Broken Dreams And Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza And The Hamas Card

Stanley L. Cohen lands a  Counterpunch to Israeli propaganda. 

Photo by U.S. Embassy Jerusalem | CC BY 2.0

For days, now, the Israeli rewrite has been well underway, working overtime, to convince the world seven weeks of carnage in Palestine, more particularly Gaza, did not happen. Or, if it did, Israel’s response to the Great Return March was a measured, proportionate answer to the menace posed by some burning kites, waving flags and nihilist teens armed with slingshot weapons of mass destruction.

At times, we’ve seen Zionists rip a page straight out of the “Sandy Hook” playbook, suggesting gruesome virtual film footage of the on-going blood bath was largely staged as if an anti-Semitic Hollywood back lot production. Indeed, to some, it appears the latest Palestinian victims include the same crises actors used over and over again in false flag operations ranging from Douma, Syria to Parkland, Florida.

Other apologists have turned the morgues of Gaza into a cynical goodwill gesture. Urging belief that if Israeli intent was mass slaughter thousands more would have found eternal peace as opposed to merely being left crippled or limbless on the floors of overbooked hospitals covered with the burn of noxious fumes as rivers of blood passed them by.

To be sure, the methodical madness that is Israel goes something like this: We have the most effective, disciplined, efficient killers in the world. Had we wished to execute many more, running off with backs turned in panic, we could have done so with abandon and relative ease.

Of course, it is that very expertise that puts to lie the claim that the 124 clearly identified members of the press killed or injured, these past months, had fallen victim by mere happenstance, alone.

Apparently, Palestinians should give thanks that Israel merely wanted to set a tone with a controlled atrocity, these past Fridays of protest, as opposed to one of its, by now, regular scenes of effortless carnage sown throughout Gaza like a well planned mosaic of anguish to the palpable indifference of the world.

Can it be long before Israel deducts the cost of ammunition, otherwise dangled for its token monthly occupation tithe, for the extorted quiet trauma of some two million political prisoners?

After-all, busy these days in Syria, saber-rattling in Iran and preparing for its long overdue coast to coast crush of Gaza, even the most prosperous war criminal can, at times, run up against constraints on available weaponry. Despite being the world’s 8th largest arms exporter, Israel, always on the make for more and more military gifts, would have us believe it is no exception.

And, predictably, when other excuses have collapsed to the honest lens of public transparency, the Hamas card is once again played with almost sneering contempt for the world’s ability to pierce the half-truths that fly, each day, alongside the Star of David cast throughout the occupied skyline that is Palestine.

Time and time again, many have been an all too willing, if not complicit, party to Israel’s deflective use of Hamas to explain away the inexplicable: just how proportionality can ever be manipulated to excuse an unchecked attack by the 16th most powerful military force of our time, with thousands of tanks, aircraft and combat ships, with a multibillion dollar yearly military budget, upon a largely tattered urban enclave armed with little more than the determination and spirit of its long embattled people.

It works. It has for decades in a world that long ago condensed the “good” to those with proper skin tone, religion and culture and the “bad” to those who invariably pray five times a day, not once each Saturday or Sunday.

There are distinct components to Israel’s grand witting misspeak about Hamas and Palestinians: The first is a desperate attempt to recast who and what the movement is and from where it has come.

On this point, Israel is to be applauded as it has apparently, successfully, packaged and sold an entirely fictitious representation of the movement to those who seek little more than a fabled narrative to maintain their dutiful support of its colonial project.

I am no stranger to Hamas. To me the movement is not an academic pursuit or abstract intellectual curiosity that only takes shape whenever it confronts the brute force that is Israel…be it in the 365 square kilometer (141 sq mi) confines of Gaza or in the streets and universities of the West Bank. To the contrary, I have been privileged to represent more than a few of its leaders for some two decades. On occasion, the movement has sought my counsel on issues of international law prior to making its decision on how best to proceed with a given matter.

Many of these men and women have also been close personal friends for years. I have often shared a warm welcome and meal at a family dinner table or an overnight stay with Hamas leaders throughout my travels in the Middle East–on occasion against the backdrop of on-going Israeli carnage or in its aftermath.

I have known well most of its founders and current leadership including those that have either been assassinated or languish, today, in Israeli prisons and elsewhere denied any scrap of justice or due process. Over the years, I have spent literally thousands of hours meeting with movement leaders in prisons, at conferences, in Palestine and elsewhere.

These are virtuous, dedicated, nationalists who seek not power for the sake of it or personal profit but have long stood among those who have fought against overwhelming odds and violence to lead the way toward a Palestinian home built of the marrow of freedom, justice and equality.

Contrary to the Israeli and Western effort to reduce Hamas to a collective of essentially unschooled or unsophisticated foreign born so-called Islamists, nothing could be further from the truth. Hamas is a movement born of Palestine, composed of Palestinians who were raised on the very streets where the blood of their people and families, has been lost to the occupation terror imposed by Israel. For the many who suffer from a now decade old blockade of Gaza–with its lack of food, water, medicine and mobility–Hamas and their families have known the same isolation and paid a like price.

Comprised, originally, of physicians, scholars, academics, lawyers, scientists, artists, religious leaders and farmers, it is a movement that evolved of necessity, born in the vacuum of what would obviously become the failed vision of Oslo.

More than a few of these leaders escaped the tyranny of Israeli oppression, years before, to obtain education and accomplishment abroad–only later to give up the fruits of all personal success to return to their homeland and fight for its liberation.

Over the years, Hamas evolved from a social service network, throughout Palestine, to become an armed guard of the Palestinian people through the discrete Qassam Brigades and an elected political movement swept to power in 2006. That victory came in what was described, then, by former President Carter, as the most transparent and successful electoral process he had observed as a monitor over his many years of such service in the Middle East.

Not long thereafter, all of Gaza was punished for the temerity of its electoral will through the imposition of the embargo that a decade later remains in place as an on-going stranglehold on the health, welfare and safety of its two million residents, punctuated by massive deadly Israeli onslaughts every few years.

Portrayed as little more than a terrorist group, one story, in particular, speaks volumes about the depth and breadth of the movement. Invited by one of its top leaders to attend a luncheon outside of Palestine, I arrived at a fourth floor walk-up to find most of its leadership, along with a number of other Palestinian resistance movements, engaged in a debate. No, it was not a heated argument over political tactics or military targets. During the next two hours, tempers flared over whether, and to what extent, language immersion should be included as a teaching tool in grammar school education throughout Palestine. The discussion was led by a PhD linguist schooled by legendary MIT professor, Noam Chomsky. Hebrew was among the languages to be learned.

I am not naive or starry-eyed. Like all political and national liberation movements Hamas has had its problems and made its share of missteps. Nevertheless, Israel’s long-standing attempts to reduce it to a selfish and reckless collective willing to sacrifice the interests and safety of Palestinians, including their own families, to the winds of cheap political gain, is just so much nefariously crafted delusion.

Although this unashamed invention has found a warm welcome in the insipid language of Zionist supporters and ignorant pundits, those with informed knowledge or experience with Hamas understand this call for what it is: a shameful and typical deflection from Israeli responsibility for what can only be called a willing slaughter, these last few months, that ranks among its many others… always, of course, because it had no choice.

The notion that the movement would ask or send people of Gaza to certain injury or death, at the hands of Israeli assassins lying in wait for all to see, reeks of the grand imperial lie that has been Israel for seventy years.

It is no less repugnant than the racist proposition that Palestinians, themselves, care so little about their own families or community that they would willingly sacrifice them en masse to gain the momentary sympathy of a world long inured to their isolation and loss of liberty and life.

Born of supremacist arrogance, Israel now seeks to reduce millions of Palestinians, who have struggled for generations, to little more than unthinking sheeple awaiting instructions from Hamas on when, and how, to express their will or gain their independence. Those with any connection to Palestine, or its long oppressed people, know all too well that the bars of its prison will never quiet its innate thirst for justice and freedom.

In Israel, the expedient conflation of victimizer and victim… of occupier and occupied… is brazen and readily transparent; an indecent marriage of those that would pull the trigger with others who fall prey to its barbaric squeeze. There is simply no honest or moral equivalence.

Yet, in a world that has long found Palestinians to be unworthy of equality and safeguard, this perverse union should come as no surprise. Indeed, willful blindness to Israeli slaughter is the explosive fuel that empowers its rage.

For decades, now, Hamas has become a convenient foil for Israel and its compliant choir after each new horror. Meanwhile, Israel walks away to rearm… leaving Palestine to bury her children, but not her hope.

Against the wail of broken dreams and lost lives, the Great Return March, marches on. For Palestinians, there is no choice.

Stanley L Cohen is a lawyer and human rights
activist in New York City.

He has done extensive work in the Middle East
and Africa.  


  1. A much needed response to Israel and Her lies.....

  2. No mention of the explicit anti-Jewish content of Hamas' Covenant of 1988 which blames Jews for the Russian Revolution and Western capitalism. No mention of the fact that Hamas threw its political opponents in Fatah from tall buildings in the aftermath of its Seizure of power in its coup in Gaza in 2007. No mention of Hamas human rights violations as attested to by Amnesty International, use of the death penalty and persecution of gay and lesbian. No mention of the fact that Hamas is classified as a terrorist organiaation by the EU and US State Department. No ,mention of the hundreds of deaths of Israeli civilians in suicide bombings in the Second Intifada. This is not a defence of IDF actions at the border fence but an attempt to give some balance to another of Stanley Cohen's emotive and misleading screeds.

  3. Let me see now, who should I give more weight too....Barry or Stanley....mmmmmm

  4. Barry,
    It kind of is a defence of the idf's behaviour. What I mean by that is anyone with the slightest bit of rational thought can understand the problem with Hamas and if they were more powerful would inflict more suffering on Israeli civilians. If the power structures were reversed i am sure i'd have just as much to be disgusted by with Hamas as with the I.D.F. . The point is you have to deal with reality, Israel has one of the most advanced, trained and financed armies in the world and it continues to behave disgracefully. Whether there are anti semites in the world or certain Arabs would rejoice at Israel destruction shouldn't come in to it, for if you apply that logic you can justify any violence including that of the Islamic State. As far as the U.S State department labelling any group terrorist, the have no credibility in the eyes if any honest men. The very definition of terrorism describes U.S foriegn policy, if you want to be macarbe about it and base it on the slaughter of innocents then N.A.T.O are some way in front.

  5. David

    Despite all its misdeeds on the occupied West Bank (taken as a result of the Six day War started as were three others by Israel's Arab neighbours), the fact remnains, that despite its right wing nationlist turns, Israel is still a liberal democracy and Hamas, as an affiliate to the Muslimn Brotherhood, is a clericalist fascist orgqanisation who, if given the chance, would wipe all Jews or at the very least make Jews live as dimmis in thieirland of Islamic Palestine

    Perhaps the reason why Israel has one of the advanced armies in the world is the memory of the Shoah/'Holocaust and the refusal of most of the Arab world to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish nation state in the Middle East. Does Hamas' use of suicide-mass murder bombs "not disgust" you enough?

    Exactly hoW are NATO way out in front of Assad and Putin in Syria; the Burmese miltary in their genocide of the Royghinga, the Sri Lankan military in its massacring of 40,000 Tamils in 2010 and the Saudi led coalition in Yemen in terms of the slaughter of innocents.

    Antisemitismn and its long provenance in the Arab world most certainly does come into it.

    And lastly, what is it about the Palestinians that so excites people on this Forum who do not seem to be so upset by the treatment of other oppressed, stateless people e.g. Kirds, Tibetans, Sahrawis etc etc etc

  6. Barry,
    I'll answer your last question first the reason Palestine is more debated is because it gets more attention than the Tibetans etc. I can't remember the last time I saw a Tibetan shot while praying. Secondly i never said Nato was way ahead of Putin and Assad in Syria, I said in general. In the last 15 years Nato has bombed civilans In Iraq, Afghanistan, Lybia,Syria etc it aided the Saudis in Yemen and it aided the Sri Lankans. Again you go go on about Israel being a liberal democracy, while i disagree with that nobody that calls itself a liberal democracy treats a segment of it's own citizens as second class. For arguments sake let'say that it is, and the first thing you do when the I,D,F commit war crimes is to point out they're a liberal democracy and the victim belongs to a clerical fascist organisation you're dehumanising the victim, therefore justifying murder and in conclusion making excuses for the I,D,F.
    After bloody Sunday the Brits could have made the whole clerical facism vs liberal democracy argument it would have been ridiculous then as it is now. Finally regarding Hamas suicide bombs, of course they disgust me, don't assume that I have any sympathy for jihadis, they're an obvious threat to western ideals but that doesn't mean am going to turn a blind eye to murder in the Gaza.

  7. David

    A few facts first. NATO was involved neither in Iraq as part of George W. Bush's coalition of the willing in Iraq nor in Syria, Yemen or Sri Lanka. They did not deliberately civilians in Afghanistan and Libya both UN sanctioned military operations unlike Assad and Putin in Syria.

    As you well know all the victims of Bloody Sunday were unarmed civilians with no connections to any armed group and who were attending a peaceful demonstration against internment and not seeking to enter the territory of another state to attack and murder its inhabitants. By contrast most of the dead at the Gaza border fence belonged to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

    Bloody Sunday has been conclusively proved to and been acknowledged by the UK state have been an act of mass murder. You raise a total straw man argument about the British using a liberal democracy v clerical fascist argument post Bloody Sunday as (notwithstanding the right wing nationalism of the Provos at the time) there were no analogues in NI to Hamas at the time.

    There has been no such determination in the case of the Gaza border fence which does not mean that the IDF has no case to answer. far from it and they are ultimately unaccountable to democratic legal authority. Who are Hamas accountable to for bringing protesters into a situation where they knew deaths would be inevitable. They wanted martyrs for their cause

    I put it to you that Palestine gets debated more often than the Chinese occupation of Tibet and other national conflicts is because it has been a poster boy for the revolutionary left since the 1960s and latterly Islamism which has persuasively but wrongly fitted its demonisation of Israel and Zionism into a wider narrative of anti-Americanism, anti-imperialism and anti-globalisation the effects of which have sadly borne fruit in the incubation and spread of antisemitism in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

  8. Barry,
    Were splitting hairs here. The us military is the spear head of nato so to equate the two is common sense. Your constant reference to Putin and Assad is smoke and mirrors. One is a tyrant the other an abuser of a section of his own citizens. What has that to do with idf violence? Whether hamas engineered the protests is irrelevant, the idf still shot unarmed civilians. The reason Palestine is more prominent is various groups do good work highlighting Israel's violence. if there was no violence there would be no agitation. As for bloody sunday it was a deliberatly ridiculous argument to put forth the idea that anyone could warp any logic to justify violence. Finally Sri Lanka, Kissenger and by extension the us were very aware at best, involved at worst in the massacre. P.s a story broke today about us troops in yemen

  9. David

    I cannot understand your logic about Bloody Sunday; it was you who introduced the though experiment about the British government justifying the massacre on the grounds that the victims belonged to a clerical fascist organisation which was patently not the case.

    While not defending the record of the IDF on every occasion and while I wish the occupation of the West Bank would end tomorrow because of the corrosive effects on Israeli society and politics and the military; I find that many supporters of the Palestinian cause particularly groups like Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War Coalition are too fond of using traditional antisemitic tropes (eg. Israel is uniquely evil, Zionist control of the media and Western foreign policy) in their rhetoric and activism. They also tend to be silent about far worse regimes than Israel and their crimes in the rest of the world particularly if they are on "their" side in their Occidentalist outlook.

  10. Barry,
    I was trying to make a point that we all justify violence, and that in similar incidents we can justify and condemn similar acts of aggression, obviously i made it poorly. It doesn't matter. You're a100 per cent that some people just hate Israel without thought. What i don't get is when people use blanket arguments against all opponents of idf tactics. It diminishes the Israeli perspective and indeed lets genuine anti semites off the hook. If people constantly invoke anti semitic tropes they loss all meaning even when pertinent.