is a tactic of the terrorists, but it is shocking that others fall for it and become complicit with the terrorists.

Let the blame fall where it belongs: on the terrorists who deliberately seek to kill enemy civilians and give their democratic enemies little choice but to kill some civilians behind whom the terrorists are hiding.

Those who condemn Israel for killing civilians - who are used as human shields and swords for the terrorists - actually cause more civilian deaths and make it harder for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank.

HOW THE WORLD reacts to Israel's current military efforts to protect its citizens will have a considerable impact on future Israeli steps toward peace. Prior to the recent kidnappings and rocket attacks the Israeli government had announced its intention to engage in further withdrawals from large portions of the West Bank.

But how can Israel be expected to move forward with any plan for withdrawal if all it can expect in return is more terrorism - what the terrorists regard as "land for rocket launchings" - and more condemnation when it seeks to protect its civilians?

The writer is a Professor of Law at Harvard University