After a talk on military service

Posted by: Misha Hadar on January 11, 2010

About two weeks ago I accompanied a friend from New-Profile, the organization I’m active in, to a talk at a college in the north of Israel-Palestine, part of a panel about ‘draft-avoidance’ (since joining the military is mandatory, people who do not serve, who are lawfully exempt, are called as an insult- ‘Mishtamtim’) and refusal. It was a panel of six, four out of which trying to out-do each other in ‘Mishtamtim’ bashing and in their backing of the military- the soldiers themselves and the social institute that the Israeli Army is. I do not want to go into detail on all that happened, only what is needed to make a point.

First speaker was a ‘Kadima’ MP- he told us that there is a leadership problem, that could be also seen in the recent Kfir unit events (where recently a group of religious soldiers declared they would not evacuate settlements), a problem of authority, he explained that there was a problem with education- that the Zionism and IDF values (this might seem odd to some, but the IDF is regarded as a value by much of Israeli society) must be taught from kindergarten, and that all citizen must serve, either in military or civilian service; Next came the head of the National Student Organization, telling us their of the official position on the subject is that service should be mandatory for all citizen (though, it already is- the army itself is the body that exempts people from service) and that whoever fails to serve “[…]should be dealt with by the state”. My friend spoke last- extremely brave, in front of an extremely aggressive crowd who at times cut the talk off. Even though this talk was clearly the minorities voice (on the subject) it could not be tolerated, people in the crowd felt it as a personal attack, as voices that could not be given a place, a reaction that was a sign to what would come next. I have decided not to write more on New-Profile, or the talk, at this point but more will be available in an interview soon.
I’m writing this not to give some of these ideas more space than they already have, but so as to share what happened during the questions session-
During the questions a Israeli-citizen-Palestinian student was allowed to ask a question- ‘I am scared- I sit here and listen to you and I’m scared. First I hear my baby son will soon have to learn the Zionist and IDF “values” already in kindergarten, then, that he will have to “serve”— or be dealt with by the state. I am a citizen, an equal in a democratic state, and what you say scares me. I want equality’. This seems to me a straight forward question- regarding the right of a minority in a so-called democratic state not to have the majorities values and institutions forced upon them; but the MPs answer was more surprising ‘I will not apologize for my sovereignty. What you say is undermining my sovereignty’. It was surprising to the effect that rarely do Israeli representatives openly react to the demand of Israeli-citizen-Palestinians for equality as contradictory to Jewish sovereignty (as drawn up in the Israeli declaration of independence)- rarely is it openly-acknowledged that sovereignty means, de-facto, structure inequality.

It is so difficult sitting through such an occasion for me- I become immensely tense, like I often do in class when I have time to over-think a reaction and it starts boiling, and I start sweating. Here I can’t even formulate words, it’s a swelling of rage, speechless. Later I go through all the things I should have said. I write ideas, combinations of fragments going through my mind as it becomes responsive again- but this is not the place. What I feel so strongly now is how undisguised it all is, how clear, how open the hostility- the minorities voices cannot be tolerated, and are responded to as a threat, either shouts, jeers, a compulsive noise to blurt it out, or calm and direct re-utterance of the authority, of the position of power- these same reactions to both my friend and the Palestinian student, only in different ways. And at the same time how transparent this reaction is to most of the crowd, how natural, the inability see IT, even while it’s happening before their eyes, and what it means.

*After the first two speakers came someone from ‘Yesh Gvul’ who talked about the limits of obedience, and Israeli war crimes; then came someone from “Im Tirtsu” (‘If you want’- reference to Hertzel’s known words) who explained how during the attack on Gaza (now a year ago) while leftists were marching against the army, ‘Im Tirtsu’ was marching for the operation, sending soldiers gift-boxes, how they arrive at Bilin and Ni’ilin regularly to support soldiers “attacked” by leftist anarchists, and how Israeli authorities should start using administrative detention against leftists; next was a from an organization calling for ‘equal share of the burden’, started by saying her son (in reference to the comments by the speaker from Yesh Gvul) ‘[…] is a soldier, I have a war criminal, I’m proud of being the mother to a war criminal— because, of course, he isn’t a war criminal’ (not surprisingly, the female speaker assumes the role, not of the “expert” [or activist], but of the mother).

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