Militarized Parenthood in Israel

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Image: In this ad, LG is announcing a special promotion wherein soldiers are invited to a shopping mall where LG representatives will do their laundry for them, so as to, quote "Take the load off of mom".This ad is invoking the role of mothers as supporters in order to align their product with the war effort.

Ad by Yarkoni, 2010

Recently I received a petition, created by a group of 40 mothers, stating very clearly, “We do not wish to hand our boys to the IOF” (Israeli Occupation Forces), and calling for social responsibility and the end of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. This document is uplifting1.

Several years ago when 4 of my children refused to do military service, I stood alone in my conviction not to “hand” my children to the Israeli military. This is why I find this petition so exciting. I see it as a refreshing new example of brave voices coming together to oppose Israel’s militarized society, conscription laws, and the use of youth as cannon fodder. This is what New Profile, a feminist-based movement striving to demilitarize Israeli society, is committed to work toward.

Before New Profile was established in 1998, we first were two study groups, Jewish women coming together to study about Feminism, militarism and the effects of militarism on Israeli society. During our monthly meetings, which lasted for a period of two years, we studied many aspects of how civil society in Israel and around the world is militarized. We gained knowledge from the writings of academics such as Jacklyn Cock, Cynthia Enloe, and many others. We studied passages from the Bible that addressed women and their assumed roles. We learned about anti-conscription movements, such as the Black Sash Movement in South Africa and how others organized to end the draft in many other countries. We discussed what it means to feel intimidated, or silenced, what it means to live as women - daughters, sisters, aunts, and mothers - in a society that is dominated by male hierarchies and influenced by strong military structured ethos.

Within Israeli society, silence is imposed upon those of us who strive to create a new discourse that may include the option of not serving in the military. Engaging in this kind of discussion makes it very challenging to find a safe space, even within our own homes and with our families. We are discredited: we are told we are hypersensitive, inexperienced, and over-reacting, at best. At worst we are perceived as not having an inkling of an idea of what is "really" going on and what "really" matters. And what is really going on and what really matters is that “they want to drive us into the sea”, “they only know the language of power”, and “they are not partners for peace”.

But still one of the more powerful discussions that we held centered on Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac, when Abraham led Isaac up Mt Moriah with the intention of offering him in sacrifice. Naturally the questions rose. “Why was Sarah’s voice never heard when Abraham led their child, even as a grown man, to sacrifice? Did she protest? If she did, then why is her protest not noted? And how could a mother just give her child up, well knowing that he was going to die?”

This discussion gave me so much insight on the manipulation of gender roles through the use of the Bible as a reference. It also showed me that there might be some correlation to Sarah’s seemed acceptance of loss of life and Israel’s present day stance of maintaining a constant state of war.The discourse in Israel still “lumps” women’s opinions and discussions regarding peace and demilitarization as being naïve and detached from reality, creating gender-based accusations such as; “if you're a woman, you most likely did not serve in combat, and therefore you can't possible understand what we (the Israelis) are up against”. Such logic plays on the assumption that women are hysterical by nature and less worldly than men, and therefore unable to cope with matters of security.

Strengthened by the safe space my study group offered, this new awareness led me to begin to question traditions and norms. One good example of this is when I was invited to celebrate the birth of our friends’ son. We were invited to his circumcision, a Jewish ritual held when baby boys are the tender age of 8 days old. This act, the circumcision, is done until this day as a reminder of the sign of inclusion in the covenant between Abraham and God.

In itself the birth of a child is always a joyous event. But after the Rabbi performed the circumcision, the poor wailing baby was held up high over our heads for all to see. The maternal grandfather then called out, "Mazel Tov! Another soldier is born to the House of Israel". How heartbreaking it was for me to hear him say this. Especially since a few years before this poor man had lost his son, a young soldier, in a bombing attack at a central intersection called Beit Lid.

But the tragedy does not just lie in the loss of a life or in an old man's belief that every young man and woman must join the army no matter the circumstances. The tragedy is in the conditioning and ongoing indoctrination. The tragedy lays in the way we; as citizens, adults, parents and so-called free thinkers, totally accept the call to the arms. We lay the groundwork, preparing our children from infancy, and prepare ourselves to accept their inevitable call up 18 years later. And in doing so, we also prepare ourselves that participation in the military could result in maiming or death, either to our children, or by our children. It is this normalcy that produces victims that are easily influenced and swayed, and in doing so generates an atmosphere of fear of the possibility of war.

Within Israeli society Jewish parents have defined roles. Throughout their children’s upbringing, for both their boys and their girls, they promote and support an aligned obedience which calls for national devotion through contribution in the form of army service. We either encourage our children to comply and join the army when called up directly after high school or encourage them to do national service. As parents we strengthen the belief that “duty calls”, and that heroism in the name of Israel is the highest aspiration. We all identify with the role of the warrior and the use of violence to solve problems. Might is right.

We convince ourselves, and in turn our children, that we are in the midst of a “war of no choice”. We teach them that a dead soldier is always a hero and freely quote Joseph Trumpeldor’s assumed last words, “It is good to die for our country” as an ideology which preserves the Israeli collective memory. We maintain this support throughout their service in the military by cultivating ideologies that justify the implications of being an active participant in the occupation of Palestine.

I am intrigued by this role Israeli parents have taken upon themselves, a stance that I believe is contrary to human nature. Isn’t it the natural role of the parent to want to protect their children, and not the other way around? Is it right to create a perpetual situation where children grow up believing that it is their responsibility, their obligation through service to the state, to protect their parents and others? Why is it then, that for a period of almost seven decades, parents are willing to let their children be the ones on the front lines and in imminent danger and never question the high price of Israel’s ongoing state of emergency? This is a war of choice and no one should be played as pawns.

However this is not just a phenomenon of parents supporting just their sons in preparation of military service. It is important to note that Israel is one of the few countries where young women are also subject to compulsory military service. As the boys, girls are indoctrinated from the time they are born with the same social norms of commitment to country and obedience. But there is an additional focus that also prepares them for service roles within the military and encourages them to find a husband. This, together with the patriarchal machismo of the military and society in general, creates a culture that allows for sexual harassment, an entirely different kind of battleground and endangerment not usually taken into consideration by parents, teachers, or politicians.

New Profile contends that Israel’s social system is structured on the basis of control, both in its imposed militarized hierarchical status, which directly affects women, Palestinians citizens of Israel, and other minority sectors, and in its occupation of Palestine. These patriarchal values are prevalent at all levels; in the home, in the workplace, and in politics. They promote and rationalize the country’s military values that continue to sanction combat, violence, and gender based hierarchies, and encourage power based interpersonal relationships.

In this context New Profile2, as a feminist movement, with men and women between the ages 18-86, continues to address the matter of the central role the military takes in Israeli society from as many aspects as possible.

Author: Ruth Hiller, mother of 6 and grandmother of 8, is a longtime peace activist and one of the original founders of New Profile, The Movement to Civilize Israeli Society. New Profile is a feminist group of men and women working to de-militarize society in Israel, to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land conquered in 1967, to generate a life-preserving, egalitarian, humane society. Today she serves as New Profile’s international network coordinator. Four of her sons have refused to serve in the Israeli military. Her oldest son, Yinnon, was the first pacifist in Israel to get an exemption from the military via an appeal to the High Court of Justice. This was a-six-year struggle with the military and through the courts. It is an unique story in the history of refusal in Israel. Ruth has published several reflective pieces on this process and on her involvement in New Profile, in English, German, and Italian venues.


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