Thursday, September 4, 2014

Israeli Militarism

Noting that "Israel's accusation that Hamas is using civilians as human shields has grown increasingly strident as the war in Gaza worsens," the Guardian's Middle East correspondent, Harriet Sherwood, pointed out recently that:

"The separation between 'civilian' and 'military' in Gaza is much more blurred than with a conventional army - both physically and in the Gazan psyche. Hamas and other militants are embedded in the population. Their fighters are not quartered in military barracks, but sleep at night in their family homes. While it is not difficult to find antipathy to Hamas on the streets of Gaza in quiet times, most people defend their 'right to resist' - and under such sustained military attack, support for Hamas rises." (In Gaza, Hamas fighters are among civilians. There is nowhere else for them to go, 25/7/14)

After citing cases of the Israeli army's deliberate use of Palestinian civilians as human shields, Sherwood concluded her piece thus: "Meanwhile, in response to Israel's assertions that Hamas situates its military centres in civilian areas, some have pointed out that the IDF's headquarters, the Kiriya, is in central Tel Aviv, surrounded by a hospital, blocks of flats, shopping centres and offices."

While her report is a useful corrective to Israeli propaganda of the 'human shield' variety, that final paragraph on the Kiriya and its siting hardly touches the surface when it comes to the reality of just how blurred the separation between 'civilian' and 'military' in Israeli society really is:

"Militarism in Israel is pervasively visible, so it 'does not and cannot pass unnoticed by children in Israel. The military is present everywhere. Anyone whoever visited Israel could not help notice the great number of soldiers on the streets and in other public places' (Givol et al. 2004: 14). At any one moment, roughly half a million individuals are in active service (mandatory service, professionals and reserves combined), so civil life is not just constantly disrupted by the olive-green colour of soldiers carrying rifles and pistols - rather, it is woven through with these 'disruptions'. In fact, rather than being perceived as disruptions, they are the very material that makes up Israeli spatial reality. As ordinary pedestrians on Israeli streets and as consumers in shopping malls, at cinemas and in coffee shops, on public transport and in university classrooms and lecture halls - soldiers are everywhere; there are no purely civil spaces in Israel. 'Weapons are also to be found everywhere. Old tanks, machineguns and even fighter jets are placed in public places, quite accessible, sometimes especially accessible, to children' (ibid.: 15). For many years, an Israeli fighter plane has been placed in the main outdoor display area at the National Museum of Science in Haifa, where I worked; without a doubt, the plane is the most attractive exhibit for the thousands of children who visit the museum every year. Israeli militarism is not only visible, it is also pervasively audible, since cultural landscapes have visible and audible aspects. The strident rightfulness of key mainstream radio and television personalities that shapes the boundaries of public deliberation; the ever stormy political discussions at school and in universities, at home with family or friends; the distress caused by the sounds of the Remembrance Day siren and the collective sense of grief and sadness enhanced a thousand-fold by the unceasing torment of war songs that for 24 hours tell and re-tell of human loss and sacrifice; the sirens in the big cities that drill the civilian population every few months - together, all these assemble a time and a space of unavoidable sounds that nail us deeper inside a culture with very few moments of civilian life." (After Israel: Towards Cultural Transformation, Marcelo Svirsky, 2014, p 167)

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