Note: Sahar Vardi is the Coordinator of the Israel Program in AFSC's office in East Jerusalem. She is a refuser and has been working actively to oppose the occupation of Palestinian territory and the militarization of Israeli society for years. Her post below are her reflections about the context of Israeli culture and its focus on militarism as an obstacle to peace. She asks that the international community put pressure on the Israeli government to end the occupation and the human rights abuses of Palestinians. - Lucy
While the bombs fall on Gaza and the majority of Israeli society seems to support the continuance of the military attack on Gaza, we, as Israelis horrified by the actions of our government, find our voices lost. What can we say and do? What value might this have? How can our echoes have any impact on the situation now?
Internally in Israeli Jewish-society, it is clear that our voice remains unwelcome – protestors calling for the immediate end of the attack on Gaza have been physically assaulted, eggs, rocks and chairs thrown at them, and some even hospitalized; celebrities who dare to criticize the military have been publically shunned and the majority of the elected opposition in the Knesset are aligning positions with the right-wing government. Those politicians, mostly Palestinians living in Israel, who dared to speak out have been cursed, threatened and physically dragged out of the Knesset.
Internationally it seems that there is more of a space for critical Israeli voices – some even actively look for it – where are the voices of the “good” Israelis we are sometimes asked? But in order to understand what is going on right now in Israeli society, there’s a need to break that dichotomy – there are no good and bad Israelis, there is no good Israel or bad Israel. There’s a system of fear and militarization, of separatism, that sustains the status quo. Such a system feeds human resources into the war machine and more importantly obtains public support for what we are seeing now in Gaza.
A lot can be said about the militarization of Israeli society, how the education system serves to ensure youth serve in the military, how public campaigns to shame people who don’t serve fit into that, how bills are being passed to link one’s civil rights to one’s military service, etc. But in times like these, while a military operation is taking place and soldiers are dying, this comes to an extreme.
The Jerusalem municipality put up flags of the Israeli Defense Forces throughout Jerusalem, replacing the Israeli and municipal flags usually hung there. The university I go to, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, sent around to all students a request to come and donate food, clothing and gifts not to the people bombed in Gaza, or even to the residents of the South of Israel living under rocket fire – but to the soldiers “on the front”, as if the budget of the Ministry of Defense wasn’t the largest budget of all governmental ministries.
Reporters and news outlets, even those who dare be critical in other times, all quickly line up with the governmental line saying that it is to be expected to have political disagreements, but criticizing the military is not legitimate. And thousands of citizens, students, professionals and parents, received a reserved service call-up and were forced, by law, to report to duty. The death of dozens of soldiers and the general feeling that they were all “our sons” results in thousands of people who never knew them going to soldiers’ funerals. Because of universal conscription, mourners are always thinking, it could have really been our son, or friend, or brother. In such an environment, why would anyone even think about defying the consensus around the military, its actions, and through that, the government’s policy? Who would defy the system? We are indeed alone.
A friend of mine, while waiting in a military base outside Gaza in full military gear, wrote on his Facebook page: “It’s not national pride, it’s a disgrace. To put on a uniform because you’re afraid to refuse. The IDF will continue to pay in the blood of its soldiers for the wrong policies of Israeli prime ministers, and Israel will continue to waste the lives of its sons on the stupid aggressive rhetoric of Naftali Benet and his friends, and on the fear of objecting to it”.
To this we must add the fact that most Israelis just do not see an alternative. Part of the proclaimed idea of Zionism was to create an alternative to persecution through having our own state, our own army, our own way to protect Jews from persecution through the might of our own strength.
A century later and we are still at the same place – force is the only way we know to guarantee our safety, and security is the most sacred value to us. If you add to that the fact that our politicians were all once soldiers. All our ministers of defense except for one in the past 50 years were military generals before moving into politics, and, hence, they literally spent their lives learning only military solutions. This results in a government that only relies on the military solution. With this mindset, it’s impossible to imagine long term peaceful solutions.
This constant state of warfare also has its benefits for some, and Israel’s economy is today very much dependent on the military industry, an industry that relies on conflict to continue so weapons can be tested and show-cased. This means that there are also those, including politicians, with a clear vested economic interest in not finding sustainable solutions.
With a lack of alternatives presented to the people, the immediate threat becomes the topic of conversation: "There are rockets fired on the south of Israel, there are tunnels through which infiltrators can attack, there are Palestinians trying to kill us, what are we to do?!" With a lack of any will to negotiate, with a lack of politicians saying it’s possible and with media guided to present the lack of any potential partner, the military solution seems to be the only one on the table for Israelis.
When the international community is seeking for the voice of “the good Israeli category,” it should search for a way in which it can contribute to breaking out of this fear-based mentality. It should promote the dozens of non military alternatives that are out there e.g. the concrete-two state initiatives like the Saudi peace initiative, including a mechanism for regional security that will only contribute to Israel’s security or, alternately, the rights based approaches that call for equal civil rights for all.
But promoting these peaceful solutions cannot be done by sending more arms and increasing military aid to Israel, this cannot be done by allowing Israel to continue to choose military solutions and killing hundreds of innocent people, while disregarding lives and rights.
It is important to understand that sustainable security for Israel can only be achieved by regional security that includes the rights and security of the Palestinians. So as an Israeli trying to speak out against the attack on Gaza, against the ongoing siege and occupation, and against the militarization of Israeli society, I ask you to help us in pressuring Israel to stop the attack immediately and invest seriously in peaceful solutions.
 The head of a nationalist right wing party in Israel that represents the settler movement.