‘Get busy living or get busy dying’

This ongoing divide between Zionism and Islamism continues to test Israeli decision makers grappling with how to effectively respond to internal and existential threats.

October 14, 2014 23:17
3 minute read.
Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed

A PALESTINIAN man prays during a Hamas rally marking the anniversary of the death of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin near Jenin in 2007. (photo credit: REUTERS)

One line from the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption embodies perfectly the Arab-Israeli conflict, “Get busy living or get busy dying.” This line encapsulates the dividing line between Zionism and Islamism - the first is about living and rebuilding and the second glorifies death and martyrdom.

It explains why Hamas flatly rejected the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire during Operation Protective Edge; there was no added value politically when civilians in Gaza are used as human shields and bomb shelters are deliberately absent from the public eye. All promoting and illustrating the false reoccurring Palestinian mantra of victimhood.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas just reiterated an evergreen Palestinian canard in his speech at the UN General Assembly, accusing Israel of waging a “war of genocide” in Gaza. He vowed to seek war crimes prosecutions, reminding the world that Palestinians “will not forget and we will not forgive, and we will not allow war criminals to escape punishment.” Abbas’s radicalism is emblematic of his unwillingness to admit any faults on the part of the Palestinian movement. It is also a function of the recent marriage of convenience between Hamas and Fatah, that has pushed the former into more shrillness, if only as a means of maintaining Abbas’s own political fortunes.

But without celebrations of Palestinian death and martyrdom, what does the movement have? Israel’s political, technological and cultural achievements are well-known, and recognized, at least in the US. Since 1948, one of the fixed points in American politics is the question of support for Israel, a question that is always raised after a bout of conflict. On the positive side, even as the Middle East conflict intensifies, according to a recent Pew survey, more Americans are still sympathizing with Israel. But these feelings rarely translate into a fair portrayal by the media of Israel’s “aggressive” actions. Still, at least among the broader population there is the perception that Israel is a society that embraces life.

This ongoing divide between Zionism and Islamism continues to test Israeli decision makers grappling with how to effectively respond to internal and existential threats while acting rationally and humanely.

All of the above, played out this past summer and before, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s quandary has been about how hard to hit Hamas while at the same time maintaining a moral high-ground. Of course, when all proposed cease-fires were rejected Netanyahu stated that, “Hamas chose to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision... When there is no cease-fire, our answer is fire.” Further, as Netanyahu underscored in his UN address “militant Islam is on the march.”

In 2004, when Israel targeted Hamas’s spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as he was leaving a mosque, Hamas’s leadership pronounced that, “[former-prime minister Ariel] Sharon has opened the gates of hell and nothing will stop us from cutting off his head.”

While these are not just platitudes, Israel has shown the effectiveness of targeting the leadership of Hamas as it does buy some period of calm. Targeted killing is by definition, effective. Well-planned targeted killing by the Israeli security apparatus is a powerful tool for Israeli counterterrorism.

TARGETING THE foot soldiers of Hamas clearly shakes the members of Hamas enough, inspiring them to dash underground and afford Israel a few months of relative quiet. By now, it is clear to both Hamas and Hezbollah that the foot soldiers are not the only walking targets but there is an understanding that their respective leaderships have become part of the calculus.

Yet, there is still no match for establishing clear boundaries between Israel and Hamas and regaining stronger deterrence. Allowing rockets to fall on Israeli towns and cities while it may connote caution and restrain is perceived as weakness by Hamas similar to how Hezbollah viewed the rockets that entered Israel during the first Gulf War.

Consequently, Operation Protective Edge is another reminder of the radicalization of the region where such actions are a necessity not an option.

Despite all of the above, Israelis have not lost hope and are still seeking a partner for peace. Netanyahu continues to underscore that ,“Just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinians must be prepared to recognize a Jewish state.”

Finally, like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank, Israelis believe that “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies,” – something generations of Israelis have sacrificed for – as the cost for real peace is still being debated but in the meantime, they need to keep living.

Asaf Romirowsky is a research fellow at the Middle East Forum and co-author of Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief.

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