Hamas and the Long Game

I’m supposed to be working on my novel today.

But as I sit in a coffee shop here in Columbia, Missouri, my phone keeps lighting up with another text from one David Cozocaru who appears to be tasked with inundating the members of a certain WhatsApp group with English updates concerning the current war. It’s difficult to focus on the speculative reality I’m attempting to populate with characters and ideas while reading about bombs, tunnels, missiles, surgical strikes, sirens, and, inevitably, the dead and wounded.

Like everyone of a certain age, I’ve lived through innumerable conflicts between Israel and her Arab neighbors. This one comes not as a surprise then, but rather as an unwelcome continuation, an interminable moment in the sweep of Israeli history. This time it’s Gaza again.  It’s Gaza, stupid.

And so it goes. The missiles explode in Israel. The airstrikes commence, the world reacts to Israel’s reaction. From the accursed Gaza Strip these projectiles come. Gaza,a place governed, if that’s the proper word, by an organization that fulfils the Hollywood stereotype of an Arab: Unwaveringly committed to Israeli’s destruction, an organization for which the word “monomaniac” was invented.

The world seems unable to comprehend Hamas. The world would like to believe that Hamas is a rational actor, a political entity that the other side can meet in a room at a round table, negotiate peace and a mutually satisfactory future for both sides.  This time Hamas’s defenders include Representative Rashida Tlaib, whose plaintive cries on the floor of the House of Representatives would have broken my heart if I did not understand its disingenuousness.  That is, it was antisemitic propaganda.

Much of the world would like to hold Israel responsible for each Gaza flareup. The Goliath that wreaks destruction upon the David who sits innocently absorbing blow after blow inflicted upon him for no sufficient reason, or worse, for reasons of capricious violence.  The world would prefer an equal number of dead Israelis and Palestinians; that equivalence would, somehow, set things sort of right.

But we’ve been here before. There have, indeed, been many befores, far too many of them. And I understand. It’s difficult to wrap one’s head around the reality of Hamas. In one way for sure, Hamas is, indeed, a rational actor–when working out when to send the rockets.  This it well understands how to do with a modicum of strategic skill.  The men of Hamas know how to terrorize without inflicting mass death.  Not that they would object to a massive number of Israeli dead; its technology simply does not (yet) permit such an accomplishment. But it’s sufficient enough to launch thousands of these things, knowing that sirens will blare, hundreds of thousands will flee to their shelters or safe rooms or their stairwells, and life, for the duration of this war, will be disrupted.

And Hamas knows. Its leaders must know that Israeli reaction to missiles sent to Sderot will be deadly and disproportionate. But they also know the world will look on with shock at the glaring asymmetry and cry “war crimes!” and “ceasefire! and “racism!”  They know that the Security Council will meet, and whoever is secretary general at the moment will wring his hands and declare his dismay. And they know that sooner or later it will all end.  And they know that on the day the first missile barrage commences they will be left with a depleted arsenal, dead leaders, dead citizens, and countless buildings turned to rubble. They must know that this will be the cost of their actions. But they do it anyway.

Hamas’s leaders know all of this. Yet over and over Hamas initiates this series of cause and effect events. They do it for political gain among the Palestinian people, and for the sake of the long game, the hope that someday, eventually, Israel will succumb and go away, vanish into the air along with the Crusaders, the Turks, and the British. They calculate, as horrible as it is for the average Western liberal to conceive, that their people can tolerate this periodic warfare and the deaths of men, women, and children, and destruction of infrastructure, because, ultimately, it will be worth it.  All will be justified. The Zionists will en masse pack up and go back to Europe or wherever it was they came from, and they can move into Haifa.

This then is what Israel confronts: a political entity that is not a rational actor; it is a terrorist entity willing time after time to instigate a pummeling and the resultant suffering of its people for the sake of the long game, whose imagined results, however, will never take place.

About the Author
Phil M. Cohen is a rabbi, author, novelist with interests in bioethics, Israel, fiction, Bible, and Jewish thought. His novel Nick Bones Underground won a Finalist award in the category of Debut Novel from the Jewish Book Council..
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