Dershowitz   Letter 2   11-May-1999   Ethnic cleansing what's the big deal?
"Making Arab families move intact from one Arab village or town to another may constitute a human rights violation.  But in the whole spectrum of human rights issues especially taking into account the events in Europe during the 1940's it is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many aspects to some massive urban renewal or other projects that require large-scale movement of people."  Alan Dershowitz

May 11, 1999

Alan M. Dershowitz
Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law
520 Hauser Hall
Harvard Law School
1575 Massachusetts Avenue
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA   02138

Alan Dershowitz:

Did your really say this?  The following statement has been attributed to your book, Chutzpah:

As a civil libertarian and human rights activist, I was never much moved by the claims of these refugees.  Political solutions often require the movement of people, and such movement is not always voluntary.  Making Arab families move intact from one Arab village or town to another may constitute a human rights violation.  But in the whole spectrum of human rights issues especially taking into account the events in Europe during the 1940's it is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many aspects to some massive urban renewal or other projects that require large-scale movement of people.  For example, the building of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt necessitated the relocation of 100,000 Arabs and the destruction of numerous Arab villages.  There were certainly numerous precedents following both world wars, as well as other dislocating events of history including the establishment of new states.  There were so many refugee groups throughout the postwar world, and in so much worse condition, that it is difficult to understand why this particular dislocation assumed such international proportions.

For example, following the end of World War II, approximately fifteen million ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled from their homes in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and other Central and Eastern European areas where their families had lived for centuries.  Two million died during this forced expulsion.  Czechoslovakia alone expelled nearly three million Sudeten Germans, turning them into displaced persons.  The United States, Britain, and the international community in general approved these expulsions, as necessary to secure a more lasting peace.  [...]  President Franklin Roosevelt's assistant Harry Hopkins memorialized his boss's view that although transfer of ethnic Germans "is a hard procedure, it is the only way to maintain peace."
Excerpted from:  http://www.carasso.com/roger/dershowitz.html

If you did say it, then questions arise.  If the above is indeed something that you have said, then certain reflections spring to mind that I would like to hear your thoughts on.

Doesn't your thinking resemble Slobodan Milosevic's?  For example, it might appear that consistency requires you to view the Serbian ethnic cleansing of Kosovo as a "fifth-rate issue" of the sort that might arise in the course of any large urban renewal project or in the building of any large dam.  This might strike not a few observers as a breathtakingly original view of the Kosovo crisis, and might lead them to ask whether you had been much in demand as a guest speaker among Serbian expatriates in North America, or on Serbian television, perhaps appearing together with Slobodan Milosevic to explain to the world why "the only way to maintain peace" was this simple solution of relocating the Kosovars.  One could add to such a defense of Milosevic's ethnic cleansing that as many of the cleansed Kosovars will end up as permanent residents of such countries as Canada, the United States, and Germany, their standard of living will be enhanced by the relocation, which together with their pride in having helped "maintain peace" by moving, should more than compensate them for any temporary inconvenience that they may have experienced.  One could add finally that as Israel remained in high esteem following its relocation of Palestinians, there might be little to prevent Milosevic's Yugoslavia from remaining in comparably high esteem following its similar relocation of Kosovars.

Doesn't your thinking resemble Hitler's?  And of course your advocating tolerance toward relocation invites us to examine under a fresh light Hitler's initial policy of relocating Jews out of Germany, a policy heretofore viewed unsympathetically by so many who had not access to your blanket defense that such relocations fall in line with "numerous precedents" and are "the only way to maintain peace."

Does relocating intact families to new villages constitute a kinder, gentler variety of ethnic cleansing?  It is highly relevant to judging the culpability of Israeli ethnic cleansing that, as you point out, the Isrealis went out of their way to keep Arab families "intact", and that the Israeli ethnic cleansing relocated the intact families merely "from one Arab village or town to another."  These pieces of information do help to explain how even a human rights activist like yourself can come to feel that the complaints of the ethnically cleansed Palestinians amount to no more than a "fifth-rate issue."  I suppose that in your estimation Israelis murdering entire Palestinian families would constitute cases of keeping Arab families "intact," and that the number of families in which only some members were murdered is too small to invalidate the generalization that families were kept "intact"?  And I suppose too that you have been convinced by evidence which you could have cited but did not that an empty house equivalent to the one abandoned awaited each relocating intact family, and employment equivalent to the employment abandoned was also at hand, and similar arable land, and comparable access to water, and empty schools waiting to be filled with the laughing relocated children, and mosques in the new location that otherwise would have been under-utilized, but which with the influx of the relocated intact families began to resound with the sounds of worship?

Will you apply your thinking consistently to future events?  I imagine too that if the day should ever come when six million Israelis find the hostility of their environment grown so intense that they decide to evacuate the Middle East, you will view this too as akin to an urban renewal project though a minor one in comparison to say the fifteen-million-ethnic-Germans renewal project you mention above and that you will at that time justify the evacuation of Israel as simply following "numerous precedents" and as being "the only way to maintain peace"?

Doesn't your thinking lack originality?  Your quite remarkable contribution to thinking on such issues seems to lie in your conclusion that peace is so precious a commodity, that to attain it, the ethnic cleansing of millions, and perhaps even tens of millions, of people is not too high a price to pay.  Quite a remarkable contribution, truly, and yet not wholly original, as many thinkers of the stature of, say, Attila or of Stalin or of Pol Pot have reasoned their way to a similar conclusion, and have been translating that conclusion into practice from earliest times right up to the present day.

What kind of peace do you see ethnic cleansing bringing?  A final question that I would like to leave you with has to do with the nature of the "peace" which you say has been won by the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israelis.  Specifically, can you think of any other nation which, taking its size into consideration, has incited such a vast number of people throughout the world to dedicate themselves to its destruction?  I invite you to review a number of countries which are comparable to Israel in that they are small, are democratic, allow a free press, and enjoy a high standard of living countries like Belgium or Denmark or Switzerland.  Would you say that Israel has won a peace and a stability and a security comparable to theirs?  Would you say that the number of people dedicated to the destruction of Israel is not appreciably greater than the number of people dedicated to the destruction of Belgium or Denmark or Switzerland?  If your answer is that the peace enjoyed by Israel does indeed appear to be markedly inferior to the peace enjoyed by Belgium or Denmark or Switzerland, then I would invite you to reconsider the appropriateness of your comparing Israeli ethnic cleansing to a massive urban renewal project or to the building of a large dam, as urban renewal and dam building for reasons that you may want to begin thinking about typically do not incite any widespread dedication to a recompensatory destruction.

Lubomyr Prytulak