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An article that Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz wrote for a newspaper half-way around the world has sparked debate in the halls of Harvard Law School outside his very own classroom.
Holding signs and passing out flyers, about 30 members of a group called Harvard Law School Justice for Palestine protested outside Dershowitz’s “Tactics and Ethics” class last Thursday afternoon.
They were objecting to a recent article Dershowitz wrote, entitled “A New Way of Responding to Palestinian Terrorism,” which ran in last Monday’s edition of the Jerusalem Post and described his proposal to end the current Israeli-Palestinian violence.
In his article, Dershowitz called for the organized destruction of a single Palestinian village in retaliation for every terrorist attack against Israel.
“It will be a morally acceptable trade-off even if the property of some innocent civilians must be sacrificed in the process,” Dershowitz wrote.
Second-year law student Najeeb N. Khoury, president of Justice for Palestine, said his group took issue with the article’s proposal.
“By arguing for the arbitrary destruction of Palestinian villages, Dershowitz marginalizes Palestinian lives and perpetuates the cycle of violence,” Khoury said.
Before Dershowitz arrived at his class last Thursday, members of Justice for Palestine left handouts on the classroom desks and awaited the professor’s arrival outside. When Dershowitz walked up, he talked with the students for a few minutes.
“It was never heated in the sense of rising to a level of violence or becoming uncordial,” Khoury said, “but it was very heated in the sense that he obviously disagreed with what we were saying, and we strongly disagreed with what he was saying.”
Dershowitz, who has faced similar protests in past years, said he thought the protests were “very respectful” and a “good dialogue.”
“It’s exactly the way a demonstration should occur,” he said. “If anyone tried to stop it, I would have defended the protesters.”
While members of the Harvard University Police Department were present, Dershowitz said he did not call them and insisted that they not obstruct the protest.
Debate over the article has made its way to the College campus, as well, and sparked the Harvard Society of Arab Students (SAS) to plan its own response, said SAS President Leem M. Al-Alami ’03.
“I believe that the article seeks to justify the acts that are currently being committed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon such as the bombing of villages and the destruction of homes,” Al-Alami said. “That is the basis for why we will protest. We don’t believe such acts are justified.”
After its protest, Al-Alami said, SAS plans on holding a larger public discussion on the greater Israeli-Palestinian conflict—and might even invite Dershowitz to a debate.
In his discussion with Justice for Palestine, Dershowitz indicated that he was ready for such a forum by challenging the students to a debate himself.
“I renew my offer and my challenge to debate this and the broader issues of terrorism in a dignified and respectful forum,” he said.
Harvard Students for Israel President Avram P. Heilman ’03 said that he agreed with some criticisms of Dershowitz’s position but said the article could provoke useful discussion on how to respond to acts of terrorism.
“The value is not in his actual comments since they’re morally problematic,” Heilman said. “Rather, it points to a necessary reexamination of the Geneva Convention” and how the convention’s concept of collective punishment applies to the Middle East.
Collective punishment refers to the question of how to treat a large group for the actions of just some of its members.
While there are no immediate plans for a campus debate over the article, Justice for Palestine has organized an event this Thursday to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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