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Israel's Defenders Defy the Evidence

By Omar Baddar

The list of UN resolutions, legal bodies, mainstream human rights organizations, and prominent human rights advocates who have recently condemned, with overwhelming evidence, Israel's atrocities against Palestinians has become too large to ignore. Indeed, it is so extensive that one can no longer defend Israel's human rights record without having to attack the international human rights community itself, along with authoritative institutions of international law, and accuse them of exacerbating the conflict. Such zealotry is to be expected (and dismissed) coming from fringe groups, but it requires a refutation when it is given the guise of credibility and promoted in the mainstream by prominent figures, as it has by prominent Harvard Law professor, Alan Dershowitz.

Dershowitz's latest book on the subject, The Case Against Israel's Enemies, is a desperate attempt to defame any prominent critic of Israel's atrocious record in the occupied Palestinian territories. That includes accusing Jimmy Carter of bigotry, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of enabling terrorism, among other absurd allegations. A few weeks ago, we saw the release of the Goldstone Report, sanctioned by the UN Human Rights Council to detail the events of Israel's assault on Gaza, as yet another highly credible document detailing Israel's atrocities against the Palestinian people. Earlier this week, Dershowitz accused the Report of being "one-sided," of defaming "one of the most moral military forces in the world," of presenting conclusions that were "entirely false as a matter of demonstrable fact," and of being "a barrier to peace." Dershowitz's accusation of one-sidedness of the report hardly required a retort, given that Hamas condemned the report with nearly identical arguments to those used by Israel. But the rest of his distorting allegations in that column do merit a response.

"One of the most moral military forces in the world" that Dershowtiz refers to here is the Israeli Defense Force, whose use of millions of cluster munitions against Lebanese civilians in 2006 prompted one of its military commanders to state the following in Ha'aretz: "What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs." That's the same military force that "flattened" entire neighborhoods in Gaza, and attacked residential areas illegally with white phosphorous so extensively that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch dubbed the attack a "war crime." Reviewing any major human rights report on Israel/Palestine from the past decade would quickly demonstrate the abhorrent manner in which the Israeli military has behaved towards the Palestinians.

Dershowitz goes on to assert that Israel was forced "in desperation" to attack Gaza because of Hamas rocket fire, and that it was only targeting Palestinian militants, accidentally killing Palestinian civilians who were being used as "human shields" by Hamas. The compounding of falsehoods in this scenario is so extensive that one struggles to know where to begin.

First, Gaza was under an illegal and devastating siege that caused immense human suffering and death. In the words of Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, "Gaza was in the midst of a humanitarian crisis even before this fighting started due to Israel's unlawful blockade." Second, Israel violated the ceasefire with Hamas seven times in its very first week. And despite minor occasional violations by both sides, it was a major Israeli attack on November 4th, 2008, killing 6 Hamas members that caused the truce's disintegration.

When we explore the cause of extensive Palestinian civilian casualties, we find two contending arguments: on the one hand, human rights organizations and the UN have argued that Israel carelessly or deliberately attacked civilians. On the other is the Israeli government's argument, replicated above by Dershowitz. Backing the human rights organizations' argument are several authoritative and independent investigations, admissions by the Israeli soldiers that they killed civilians under loose rules of engagement, hundreds of dead Palestinian civilians, and quotes like this one from IDF commanders: "We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction." Backing the Israeli government's arguments is a group of staunch defenders of Israeli policies, including Dershowitz. And while Palestinian militants did indeed hide among civilians, the misleading allegation that they used "human shields" presents a bit of distasteful irony when considering the fact that Israel was documented to have used Palestinian human shields (in the very crude sense implied by the term) on several occasions during the operation.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some have employed distortions and ad hominem denunciations to an extent that seems to implicate the entire international law and human rights communities in some sort of anti-Israel conspiracy, all to keep from acknowledging the self-evident. In going this far, they actually make the reality they've set out to becloud ever more lucid: it is not those who document war crimes that are preventing Israelis and Palestinians from reaching a peace agreement. It is the stubbornness and zealotry of those who, in their single-minded attempt to obscure or exonerate either side's atrocities, defy all logic and evidence to defend the indefensible that are the real barrier to peace.


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