The modern roots go back to Zionism’s founding at the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland in 1897, its program being:
“Establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Eretz Yisrael.”
Five decades later, it was accomplished by dispossessing indigenous Palestinians, denying them the right to their land, creating a new Jewish identity, legitimizing Jews as rightful owners, and using superior military force to assure it against defenseless civilians, no match against their powerful adversary.
Leading up to and after its War of Independence, Israel stayed politically and militarily hard line, negotiating from strength, choosing confrontation over diplomacy, naked aggression as a form of self-defense, and occupation to seize as much of historic Palestine as possible to secure an ethnically pure Jewish state – policies called “Israelification (and) De-Arabization” to preserve a “Jewish character.”
In his book, “The Making of Israeli Militarism, Uri Ben- Eliezer says writing about Israeli militarism involves “ventur(ing) into an intellectual minefield,” given Jewish history under the Nazis and the perception of Israel as a safe haven. Yet decades of Arab-Israeli conflict produced seven full-scale wars, two Intifadas, and many hundreds of violent incidents.
Ben-Eliezer believes that, beginning in the 1930s, militarism “was gradually legitimized within the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine, then within the new state (was) crystallized into a value, a formula, and an ideology.” Over time, it acquired a dynamic of its own, then during the 1948 war, it “acquired full legitimacy” and became decisive in setting policy.
Politics and militarism were wedded to create a militaristic view of reality. Thereafter, it was institutionalized to where “the idea of implementing a military solution to (political problems) was not only enshrined as a value in its own right but was also considered legitimate, desirable, and indeed the best option.”
Today, militarism is a “cardinal aspect of Israeli society,” its quintessential element under the 1986 National Defence Service Law, requiring all Jewish Israeli citizens and permanent residents to serve – men and women, with exemptions only for Orthodox Jews, educational inadequacy, health, family considerations, married or pregnant women or those with children, criminals, and other considerations at the Defense Ministry’s discretion. In addition, most Israeli leaders are former high-ranking IDF officers, politics and the military being inextricably connected.
Little wonder that Israel is a modern day Sparta, a nation of about 5.6 million Jews, another 500,000 settlers, able to mobilize over 600,000 combatants in 72 hours, equipped with state-of-the art weapons and backing of the world’s only superpower for whatever it wants.
Yet on March 2, 2008, McClatchy Newspapers writer Dion Nissenbaum headlined, “Israelis show declining zest for military service,” saying:
“….under the surface, something has been slowly shifting in Israel as the nation prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary May 14. More and more Israelis are avoiding mandatory military service – something” earlier considered unthinkable.
According to author and former chief Israeli military psychologist, Dr. Rueven Gal:
“In the past, it is true that not serving in the military was considered the exception. In more recent times, it became more tolerable and more acceptable to people.”
According to 1997 IDF statistics, less than one in ten Israeli men avoided service. Now it’s nearly triple that number, or according to some, even higher, given the resonance of conscientious objectors, Refusniks, students unwilling to serve in the Territories, and “Breaking the Silence” reserves speaking out about IDF atrocities over the past decade, especially during the Gaza war.
Women are also opting out – around 44% compared to 37% a decade earlier. As a result, National Infrastructures Minister, Uzi Landau, called the IDF no longer a “people’s army (but rather) half the people’s army.”
Given Israel’s hardline militarism requiring mandatory service, officials are seeking new ways to deter avoidance.
Indoctrinating Youths to Accept Militarism in Israeli Society and Culture
New Profile is a “Movement for the Civil-ization of Israeli Society” away from militarism and a culture of violence, its “feminist women and men….convinced that we need not live in a soldiers’ state” and should no longer tolerate one.
In July 2004, its report titled, “Child Recruitment in Israel” examined how Israeli armed forces and Jewish militias indoctrinate young children to be warriors, a practice they believe essential to stop.
Child recruitment involves more than having weapons and using them, their being no front lines in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Israel and the Territories, IDF soldiers are everywhere. “Many military bases are located inside population centres and few Israelis ever spend a day without meeting soldiers on duty.”
As a result, a functional definition of child recruitment is as follows:
— a child is anyone under 18, recruited by one or more of these methods:
(1) by wearing an official uniform, having an official document, or in other ways identified as an IDF or related group member, even if not formal;
(2) by promoting or supporting IDF actions, actively or through other services; and/or
(3) by undergoing practical or theoretical training to perform or assist IDF activities, formerly or otherwise.
Armed forces and security groups include Israel’s military, its police (including conscripted Border Police), General Security Services (GSS), and Jewish militias, mostly based in settlements.
Relevant International Laws
Artictle 38(2)(3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) states:
(2) “State Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities; (and)
(3) State Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen into the armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years, State Parties shall endeavour to give priority to those who are oldest.”
Article 77(2) of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (1977) contains similar language, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) criminalizes the recruiting of children under 15.
The 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child recognized 18 as the minimum recruitment age. Then in 2000, the International Labour Organization’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182 condemned “all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery….including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.”
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (2000) prohibited forced recruiting and raised the minimum age to 16.
Contrary to international law, Israeli legislation takes precedence over accepted norms and standards. Conscription at 18 is mandatory, at times includes those six months younger, and children under 18 may enlist voluntarily, but aren’t used as combatants until coming of age.
Child recruitment is also done informally, the idea being to prepare underage youths for future mandatory service. Ben-Eliezer wrote how early Zionist settlers established militant organizations, notably the Bar Giora (named for Simon bar Giora in ancient Roman times), Hashomer (The Guard), and the Haganah (Defense), small in scale but profound in influencing younger minds. He explained saying:
“The formative years of the younger generation produced an ethos created by local experience: guarding fields and crops, fighting with Arab children, being given a weapon at the age of bar mitzvah (a boy’s thirteenth birthday). This was the childhood experience of prominent members of the young generation (tempering their outlook) with suspicion, which frequently became hostility, and they reached maturity feeling that a confrontation between (Arabs and Jews) was inevitable.”
Before 1948, very young children engaged in military activities, doing so eagerly as a sort of game. As a result, a militaristic worldview developed, especially among youths later becoming leaders. Militant groups formed at this time, including Fosh (a Hebrew acronym for Field Units), the Palmach (Striking Force), Stern Gang (Israeli Freedom Fighters -Lehi in Hebrew) and Irgun (National Military Organization – Etzel in Hebrew).
Before Israel’s War of Independence, recruitment was a “Duty to Volunteer.” Then it was mandatory after the IDF’s establishment on May 26, 1948, replacing the paramilitary Haganah.
It’s still called a privilege, a “noble and worthy action,” today moulding young minds to be eager when called, but they participated earlier as well. In the 1948 battle for Jerusalem, Youth Battalion trainees, aged 16 and 17, were combatants. So were women.
Defining Israeli Militarism
New Profile calls it “a way of thinking, which promotes forceful solutions, usually military ones, as preferable and even desirable ways of solving problems.” As a result, security forces are society’s most valued and revered, “whose needs and opinions come second to none.” Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, called “The whole nation….an army and the whole land (a) front.”
Today’s IDF is the world’s fourth most powerful military, nuclear armed with state-of-the-art weapons and technology, an active space and satellite program, biological and chemical capabilities, and a large per capita military budget, financed generously by Washington.
The military also controls 48% of public lands, and recycles its commanders into high government positions, including municipality and regional council heads, mayors, ministers, and heads of state. Others get top public administration positions or serve as business executives or directors.
“The unquestioned prestige enjoyed by top military officers emanates downwards, and some of it can still be enjoyed by” common soldiers. Children see and feel it everywhere, including from adult family members, from religious leaders, and in school. In addition, imagery and weapons are ubiquitous, including old tanks, guns and fighter jets visible in public places.
Israeli Children as Future Soldiers – Militarized Education Starting in Kindergarten, at Home, and on Streets
“The military is physically present in schools and school activities,” uniformed soldiers there, many teaching classes to program young minds. Further, teachers, especially principals, are retired career officers, and school walls are adorned with names and photos of fallen heros among their graduates. Field trips for all ages are to military memorials on former battlegrounds.
Curricula and textbooks reflect militarism, from kindergarten through high schools that have mandatory programs in all state-run ones called “preparation for the IDF” that includes training. Glorifying military heros and conquests while vilifying Palestinians are featured.
Symbolic recruitment precedes conscription. It consists of indoctrinating youths to feel part of the military, mobilized for war, ready for combat, and eager to participate. More still by kindergarten and elementary school children sending gift packages to soldiers, especially on holidays, expressing gratitude in personal letters.
A 1974 teachers’ guide titled, “When a Nation Reports for Duty” promotes enlistment saying:
“The Entire people carry the burden of the war effort, and it is divided between those who wear the IDF uniform and the civilians who are not directly recruited by the IDF.
Therefore it should be understood that (every) civilian carries the burden of the war effort.”
Children learn early, and it sticks, preparing them for later conscription and a lifetime of military support. Besides school, they’re exposed in ceremonies, commemorations, speeches, field trips to military bases, and holiday celebrations of battles between “us” (Jews) and “the bad guys” (earlier Nazis, Egyptians, Persians, Arabs) and now Palestinians. As a result, children are imbued “to accept military force and war as a natural state and a natural response to conflict situations.”
Soldiers in Israeli Schools
They’re both former IDF teachers and administrators as well as “uniformed soldiers on duty, stationed in schools as part of the school staff….The presence of former soldiers, especially retired high-ranking officers, in the education system is considered by many in Israeli society, including government, to be a positive influence on children,” especially since preparing youths for military service is a core educational goal.
In collaboration with the Ministries of Education and Defense, the IDF operates two large-scale youth programs:
— the Teacher-Soldier one to train soldiers to become teachers, to complement civilian staff despite their poor qualifications; and
— the Youth-Guide one works with underprivileged children, in some cases for Youth Battalions; others as Preparation for Military Service coordinators.
They’re nearly always in uniform, report to civilian and military superiors, promote militarism and wars for defense, and children acclimate to viewing them as an integral part of their education and a future obligation.
Indoctrinating youths early blurs the line between Israeli military and civil society, promotes militarism, and makes conscription seem inevitable, necessary, and desirable.
Preparation for Military Service
For most male and female Israeli youths, military service is a rite of passage, a natural step in preparation for adulthood, something policy makers have been cognizant of for decades.
After the 1973 Yom-Kipper War, the above-mentioned “When a Nation Reports for Duty” guide explained the role of all Israelis during emergencies and helped children understand it clearly.
In 1984, actively preparing youths for military service began when the IDF and Ministry of Defense published a guide called “Towards Service in the IDF,” explaining:
— the privilege of serving;
— adapting to military and basic training;
— developing fitness in preparation;
— the IDF as a positive force in society; and
— and preparing parents to accept their children’s role as future warriors.
Since the run-up to the 1948 war, training for military service was common, especially through Youth Battalions, but in 1984 programs included school indoctrination “as part of the ordinary curriculum.”
Today’s program is called “Willingness to Serve and Readiness for the IDF,” mandated for three years in high school, the program’s goal being:
“Preparing the entire youth population to service in the IDF, while strengthening their readiness and willingness to perform a substantial and contributing service, each to his abilities, and emphasizing the importance of serving in combat units.”
Content includes combat legacy stories on field trips, the ethics of war, familiarization with different IDF units, physical education, and Arabic studies to enlist Israelis for intelligence. The format is regimented, emphasizing discipline, and a “Soldier for a Day” program takes children to a military base for descriptive presentations, especially about elite combat units.
Several civilian programs also prepare them for future service, including “Preparation for Combat Fitness” courses, “Youth Battalions Special Forces Induction,” and “Follow Me.” It’s common “to see large groups of young men run about on public beaches, in preparation for military service.”
The “Naale Program (a Hebrew acronym for Youth Immigrating Before Parents) promotes immigration for foreign Jewish children, encouraging them to come to Israel, attend high school, and become citizens. It presents military service as a major socializing force, stressing benefits such as acceptance in Israeli society.
Israeli Law Provisions
Article 44 of Israel’s 1986 National Defence Service Law authorizes the IDF to obtain information about everyone Intended for Security Service. Educators, employers, and others asked to help must cooperate.
Under Article 43, persons Intended for Security Service can’t travel abroad without Defense Ministry permission, although exemptions are freely granted with restrictions such as time limits.
Prior to conscription, most children receive a warrant at home, requiring they report to their Regional Conscription Bureau, a practice called “first call-up” for initial screening, data verification, medical and intelligence tests, and a personal interview. If after three warrants, children don’t comply, police intervention may follow.
Military High Schools
Besides ordinary ones, some military high schools include:
— Mevo’ot Yam with 500 students who wear uniforms, participate in parades, and learn weapons use in preparation for future Navy service;
— Air Force technical schools for cadets preparing for future IAF service; and
— the Amal 1 network – one of the largest high school ones in Israel, a joint military-civilian project for future Air Force service.
Courses combine civilian and military studies, children being groomed to become soldiers.
Yet Article 77(2) of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (1977) prohibits recruiting them under 15. In Israeli military schools, they’re “regularly recruited” as young as 13 or 14. It persists because of militarism’s pervasive influence in Israeli society and culture.
Military Training for Children
In all Israeli high schools, mandatory Youth Battalion Training Week simulates army life for 11th and 12th graders on military bases. In uniforms, it includes:
— reception, processing, orientation, and marches;
— night and day weapons and field training; and
— lessons about battle heritage, military ranks, discipline, adapting, service commitment, and purity of arms, etc.
During the entire time, youths are surrounded by soldiers and treated like them gain familiarity with military life. In groups of about 20, treatment and conditions are rigorous, obedience a must, and for those who disobey, punishments include extra calisthenics, running, and chores like latrine duty.
In times of emergency Youth Battalions may be recruited for active service as they were during the 1948 war.
For boys 16 or older, elite combat unit tryouts are held, initially for two days, and for qualifiers up to five, involving demanding and exhausting mental and physical fitness tests. The IDF’s reference to “substantial service” strongly emphasizes Elite Combat Unit enlistment – the “cream of the crop” for the “most exciting fighting activities.”
For the few selected, pressure to be accepted is intense because participation is considered a great honor.
Military Use of Child Labor
Arranged through schools, children are enlisted to support the IDF, especially during times of emergency or special needs. Besides training, they do laundry, sort uniforms, wash dishes, set dining room tables, clean vehicles, and do other chores, freeing up soldiers for military duties.
To support a war effort, children as young as 15 and a half are enlisted for “Labour Service (to protect) the State or public security or for providing vital services to the population.” In all cases, schools cooperate, and during extreme times, children have no choice.
Civil Guard Use of Children
The Israeli Civil Guard is a police-run community-based organization, founded in 1974 to mobilize civilians for protection against Arab militia attacks. Today, the Guard patrols community areas, challenges Palestinians, harasses them, at times shoots them, and performs other civil services like securing public transportation, educational institutions, open markets and parking lots as well as helping out at checkpoints.
About 15% of Guard volunteers are children, eligible at age 15 to join in a restricted status that’s removed a year later. Parents consent is also required. Youths are armed, and some schools give extra credit for participating.
Members of Emergency Squads are mostly adults to be first called on as needed, but since 2002 high school students have increasingly been enlisted.
Although part of Israel’s police force, the 1971 Police Order’s Section 8 is titled “The Israeli Police Force in Military Functions, and Article 92(a) states:
“At times of war or emergency, the Minister is entitled, if the government agrees, to declare the Israeli Police Force, or a part of it, a military force which might be employed in military functions for the protection of the State.”
In the West Bank, children as young as 15 guard settlements and other security work, performing functions that include working in police headquarters and patrolling with arms they’re trained to use.
Some of them “grow up believing they must banish the Palestinians, and act” violently with impunity, including harassing them freely, beating them, breaking into their homes, destroying their property, and at times killing them.
There’s little difference between “training and assigning a child to do work as an armed (settlement) guard (or) assigning (them as) soldier(s) at the front in wartime….The formalities of whether one officially belongs to the army or not are hardly relevant,” given the pervasive militarization of Israeli society.
Although civilian service is voluntary, children are raised “in a hostile and violent environment in the middle of a confrontation area.” In the Territories, many believe it’s their land. They must protect it, and Palestinians are enemies. Under intense social pressure, they perform at a very immature age when they’re too young to know the consequences, yet are conditioned to be militant and obedient.
Using Palestinian Children as Collaborators
Israel’s GSS recruits Palestinian informants, including children, for field agents to provide intelligence – collaborators most Palestinians call traitors “worthy of death.”
Tactics involve detaining Palestinian children, then pressuring and torturing them to comply, much like recruiting the South Lebanon Army (SLA) after the 1982 invasion and occupation. Under IDF and GSS supervision, SLA Lebanese citizens, including children as young as 12, were used as collaborators for intelligence purposes.
During the second Intifada, Palestinians (including children) were used as human shields, forced at gunpoint to comply.
Some Final Comments
Israeli militarized education starts early in overt and symbolic ways to condition young minds to accept service as natural, vital, and an honor for Jewish citizens. The “educational system is so committed to (promoting) military service that it (fails) to consider” the harm to new youth generations who grow up thinking wars and violence are natural, peace unattainable, Arabs inferior, and Palestinians enemies.
Militarizing society is corrupting and self-destructive, recruiting child soldiers criminal and unconscionable. “All forms….must stop.” The alternative is unacceptable, illegal, and intolerable.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.