The real enemy of the innocent civilians of Gaza is Hamas, not Israel. Despite the fact that many Gazans voted for Hamas in the last Palestinian election, that terrorist organization has ill-served its constituents.
When Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005, it left behind farm equipment and other material capable of feeding the population. Donor countries promised support, both financial and political if Gaza would live up to its potential as a Singapore on the Mediterranean. But instead the leaders of Gaza enriched themselves and used the remaining resources to build rockets instead of plowshares. They fired these rockets at Israeli civilians and devised a strategy of using their own innocent civilians as human shields against Israel’s anticipated responses to the rocket fire. Only after Hamas started firing rockets at Israeli civilians, did Israel impose a painful blockade against Gaza, which contributed to the area’s poor economic situation.
The Hamas human shield strategy—in combination with its refusal to allow its civilians to seek shelter in Gaza’s many tunnels, which are reserved for Hamas terrorists and commanders—has resulted in what appears to be a disproportionate ratio of civilians to combatants among Gazan casualties. Although the international media blames this unfortunate ratio on Israel, the civilian population of Gaza knows the truth: That Hamas deliberately seeks to increase the number of civilian casualties by not providing them shelter, while seeking to decrease the number of terrorist casualties by providing them the safety of tunnels and other secure areas.
Following the publication of the Goldstone Report in 2009, which catalogued the high proportion of civilians to combatant deaths among Gazans, loud complaints were heard from many ordinary citizens of Gaza: Why do you protect Hamas fighters, while exposing civilians? Hamas responded by claiming—quite ironically—that many of those counted as “civilians” by the Goldstone Report, especially among the police, were actually Hamas combatants.
Whatever the facts turn out to be during the current encounter, more and more Gazans are beginning to understand how ill-served they have been by Hamas. And now, media reports are documenting the extraordinary wealth accumulated by Hamas leaders at the expense of ordinary Gazans. As one report put it: “With multi-million-dollar land deals, luxury villas and black market fuel from Egypt, Gaza's rulers made billions while the rest of the population struggled with 38-percent poverty and 40-percent unemployment.”
The report went on to detail the newly acquired wealth of specific Hamas leaders, strongly suggesting that this violent theocracy has now also become a criminal kleptocracy, at the expense of the people of Gaza.
During a recent radio interview, I was asked what I would do if I were a resident of Gaza, suffering from unemployment and Israeli rockets counterattacks? My answer was simple: I would try to overthrow the Hamas regime and make a deal with Israel under which Gaza would give up its rockets in exchange for a “Marshall Plan” that would feed and normalize its residence. Such a plan would require international inspection of imports and the end of the “tunnel economy” that has enriched Hamas leaders and allowed the importation of lethal rockets. The current Hamas leadership is unlikely to accept any plan that takes away their money and weapons, but if the people of Gaza were to demand change—a real “Gaza Spring”—anything is possible.
Many years ago Golda Meir engaged in hyperbolic overgeneralization when she said that peace will come “when Palestinians love their children more than they hate Israel.” Most Palestinians love their children. Many do hate Israel, because they have been taught to hate for generations. But more and more of them are coming to realize that the real enemy is not Israel, which left the Gaza Strip in 2005 and offered to leave most of the West Bank in 2000, 2001 and 2007. The real enemies of the Palestinians are those Hamas leaders who do in fact love Palestinian children less than they hate Israel. That’s why they are prepared to use these children as human sacrifices in their efforts to destroy the nation state of the Jewish people.
There will be peace between Israel and the Palestinians only when the Palestinians overthrow or vote out the violent theocrats and kleptocrats of Hamas—or unless Hamas can be induced by the citizens of Gaza to change its destructive policies. The alternative will be a Gaza in which civilians continue to pay the heavy price for Hamas’ hatred of Israel and contempt for its own citizens.
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Alan M. Dershowitz is Professor of Law at Harvard and a practicing criminal and constitutional lawyer.