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  June 23, 2011

Selling Israeli Militarism Like Toothpaste

From children's shows to national war drills, a discussion on militarism in Israeli society and gender equality in the army
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Rela Mazali is one of the founders of the New Profile movement to de-militarize Israeli civil society. She has also co-founded Gun-Free Kitchen Tables, a new project aiming to drastically reduce the number of small arms in homes and families in Israel. She is also the author of Maps of Women's Goings & Stayings (2001), and the upcoming book, Home Archaeology.

Alex Cohn is an Israeli activist and conscientious objector who served five months in jail for his refusal to serve in the army in 2005.

On Wednesday, June 22, Israel held the largest war exercise in its history. The Real News' Lia Tarachansky interviewed Rela Mazali, a founder of New Profile, an organization working to demilitarize Israeli society, and Alex Cohn, a war resister who served five months for objecting to serve in the army. Cohn analyses a children's show that portrays a typical interaction between soldiers and Israeli children as part of a discussion on the insidious prevalence of militarism in Israeli society.


LIA TARACHANSY, TRNN: Israel is the only country in the world with forced conscription for men and women. While women have served in the army since its inception, they only won equality in the right to serve in any role in 2000. But according to some Israeli organizations, this move did not bring the gaps between the genders in the army closer together. Rela Mazali is one of the founders of New Profile, an Israeli organization that works on the issue of militarization in Israeli society.


RELA MAZALI, FOUNDER, NEW PROFILE: Society often doesn't notice what is in plain sight, because it's so normalized and so naturalized, so that everything to do with the military seems natural, just normal, just there for our own protection, not anything belligerent or aggressive, or even chosen. It isn't perceived, by and large, by most Israelis, I would say, as a policy choice, so that these things simply aren't noticed.

TARACHANSKY: And besides the human presence of soldiers on the streets and M16s everywhere, there's also the landscape of the army with military bases everywhere. Can you talk a little bit about that?

MAZALI: Fifty percent of Israel's land within the Green Line is controlled and used by security organizations and bodies. There is a vastly disproportionate number of ex-high ranking military men in the political leadership in Israel.


TARACHANSKY: Every year, a handful of Israeli teenagers, known as Shiministin, decide to publicly object to serve in the army. Last year, they held a small march the night before the conscription date.


UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I think that even if you have criticisms, you first of all have to pay for the first 18 years you've lived here. I am not afraid, because we have the army. I am not afraid, because my brother protects the borders.

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): To live under the protection of a gun is to live in fear.

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): If you don't serve, you're not contributing. You have no intention to contribute.

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): A person can contribute outside the army. You can contribute outside the national service. What these people are doing here is a contribution.


MAZALI: The constant feeding of this sense of fear and that, well, first of all, we just have to look outside and worry about what is coming at us, what is the us, from there diverts attention somewhat from the internal rift and from internal injustice and discrimination, such as the way that the economy has been managed over the past decade and a half in moving more and more of the common resources to a small group of property owners.

TARACHANSKY: Alex Cohn was a conscientious objector in 2005. He spent five months in jail for refusing to serve in the army.

ALEX COHN, CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The truth is that it was a very difficult decision for me not to serve. I took it very seriously. I talked to a lot of people, those who conscripted and those who didn't. I read about it. And I couldn't sleep nights, trying to decide whether to go or not. And then at some point I just felt it. "Enough. You're not going to the army. It's not something you can do."

TARACHANSKY: However, conscription is not universal in Israel. The Jewish orthodox do not have to serve. Neither do the Palestinian citizens of Israel that make up 20 percent of the population. But the militarization of Israeli society doesn't start in the army. Songs and Games is a popular children's show on one of Israel's main TV channels. This episode shows a typical portrayal of a soldier returning home on leave.


Wow, Uzi! You've changed! I almost didn't recognize you. What happened to your beautiful long curls?

They cut my hair at the BAKUM.

I can't believe it. You let someone cut your curls?

I didn't have a choice.

Wow. But what's BAKUM?

Oh, BAKUM is the name of the new recruits base.

He's a soldier now, one week exactly today.

Wow, you're so lucky. Congratulations!


I told you my brother's a soldier, right?

Of course!

But my brother's not just a recruit like you.



Why are you calling him names? What's a recruit?

Recruit is a soldier who just began his service.


Ah, I understand.

My brother is a parachutist.


Do you know how to parachute, too?


My brother parachuted 30 times already. He even has a broach with wings on it. Do you have wings, too?


Guy! Not all the soldiers in the army are parachutists.

She's right. There's the armored units, mechanics, divers, pilots.



COHN: This program shows the army as part of daily life, a regular stage in a child's development. You finish high school, then go to the army, then maybe the university, though that's not a part of the show. Essentially, the army is presented as something obvious. The girl is presented in a naive way, not very smart. She asks questions like what's the BAKUM (receiving and sorting base), giving the soldier the opportunity to teach children army terms, as if at their age they need to know terms like BAKUM. And the soldier's name is Uzi, which is the name of a gun.


What curls he used to have! Golden locks! Everyone used to say, "What a cute girl you have!"

Grandpa! Enough!

And now he's a soldier!

I wish I could have come to the army with you!

What's the rush? Just wait! Patience. Your turn will come, too.


MAZALI: When you take the conception of cannon fodder seriously and understand that in fact there is a group that society is devaluing and that you're called on, for instance, or your children are called on to become part of that group, it can be really a very central source of resistance. So society makes soldiers seem more important, bigger, more deserving, and privileges them, in fact, privileges people in uniform, in order to hide this very basic fact of devaluing their lives.


I don't really understand. What's so great about joining the army?

What do you mean? The army is the most fun!

What, you don't want to join?

I hope by the time I'm 18 there won't be an army, because there'll be peace.

No, no, anything but that.

What, you don't want peace?

Of course I want peace, but I don't want the army to be canceled.


COHN: The way this program ridicules the girl has to be seen in a broader context of gender perceptions in the society and how they relate to the army.

TARACHANSKY: What do you mean?

COHN: For example, when there was the Four Mothers Movement that organized to withdraw from Lebanon to protect "our children", which is an element in the program too, there was an army general (I don't remember his name) who called them "dish cloths" for wanting to withdraw from Lebanon, which is basically the way women are presented in the society.


MAZALI: Over 80 percent of women serving in the military were found by the military, in 2003, to have experienced sexual harassment within the military--over 80 percent. And of that group, only a small minority, something like 26 percent, if I'm not mistaken, knew that what they had experienced was sexual harassment. Most of them didn't even know how to name it, it was so normalized and naturalized within the military.


If we'll all want together [sic] and together believe that peace will come, eventually it'll come.

For sure?

Oh, I know. So let's just call for peace.

Wait, let's not call, let's sing for peace!


COHN: It's a worn-out cliche in Israel. And the way they ridicule her is the same way they ridicule the idea of peace when the adult figure basically offers a certain perception of peace, if we will all want and believe in peace, which is basically a perception that's becoming less and less popular. Today, people talk about peace less. When I was a kid during the Oslo era, it was very present. White peace doves hung in the school hallways, and we danced to the song "I was born for peace, let it come". But in the end, they don't teach us what's happening here and what is the concrete history of the conflict we're in. They definitely don't talk to us about the occupation or the Nakba, all the questions at the core of why there is currently no peace. I think the attitude towards children is very manipulative and unfair. Children are presented with such complex questions and are sold a world view the same way they're sold toothpaste.

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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