Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
In academic-speak a definition of militarism might run something like this: the stretching of the military into civilian spheres – culture, education, the family, politics, public space – such that militaristic presumptions become normalised and military functions, such as war, are facilitated. But it’s Or Ben-David, a 19-year-old Israeli woman, jailed three times for her refusal to serve in the army, who provides my favourite example when she ends her list of the militarisation of her life – ‘commercials, an old school book with soldiers in, my mother singing old songs of the partisans and Eretz Israel …’ – by exclaiming: ‘My underwears are army underwears!’
There was a time when such a list would never have occurred to her. It was only after getting involved in New Profile’s youth group that she began to notice these things, to understand how the military had saturated the civilian realm.
New Profile (NP) was established just over a decade ago as the first Israeli political group with demilitarisation as its top priority. Its two main areas of work are around military enlistment – encouraging young people to think before enlisting and supporting those who decide to refuse – and educating about militarism. A current travelling exhibition features images alongside questions that expose militarism. There is a photo of a roundabout in Be’er Sheva. At its centre is a fighter jet; one of a number the previous mayor had chosen to decorate his city with. The text alongside asks: ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’
Long-time NP member Diana Dolev explains the importance of her work on the education team: ‘If you speak to people in Israel, Jews in Israel, and you point out that we are a militarised society, they’re shocked, they say “We, militarised?” It’s so much a part of our everyday life that we can’t see it … militarised mindsets are so deep rooted; it is like part of us.’
Her point is proved on the bus journey to my next NP interview when a conscript, surprised by my accent, asks where I am going (he proudly tells me he is visiting the hospital for an injury incurred in military service, before sheepishly elaborating that it is RSI from excessive computer use). I describe NP, showing him their leaflets. His reaction is a mixture of amusement, confusion and disbelief.
He completely rejects the idea of even asking ‘Should I enlist?’ and that the militarisation of Israeli society could be a topic of discussion. He also refuses to accept what I tell him a friend of mine reported from the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza: thousands of chickens systematically bulldozed.
‘But he was there, he saw it with his own eyes, he took photos.’
‘No, that didn’t happen,’ he laughs. As with his reaction to NP, he completely identifies with the military; the military is unquestionable and always right. His is a militarised mindset.
Even a picnic basket
Similarly, the militarisation of everyday life, especially family life, takes on a habitual, unquestioned character, while being essential to the functioning of the army. Cynthia Enloe, a feminist international relations theorist, writes that even ‘making up a picnic basket can be militarised if it is packed with the intention of keeping up the morale of a soldier.’
Michal Gelbart talks me through the NP exhibition, which she helped put together. One of the pictures is an advert for bread yeast, with a mother and son and text that reads: ‘When my boy is home on his ordinary leave, he deserves extraordinary pastry.’
‘The mother is mobilised, we are all the time, from when they are small,’ she elaborates. ‘You go after them everywhere and you bring the schnitzels and all kinds of food. Now I’m aware of being mobilised, the whole society is mobilised around it.’
If militarism sustains the occupation and war, demilitarisation becomes an important anti-occupation and anti-war strategy. But for NP it is also distinctly feminist. While strains of Israeli feminism promote women’s enthusiastic entry and achievement in the military as demonstrative of their equal worth and as a path to societal equality, there is a more inclusive feminism present in NP.
‘When I told my mother I was going to resist the draft because I’m a feminist, she said, “If you’re a feminist, go be a fighter pilot,”‘ writes Shani Werner, another NP activist. ‘People tend to see feminism as an attempt to prove that “we can do it too”. They don’t get the message that means the most to me: feminism is a struggle against oppression. All oppression.’
‘It’s about demilitarising Israeli society in order to end the occupation but also to stop doing all the other terrible things that we do to our own citizens,’ Ruth Hiller, NP co-founder, tells me. ‘We don’t provide equality for women, Mizrahim [Jews of Middle Eastern descent], Ethiopian citizens, the Arab population, the handicapped …’
Much of that inequality stems from the unchallenged centrality of the military in Israeli society; the military is the institution through which you earn power and economic opportunity in civilian spheres. And since able-bodied, Ashkenazi (Jews of European descent) men dominate the combat units, home to the most valued roles in the army, they also dominate Israeli society.
The vision of feminist-as-fighter-pilot is not a solution, Orna Sasson-Levy of Bar Ilan University emphasises: ‘What I find in my research is that even when the army is trying to create an equal-opportunity environment, the culture is so gendered, so masculine that women cannot achieve an equal place without completely co-operating with its chauvinistic structure and reproducing it in their behaviour towards other women.’
‘When we’re talking about militarised, we’re also talking about patriarchal,’ Ruth Hiller argues. ‘Women do not have the same kind of input or the same sort of influence on society. Who are our prime ministers, who are our ministers? How many of them are from the military, how many of them are commanding officers? Why is it that in this country that has 51 per cent of the population women there are not even 30 Knesset [Israeli parliament] women?’
Something among men
Diana Dolev recounts to me a lunch with friends shortly after the attack on Gaza. She told them she had been against it right from the beginning. Her host said that was nonsense, everybody was for it in the first few days and then turned to her husband and started talking about the rights and wrongs of the attack. ‘It was like I didn’t exist because what I have to say is not as important. I see this happening all the time – war matters and high politics, that’s something among men, they understand better.’
‘The military creates a mindset where women are worth less,’ she concludes. Michal Gelbart had noted to me that it’s never a female soldier or a daughter who ‘deserves an extraordinary pastry’. The worth-less mindset also translates into lower pay for the same work and fewer opportunities for highly paid, high-status professions.
Hiller believes that soldiers in the occupied West Bank don’t leave their aggression at the checkpoint; they bring it back home. Indeed, when I explain to Or Ben-David that that my militarism article will be focused on women, she leans across the table, wide-eyed and animated: ‘I want to tell you about the women I met in [military] prison … There was one woman who had been in the jail for two months and didn’t want to leave; her boyfriend had beaten her for four years. I don’t know if you can really blame it on the army … but it is, it is the army.’
‘A militarised society altogether believes in force,’ Dolev says. ‘The first idea that comes into people’s heads of how to solve a problem is by force, no negotiating, no listening to the other side – no, you solve things by force. You see this everywhere in Israel.’
She admits that the process of educating a society into demilitarisation will be difficult and slow going, but she and New Profile believe it is possible. As Cynthia Enloe put it, ‘The world is something that has been made; therefore it can be remade.’
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright