Allan Ripp

Hamas Family Values

Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh, speaking to journalists after a meeting with Iran's foreign minister in Tehran in late March.  (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)
Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh speaking to reporters in Doha after a meeting in Tehran with Iran's foreign minister in late March. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

Its political leader’s blasé response to losing three sons and four grandchildren says much about the group’s tolerance for death.

Surely one of the most unsettling images from Israel’s war with Hamas was captured earlier this month in a brief video of the group’s political leader Ismail Haniyeh reacting to news that three of his sons and four grandchildren had been killed in an Israel Defense Forces airstrike – they were taken out April 10 while driving through a refugee camp in Gaza.

In the 47-second clip from the same day, an aide to Haniyeh shares news of their deaths during a tour of a high-rise hospital in Qatar, where Hamas’s leadership comfortably resides far from Gaza. The aide is visibly nervous turning the phone to his well-tailored boss, but Haniyeh calmly absorbs the news as if learning an upcoming Zoom call had been rescheduled or that one of his ETF investments just had a small dip.

Hands clasped, he nods with understanding and reportedly says “God rest their souls.” Moments later, he’s asked if he’d prefer to put off the rest of his visit. Haniyeh quietly brushes off the suggestion, saying, “No, why? Let’s continue,” smoothly leading the group into another ward of the hospital.

It is an extraordinary response, so measured and accepting of information that most would find devastating. Nor does he appear to be in shock. Some western news outlets questioned Haniyeh’s stoicism and restraint, the New York Post calling his choice to blithely carry on with his visit “bizarrely upbeat.” How can a parent – one who supposedly has 13 children – absorb such an emotional body blow and not collapse, or erupt with rage, grief and calls for revenge? Or beg the heavens to “smite me now?”

If there was ever a moment to amp up personal tragedy for ideological or political purpose, this would have been it, especially knowing the scene would be widely shared on social media, inflaming supporters from Tehran to Harvard Yard and Turtle Bay.

In fact, that is precisely what makes Haniyeh’s controlled forbearance so chilling. He may even have been preparing for such a moment, as so many radical Muslims claim not to be swayed by the prospect of loved ones dying when it comes to war with the Jews. As Haniyeh later told Al Jazeera in a refrain often heard among holy warriors, his sons and grandchildren were “martyred on the road to liberating Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

It is hard to fathom the heart of any person, but Haniyeh’s performative reserve is exactly what Hamas and its followers want to project to the world, while tolerating such large casualties in Gaza, whether military or civilian, friends or family. That hard fatalism also obliterates any hope for deploying what I call the “Corleone treatment” when trying to exert pressure on an adversary that values its destructive cause over human life.

In one of the greatest scenes in Francis Coppola’s Godfather II, a mobster named Frank Pentangeli agrees to testify to a Senate committee that his longtime patron Michael Corleone runs a criminal enterprise, has ordered murders and committed perjury. Pentangeli (played by hoarse-throated character actor Michael Gazzo), appears completely untouchable under the watchful guard of the FBI.

At the hearing, Pentangeli suddenly seems confused, denying there was a godfather and disavowing his sworn statements, all the while looking over his shoulder toward the back of the courtroom. Incensed, the inquiring Senator asks counsel to identify the older man in the rear sitting alongside the putative crime boss. Oh, that’s Pentangeli’s brother Vincenzo, whom the Corleones have flown in from Sicily for some old-world support.

Of course, Vincenzo – who speaks no English and looks bewildered – is present as a warning to Frank what will befall his brother should he proceed with his testimony. No overt threat was needed but Frank obviously got the signal and is charged with perjury himself rather than see his brother throttled.

Ever since 9/11 I’ve fantasized, if only we could convey to jihadists and terror leaders that we will go after their families if they fulfill their murderous missions. Supposedly, Mohamed Atta was close to his mother – might he have steered American Airlines Flight 11 away from the World Trade Center North Tower if the CIA somehow got a message to him that his parents were in snipers’ crosshairs?

I’m reminded of the futility of appeals to humanity as I rewatch Haniyeh process the loss of his children and their children. “The blood of my sons is not dearer than the blood of our people,” he later told Al Jazeera. “The enemy is delusional if it thinks that targeting my sons…will push Hamas to change its position.”

Lest anyone wonder how Hamas uses its people for body shields and allows their death counts to mount, and will never concede or surrender, here is the answer. Among the deluded, there truly is no love lost.

Allan Ripp runs a press relations firm in New York.

About the Author
Allan Ripp runs a press relations firm in New York. A former journalist, his personal commentary has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the Atlantic, Washington Post,, Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, CNN, USA Today, Tablet, Chicago Tribune, the Forward and other outlets. He can be reached at
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