Dan Cohen, an independent journalist who until about two and a half weeks ago was based in Gaza, made one of his first appearances back in the U.S. at a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) meeting on Thursday night, Feb. 5. Cohen was there to present his views about what he believes truly happened during Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli military operation in Gaza last summer. Cohen started off by giving a cursory account of his time in the West Bank before the conflict began, followed by an account of his experiences in Gaza during and after the military operation.
Cohen made very clear to his audience that we shouldn’t actually call Operation Protective Edge by that name. In Hebrew, he explained, the name for the operation is Tzuk Eitan, which actually translates roughly as “firm cliff” or “resolute cliff.” Cohen claimed that this difference in semantics has drastic importance for how one sees the purpose of the operation by Israel. While Operation Protective Edge has a very self-defensive sound to it, and for Cohen makes Israel look like it is defending itself, the more accurate translation reveals that Israel allegedly wanted to present a “firm cliff” to the people of Gaza and push them out, crushing them completely in order to discourage further attacks.
Cohen made many controversial – and even some false – claims during his talk to about 35 people in a lecture hall on ASU’s Tempe campus. For instance, he claimed that Gazans were “forcibly expelled” from “historic Palestine,” and that this was the cause of their suffering. He also claimed that Israel used Gaza as a “laboratory” for its weapons technology, much of which is provided by companies like Raytheon, which Cohen was quick to point out is the second-largest employer in Tucson.
The climax of Cohen’s presentation came when he showed a video that showed a July 14 prayer vigil for Israeli troops in Jerusalem. Cohen said that he “expected there to be a somber mood,” and then showed Israeli teenagers dancing in the streets and laughing as they draped Israeli flags across their back. Interviewing them in the midst of their celebration, he filmed them saying that they wanted Palestinians to “die,” that they wanted to “rebuild” Gaza with Israel in control, and that the Palestinians should go away because “they have Egypt, they have Syria.” Cohen paid little attention to the points when the teenagers shouted things like “love and peace,” and said they wanted “Hamas, not the people of Gaza,” to go away, instead highlighting the more violent remarks.
The audience was largely sympathetic to Cohen’s presentation, and their questions highlighted their sentiments. Cohen, in answer to one of the questions from the audience, said he tried not to broadcast his Jewish identity while in Gaza. In response to another, he claimed that people who claim Hamas was using civilian facilities (hospitals, schools, U.N. buildings) as bases for rocket attacks are crazy. He made this claim despite the fact that there has been established proof to the contrary, even by Hamas itself.
Cohen parted with these comments: Movements like BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) are really all that the Palestinians have left in the fight against Israel. But if violent resistance is used, Cohen apparently supports it: “What is more American than shooting someone that comes into your home?” Although one can debate whether the analogy that Cohen used was appropriate, one thing that is clear is that there is no love lost between Cohen and the Israel he believes to be slipping toward the propensity to commit genocide, as he put it.
Jordan Brunner is a public relations intern at the Hillel Jewish Center at Arizona State University in Tempe.
Need to Know is an occasional column that looks behind the headlines. Contact the editor at email@example.com.