Militarization is a constant process which brings the public closer to the military and military values. Since the establishment of the state of Israel, the military is a central institution in its Jewish society. The “people’s army” is presented as vital due to the country’s constant war situation and its presence penetrates many civil society realms, which further empowers and solidifies its status.
Militarism and the choice of war are reflected, among other things, in the State’s priorities and in its political leadership, which sanctifies “national security” over any aspect of civil life. The Ministry of Defense’s budget is much bigger than that of other ministries, and is increased from year to year. The ratio between Israeli military expenses and its gross domestic product is much bigger compared to other states.
This priority serves a certain group: it is customary in Israel that senior military officials move to senior positions in leading civil realms, including the political one. Until January 2020, 13 military heads of staff and 28 major-generals joined politics after their release from the military, and a big portion of the Jewish-Israeli public expects people with military experience well-suited to be leaders. But perhaps these people, who were part of the military system for years and who have learnt to act in it, could not free themselves from the military point of view. Consciously or not, they probably identify the public needs with military needs, and continue to act according to military values.
Even though the military presents itself as being for everybody, many in Israel do not identify with it and with its goals. The willingness of youth to enlist cannot be taken for granted, therefore maintaining the status of the military requires constant bolstering via the education system and the media, for example. Similar to the case of political representatives, a significant portion of media professionals in Israel gained their initial experience in the military–in the Israeli Military’s radio station or spokesperson’s unit. Their first media work was done while in uniforms– part of the military, pro-military, and in no position to dare criticize it. After being released from the military, they are integrated in the civil market, which sees the military as holy and untouchable. The positions expressed in the TV, radio, and newspapers are conformed to the stories of the Israeli Military’s spokesperson, who acts in cooperation with the reporters who cover military issues in the mainstream Israeli media. Accordingly, the mainstream media in Israel expresses very minor criticism on national stances.
The sympathy towards the military and its central status is also strengthened in culture and entertainment in Israel. A big portion of the commercials, films, series’, and theater plays produced and shown in Israel deal with the military and with soldiers. Even if some of them criticize it, it is evidence of the significant part the military has in Israeli civil agenda. The character of the soldier–whether coming home from his base in a commercial for dairy products, or being tormented from the memory of war in a critical film–is being duplicated and sold to the Israeli public over and over, defining how an Israeli-Jewish man is supposed to look like and behave, and who is an Israeli hero. The military experience is presented as an inseparable part of Israeliness. Those images are also present in references to Israel in films, series, and shows shown around the world, and thus, also abroad, Israel is identified with military symbols, fighting, war, and masculinity related to military combat.
The most significant influence of the military is over the private lives of many Israelis: the law of obligatory enlistment officially requires all citizens to enlist upon reaching the age of 18 (even though it exempts certain groups), and regular service is seen as a vital stage in the life of the average Jewish-Israeli. Members of some minorities in Israel are also required to enlist, and for them military service is presented as an opportunity for “belonging.” The first experience of many Israelis as graduates of the education system is of entering the military system, which also has a significant position in shaping them and their character. The young 18 year old conscripts easily cooperate, and it is less likely they will understand the political and personal consequences of turning into soldiers, largely precluding them from being able to be critical about the military in such an early stage of their life. In addition, entering the military often creates identification with it. For some people, military service is indeed a significant experience which creates future opportunities in civil life. The stories of those hurt during the service are heard less, and some never talk about their military experiences and prefer to forget this period. The risk factors of military service, which threaten mostly youth from marginalized backgrounds–are rarely talked about.
The centrality of the military and the war cycle are perpetuated because some benefit from it: in addition to the political capital which can result from military service in a senior position or a prestigious unit, there are considerable economic benefits related to the military. The military industry is one of the most important sectors in Israeli economy. In 2020, Israel was the 10th-highest country in the world in terms of exporting arms, which is done at times while ignoring international bans on provision of arms used for human rights violations. In many cases, Israel based its diplomatic relations with other countries first and foremost on arms transactions, as a stepping stone for further cooperation. The companies working with the military, such as Elbit or Rafael, receive a stamp of “tried during combat” while marketing their technologies to customers abroad. Also a big portion of the high-tech sector, which is central in Israeli economy, is in fact related to security. For instance, cyber companies which develop surveillance technology, such as NSO, were established by graduates of military technological intelligence units. The profits of these companies are part of the engine which maintains the constant war.
New Profile points at these phenomena in order to develop critical discourse around them. The presence of the military in politics, education, media, entertainment, our personal and communal life, and economy is so significant that it seems natural–almost transparent. There is a wide and continuous cooperation between various actors and power holders which is meant to keep the military in its sacred status. But this is not an inevitable situation–we can oppose it. New Profile does not believe that living in a constant state of war is a normal or desired situation. We also doubt the war Israel conducts is necessary; the story the state institutions and the central media tell us about it is not necessarily true. We hope to deconstruct these ideas and to advance a critical attitude towards the military and its status in Israel, while striving for change and for peace within the country’s borders and beyond.
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