As you sow, so shall you reap

However, these are too greater tasks to lay upon the shoulders of eighteen and nineteen-year-old high school graduates – the age of conscription – unprepared. The type of decisions to be made, and the actions that follow from them, cannot in any simple sense be ‘taught’, as though all that was required to ensure their military readiness for controlling a civilian population was the teaching of a skill set. 

Skills are essentially teachable and learnable techniques but they are not free floating. Whether, when and how to deploy them is a matter of context and in-the-moment decision-making.  At heart, acknowledged or not, ethical considerations and cultural biases are in play and Israel’s armed forces operate within a very particular ethical and cultural context, one predicated on domination, on the oppression of the Other – Palestinians.

Militarism, as has already been said, is a totalising enterprise. It follows, therefore, that education must propagate the state’s primary orientation.  And the material upon which it works are the State’s children.  They must be inculcated into the distorted values and skewed ethical orientations that contribute to the maintenance and reproduction of this modern-day Sparta.  And that work begins early. This from ‘An army like no other’ by Haim Bresheeth-Zabner:

In Israel, military service starts before birth….The advertisement for Lis Maternity Hospital…shows a foetus wearing a military beret with a caption reading: Recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence, 2038.’

He goes on to comment:

‘Portraying an unborn child as a soldier is disturbing in its own right…In Israel, an occupying power whose military has for over five decades been primarily concerned with maintaining control over a civilian population, this advertisement is even more charged.’  

But this is only the beginning.  Although conscription does not formally begin until eighteen years of age, from the age of fourteen school children join the Gadna (Youth Battalions) and start preparations for army life.

‘By incorporating four years of frequent army training into high school, the army has already orientated the future soldiers before they see service’ 

This valorisation of all thing’s military is a necessary, but insufficient, contribution to the task of turning children and teenagers into willing, and often eager, warriors. In addition to this cleaving close to the military, it is also required that an appropriate worldview is conveyed to and absorbed by students, a world view founded on the principles, myths and historical distortions that together comprise the Zionist canon. (Though, note, the rate of high school students seeking exception from military service is rising. But it would be wrong to assume that all, or even a significant number, do this on conscientious grounds. I highlighted those that do here)

Education, education, education

Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Professor of language and education at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Yael Zerubavel , Professor of sociology at Rutgers University, have separately examined the Israeli education system, its textbooks and curricula. 

Any state education system is, in part, concerned to ensure that each new generation is inducted into the fundamental values and orientations of society at large.  Indeed, in the context of a militarised society, this need to reproduce itself via its young has particular force, for such a society has cast itself as a perennial potential victim, and it needs young warriors to unflinchingly maintain a stance of perpetual military readiness. Thus, what happens at school, the educational materials used, the experiences pupils and students encounter, really matter.

One aspect of this is the textbooks from which Israeli children learn. These are rigorously policed to ensure only a particular view of Israeli history is taught, and that Palestinians are in the main only negatively represented. Peled-Elhanan makes the point that for most children and high school students their only encounter with history, geography, and much else, will only be via authorised textbooks which, as shown, are designed to distort.

Thus, Palestinians are hardly, if at all, represented, and if so, then mainly in the guise of primitives or terrorists. When studying maps, these sometimes show Israel without any border – i.e. the Green Line does not appear – and the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is designated ‘The Land of Israel’ (the current, though violated, formal borders of the Israeli State not referenced).

The Naqba is not allowed to be taught, but the 1948 war is characterised as a just war. And forms of harms done to Palestinians are justified as necessary and unavoidable in the light of the higher purpose of fashioning a Jewish-majority state. In a perverse form of consequentialism, all ‘errors’ or excesses of the pre-state and current Israeli State military are justified because they serve the higher, morally valid, purpose of securing a Jewish State. (Worth noting, though not pursued here, is Peled-Elhanan’s finding that racist representations not restricted to Palestinians but other population groups are caught within its embrace.)

What then, might one expect?

Thus, the Israeli child, from inception, through its entire adolescence and into young adulthood, never encountering a Palestinian as an equal, or at all, is marinaded in a toxic admixture of supremacist fantasies, fear of the other, a sense of victim-hood, and a belief in the efficacy and inevitable need for violence.

And into the hands of this often afeared eighteen year, trapped within a morally distorted mindset, the Israeli state places lethal weaponry and tutelage over a civilian population that has mainly been encountered only through the distorting prism of an Israeli education.    

So, given all this, what might one expect the result to be?

And after three years military service, what hope for the adults emerging from the military chrysalis. What might their worldview be?

[1] Last figures available 2019. There is no reason to suppose subsequent years are different.

[2] Quotes from War Against the People.

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