Military, enlistment, and war are presented in the Israeli education system as normal, natural, and expected. Already in kindergarten, teachers talk with children about wars, bring soldiers to meet them, and offer them to prepare gifts for soldiers as appreciation to the heroes who guard them. From a very young age, children are trained to think that one day, they themselves will become soldiers who will guard other children, who will then thank them. This seed is planted very early on and continues to be cultivated throughout the child’s years in the education system.
From elementary school, the curriculum along the years highly emphasizes stories of heroism and fighting: the story of the brave Maccabees in Hanukkah, which conveys the image of the Jewish-fighter; stories of the few who stand before many; Halutzim (pioneers) and Palmach fighters, who talk about self-sacrifice for their nation, group, or beliefs; and an emphasis on Jewish opposition while studying the Holocaust –partisan fighters and the Warsaw ghetto uprising–as part of cultivating the image of the heroic, Jewish fighter. In parallel, pupils learn that the Jewish people had many different enemies along its long history, from biblical times until today–enemies who melt into one threatening figure who comes to destroy us. Many schools also take pupils to tours following fighters, combat sites, and monuments for war victims. Memorizing war and visiting a piece of the country for which people gave their lives are educational tools, through which war is bequeathed as a necessary condition for our lives here–a necessary evil in our daily lives.
Also memorial days, ceremonies, and the culture around them have an important role in educating for militarism. The sequence of events along the Jewish calendar deliver a deep educational idea every spring: one week after the Passover vacation, the Haggadah tells us about being released from slavery, leaving Egypt, and arriving to the country of Israel, then comes Holocaust memorial day. Its date was fixed based on the date of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, as a choice to focus on the Jewish combatants among the genocide’s victims. One week later is Memorial day for fallen soldiers, followed by Independence day, in which the establishment of the state of Israel is being celebrated. This sequence is meant to cause national identification and to create an illusion that those events are related: the Egyptians tried to dominate us, in Europe we were murdered, in our country and in the military we learned to defend ourselves, and now we have a state–we are strong and safe and therefore we can celebrate. Pupils are asked to listen to songs and speeches, to stand in memorial sirens and in ceremonies, every year for 12 years. While Holocaust memorial day ceremonies include difficult descriptions of death and torture, those of Israeli Military soldiers memorial day usually avoid the ugly details of injury and killing during battle, which enables pupils to imagine death in war as brave and positive. The victims’ memory turns into part of the educational routine in schools, and strengthens the value placed on self-sacrifice for the nation.
With all this in the background, high school youth receive their first conscription order. Schools explicitly encourage students to enlist, which is expressed in ministerial instructions and in classroom content. High rates of enlistment and number of students who become military officers is considered by many school principals as a reason for pride, and a demonstration of the quality of their educational institution. Local councils maintain centers for preparation for a significant service in the Israeli Military, which are in contact with educational institutions in their area, including youth movements, non-formal educational institutions, and, of course. schools. Their program includes a meeting of the schools’ educational team with Ministry of Defense and Israeli Military officials in the last third of the school years throughout high school, in order to plan a joint preparation for conscription. The peak of this preparation is the Gadna (“youth battalions”) week, during which pupils live in a base camp, learn to shoot a rifle, and obey commanders in a military training-like experience. This procedure is meant to cause pupils–while they are still minors, in their shaping years–to see the military as a positive and unifying experience, and as a challenge which will make them strong and committed people, attached and loyal to their state. Soldiers from the Israeli Military’s education corps are present in formal and non-formal educational institutions as further support. One of the goals for the program for preparation to enlistment is “encouraging the family and community environment which support youth towards their military service,” in an expectation that parents and family members will also encourage their children to enlist.
The period of military service has its own educational role in the life of the average Israeli, while the cooperation of the individual with the system can strengthen his or her identification with it. In addition, even though the military brands itself as a place where various Israeli groups and cultures mix–the Israeli Military procedure of sorting soldiers into positions actually usually benefits the elites and allocates members of marginalized populations to more inferior roles in a way that perpetuates social gaps. The social role of the Israeli Military is felt also outside its bases: masses of soldiers are present in civil spaces, in streets, universities, train stations, and malls. Military and militarism are also present in many commercials and slang expressions. The normality delivered to Jewish-Israelis regarding serving in the Israeli Military is being instilled in them as students, as soldiers, and later in civil life, too. The military continues being present in their lives when they become parents, because conscription begins–in a slow but continuous process– beginning in kindergarten and elementary school ages.
We believe this disturbs many, and we know it disturbs us. Therefore, it is important that we’ll ask how to get out of this cycle. New Profile is promoting different priorities: no place for the military in educating children, no justification for accepting obligatory conscription law, preference for peace over war, advancing education for feminism, equality, and the importance of the value of life and freedom for all.
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