Our children and grandchildren

When I migrated to Israel over 40 years ago in my wildest nightmares I never expected that my grandchildren would be born into the Middle East conflict that had been the lot of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples since 1948.

 

I believed that the Jewish people needed a state of their own and that the conflict with the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab states would eventually be resolved. I believed that people of good will would prevail over the extremists on both sides and a solution could be found to the continuing cycle of violence which would allow the peoples of the region to live in peace with each other.

 

However, over the years, it has become clearer to me that the militarization of all aspects of Israeli society creates a self perpetuating cycle, where solutions to problems are seen only in terms of the use of force and there is no room or wish for dialogue and peaceful resolution of the conflict.

 

The indoctrination the youth of Israel receive from birth is stronger than any values that parents can instill in their children. This indoctrination is all encompassing. It starts from kindergarten and is with them, in school and out of it, until they enlist in the army at the age of 18. The soldier is the hero of Israeli society – a role model to be looked up to and idolized.

 

I joined New Profile in the hope of being able, in some small way, to change the face of Israeli society. The name’ New Profile’ reflects the long range aim of our organization to change the profile of Israeli society from a militarized society of war and might, to an actively peacemaking community in which the rights of all its citizens are protected and promoted equally. We work, men and women together, to identify the symbols of militarism in Israel and to change the public discourse around the questions of the necessity of army service and mobilization of an entire nation to serve the God of War.

 

For the vast majority of Jewish Israelis it is very obvious that the war of Independence was a necessary and just war for survival of Jewish individuals and for the survival of the Jewish people in a recognized Jewish state.

 

The Zionist state was overwhelmingly guided by a conception that equated between survival and military prowess. This meant that one is either strong and lives or else one is weak and perishes. And the nation building enterprise was based on this -- after all, the new immigrants who came to Israel from a violent past of persecution and genocide felt that once the state of Israel was established and internationally recognized it would be their safe homeland. The Jewish state, therefore, needed a strong army and had to remain strong in order to stay in existence whilst they were surrounded by dangerous enemies whose one wish, it was commonly believed, was "to throw us into the sea".

 

In this situation it seemed natural that political problems could only be solved through military force. As a result, the Jewish state developed an additional religion, the 'religion of security' where the army has a central position in society.

 

We in Israel have become used to war and we expect it. This kind of life has been normalized, made into an inherent part of our state of mind. When people discuss issues relating to the conflict – "there is no other way", "there is nothing we can do", are expressions that are very frequently used. The majority of Jews in Israel have been educated to accept military responses to policy issues as sensible, huge military expenditures as reasonable and war as always imminent and, in that sense, natural. (I have experienced 6 wars!)

 

The militaristic life is an instrument of exclusion. When a society is dominated by a militaristic culture, it is characterized by hierarchical and excluding mechanisms and structures. This is a feminist issue since it excludes women from all the centres of power. The army is a discriminatory organization in which women are second-class soldiers and do not enjoy the benefits of ‘male bonding’ and the ‘old boys’ network after completion of military service. When entering civilian life in Israel it is very common for high-ranking officers, on leaving the army, to move straight into high positions in the state administration, in politics, in the economy, and in the educational system.

 

It is of course not only women who find themselves marginalized in such a rigidly stratified and hierarchical society. Other groups, for example Israeli Palestinians, disabled people, or new immigrants -- are similarly excluded from decision making and leadership positions. Exclusion and social stratification are direct results of militarism.

 

In Israel, militarism has covertly taken over our education system. War and conscription become a normative reality, part of a natural development process for all children and their parents. This is achieved through the narratives of holidays and rituals, the way history is taught, the objectives of field trips, the way school and national ceremonies are celebrated and the use of language. Education is channeled towards upholding the status-quo and the patterns of thinking that support and justify this normative militaristic reality.

 

To give you a more concrete idea of the way the military is part of everyday Israeli life, I would like to show you some examples taken from the visual culture we live in. Most of these pictures were taken from an exhibition that members of NP put together for the first international conference on Militarism and Education that took place at the Hebrew University and Kibbutzim Teachers' College in May 2001. Since then it has been presented in different educational institutes and public places within Israel, and like now, on various international occasions. ( Power Point presentation – or posters which I will prepare and send ahead to America)

 

NP has a long term view of its activity. Even when peace arrives we'll still need to work on de-militarizing our society and keeping it civil and democratic. Under continued militarization, any peace agreements will break down, again and again. For militarization needs to be fed and justified by means of ongoing conflicts, by solving - or perpetuating - problems through violence and by actually creating them.

 

It is one of NP's main organizational objectives to have no hierarchy of roles or functions, except for a treasurer required by law for a non-profitable organization; NP have no single spokesperson, no single leader; our discourse is feminist, that is to say: supportive and empowering, containing emotions, giving space to young and old, women and men. My own presentation here tonight is itself an example of the way in which we work, by sharing experience and collaborating. In order to prepare this talk I received much help from my friends in NP: Ronit Kadishai, Ruthie Hiller, Dorothy Naor, Roni Benda and Sergei Sandler all helped me formulate what I wanted to say. I also drew heavily on the writings of Rela Mazali, one of the founders of N.P.

 

New Profile members take part in different committees and working groups on ongoing as well as specific ad-hoc issues. Participation in these teams is on voluntary basis and individual members take the initiative in the creation and implementation of projects and programs. Every one is welcome to join and contribute according to his or her ability. We currently have several active teams working on, for example, the following projects:

 

1. New Profile is running several youth groups throughout the country. These groups offer a safe and sympathetic place where young people, usually before their enlistment, can discuss and reflect on issues that are relevant to their upcoming decisions relating to military service. Often it is the only place where they can talk about the difficulties in making these decisions which will greatly affect their lives.

 

2. We offer legal support and advice to young people who intend not to enlist, and to those who have declared their refusal and as a result are in military prison. . Sometimes refusers who are already serving in military prisons will “discover” other refusers that have never heard of us or connect “social refusers” to New Profile. We are then able to give them legal advice to help them be released from military prisons.

 

3. We work on disseminating our ideas through workshops and our traveling exhibit, which we have updated this year, expanding and improving it. We have shown the exhibition eight times this year in various parts of the country.

 

4. We maintain a broad international mailing list, offering alternative information with an anti-militarist feminist angle. Such information is not easily accessible through the mainstream media.

 

The work we are doing together gives us some hope that there can be a better future in Israel - A future that can be reached, not by force of arms, but through dialogue and mutual understanding between people.  It is only then that our grandchildren will not have to bear arms and kill and be killed.  They will not have to be sacrificed to the God of War.