In a deeply militarized society it is not easy to question what is seen as the lifeline for the
It started with two groups of women who met and had discussions about the army, women, and militarism. They all had different backgrounds, but one thing connected them: they were all fed up with the deep militarization of their country. In 1998, they decided to form the first anti-militaristic organization in
Raised to be Soldiers from Kindergarten
All Israeli citizens, both men and women, get a call for recruitment to the army when they are 16 years old. Two years later, one would actually be inducted into the army. In general, men do three years of military service and women serve two years. Men up to 45 years old are called every year to do about a month’s service as a reservist.
The military service is not only time-consuming for Israelis. The army is also something that affects a big part of the rest of society. Just to take two examples: one of the biggest radio stations is owned by the army and the pictures of soldiers are often used in commercials and educational materials. “Israeli children are raised to be soldiers from kindergarten,” says Ronnie Barkan, a New Profile member in his 30s. One example of this is the tradition in kindergarten to send candy to soldiers on holidays. New Profile members have been trying to get more parents to ask the kindergarten teacher if they maybe could send the candy to children in hospitals rather than to soldiers in the field. But even this small act of resistance towards the militarization is difficult in
A very militarized Baby
Tal is no stranger to the army. She was born in
Tal has served in the army during two wars, both in 1967 and 1973. “I didn’t question it at that time,” she says. Following her time in the army, she went into the arts, became a dancer, and went abroad. Time and distance from her home country slowly changed Tal’s opinion and gave her political awareness. She became even more changed by her participation in New Profile.
For Miriam Hadar, a woman in her 40s, there is another matter. Because she was born and raised in
Ronnie joined the army after years of doubts. “I had the feeling that I would be a parasite, if I was not in the army,” says Ronnie. “But when I had decided to leave the army, this whole notion of being a parasite or a traitor just disintegrated in front of my eyes. Since that moment, it had no meaning for me at all.” He was ready to serve prison time for his refusal but he had a sympathetic female commander who helped him. In the end, he got exempted on the grounds of having a “split personality.”
New Profile is not the only organization which supports the rights of conscientious objection, but they have a unique approach. “We are not only confronting the situation now, we are also confronting history,” says Tal. “
New Profile also wants to challenge the attitudes in the military thinking. Tal again: “In the normal Israeli military mind you act swiftly, strongly, and elegantly and what we are trying to say is let us not look for solutions. Let us begin to question the past. Let’s begin to question axioms. For example, if tomorrow, God willing, the Occupation ends and the army is dismantled, we still haven’t begun to demilitarize. It is not just about the army, the army is a symptom.”
Most organizations, even those that work for refusal in the Israeli military, are not ready to challenge the Israeli axioms, for example the idea of Zionism. “They want to have the cake and eat it at the same time. They want the benefit of being dominant males, but they also want to have a clear conscience,” says Tal.
Even in the peace camp in
Tal, Miriam, Ronnie, and some 40 active members in New Profile struggle to turn
New Profile has made its aim to work towards changing Israeli society: From a militarized to a civil society. From a discriminating and oppressive society to an egalitarian one. From an occupying nation to a respectful neighbor.
New Profile acts to: Reduce the militarized nature of
New Profile activities: Work with teachers and educators to reduce the impact of militarized education. Workshops, study groups, and conferences raising consciousness of the role of militarism in Israeli society and education. Dissemination of anti-militarist ideas in both the mainstream and the alternative media. Legal and moral support for conscientious objectors.
New Profile was established 1998. Its members include women and men of all ages. Over 1,000 people worldwide subscribe to New Profile’s mailing lists. New Profile operates according to feminist working principles without a rigid hierarchical structure, by means of open and equal discussion.
Martin Smedjeback is secretary for nonviolence in the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation (www.swefor.org). During a prior visit to