In the past weeks, the debate over whether Israeli soldiers should be paid came to a boiling point. The former head of the Israeli Labour party, Mr. Amir Peretz, managed to pass a law in the Israeli parliament (The Knesset) which states that an Israeli soldier should be paid about NIS 4,000 per month (approx. USD 1,143). Currently, an Israeli soldier is not paid at all. He managed to pass the law despite the strict objection of the current head of the labor party - the right wing hardliner, and former chief of staff of the Israeli Army - Ehud Barak, who is now Israel's minister of defence. Barak tried his best to stop the law from being passed, including calling for party discipline, but with no success.
The fact that the law was passed, however, means nothing in practice. Any law that means increasing the state budget is sure to meet the objections of the treasury department bureaucracy - Israel's own version of the Chicago boys. They have the undemocratic power to veto any law that has any even slightly progressive content, assuring that as much as possible of the country's resources will be available for Israeli's exploiting class.
The law's importance is in the environment it stems from. Ehud Barak is now launching a very aggressive and vulgar campaign among Israeli youth to denounce the growing tendency among them of evading their legal obligation to serve in the army. Although serving in the Israeli Army is mandatory for Israeli Jewish citizens, more and more of them fail to understand why they should waste three years of their lives in order to serve the army of a state such as Israel.
Barak's intention is that the young Israeli citizen should want to join the army out of his or her feelings of loyalty to the Zionist state. His answer to the question of shirking from military service is to harden the laws punishing draft dodgers. This is because he knows that the state simply doesn't have enough recourses to pay soldiers for such an exploitive military service. If soldiers start getting paid, they will start thinking of the army as a working place. It means that they will start to form unions and demand better pay for such an oppressive job. This is why there can be only one answer to the question of draft dodging: only the stick, never the carrot.
Israel's army has greater importance than the armies of most states. Israel's importance to global imperialism is maintained through the strength and stability of its army. This is why in Israel the entire society is liable for military service. Every Jewish citizen must serve from the age 18 to 21, and be ready to be called for reserve duties at any time until they are 40 years old. This is all done with no wages.
The share of the military in Israeli society is one of the largest in the world, but the Israeli soldier is one of the most exploited in the world. They give the best years of their lives to the army and get nothing in return except for a few scholarships and other such ridiculous benefits, not worth even a fraction of the value of the time they have wasted. During their service, they mostly work in maintaining Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people: the soldiers are the ones forced to execute the crimes that Israel commits: they inspect the Palestinian people, harass them, destroy their homes, obstruct their movements, confiscate their land and occasionally kill them. A lot of the soldiers become mentally disabled or emotionally hardened by the role they perform. Many of them escape into drug abuse. Statistics consistently show an increase in drug users among the soldiers.
The fact that military service is obligatory enables Israel to go on the most violent and horrendous military adventures. The war in Lebanon during 2006 was an example of this, as well as all the missions the soldiers are forced to perform in the Gaza Strip. The barbarism in Gaza recently is based on Israel's ability to use very extensive military force in response to even the slightest of threats. The question remains: why would the Israeli soldier agree to such exploitation? After all, without their consent, Israel's reactionary role in the Middle East could be prevented. Is it because of Zionist propaganda? Partly, yes, but there is more to it than that.
The Zionist narrative tells us about a mystical Jewish "people", that after 2000 years of "exile" (with no historic evidence for such exile), had returned to its "homeland", only to be harassed by the "barbarian" Arabs, that is due to "anti-Semitism" or "blind Islamism", which aims to eradicate the Jews and cast them back into exile, while killing as many of them as possible. This fairytale is broadcast by all the media in Israel, and runs through its education system like poison in the blood stream.
This is the ideological force meant to scare young Israelis into joining the army. "If you will not join", the story goes, "then who will protect the nation from the barbarians seeking to destroy it?" The story fails to tell us, however, that it is the very violence and plunder Israel constantly commits on the Arabs while "protecting" itself, which was the reason for the Arab resistance to Jewish settlement in the first place. After all, while anti-Semitism ran rampant in Europe, the Jews of the Arab countries were relatively respected and safe. This story is believed by people who want to believe it. It only serves to justify the militarization, but it does not explain it. The actual reasons people are still motivated to join the army, are actually state oppression and the fact that for a lot of them the army serves as the only means of social mobilization.
Until recently it was believed that serving in the army was a key for promotion to higher roles in citizenship. This may have been true in the past. Today, however, only the higher-ranking officers seem to enjoy their military service as means of advancing themselves in the job market. Their experience in management is valuable for capitalism, and when they retire, they immediately find jobs in Israeli or global firms. And if that is not enough, in addition to their high salaries as managers in a private firm, they still receive a very generous pension from the state, tax benefits, generous loans etc.
The arrangement is completely different for the ordinary rank-and-file soldier. They are hardly paid at all, but a lot of them see the military as their only way of getting of social acceptance. These are mostly the Jewish newcomers to Israel from countries such as the former Soviet Union or Ethiopia and the Arab Druze population. While they are in the military, these people, who in civilian life suffer from racism, discrimination and poverty, finally get some respect while wearing the uniform. From being outcasts, they immediately become defenders of the nation. People are finally kind to them. The army provides a warm bed, the camaraderie of their fellow soldiers and nutrition - more than they get at home. This helps to explain the statistics that shows that the Arab Druzes are more motivated to join the army than the Jewish population. This is despite the fact that they are not considered as part of the Israeli nation
After three years, however, these soldiers are sent back to civilian life and to their normal condition as poverty stricken minority groups. They find out the true hypocrisy of the Israeli state. Those who wish to remain in the army and become officers face the same racism that they became used to when they were civilians. For an Ethiopian, a Russian or a Druze it is all well and good to be a common soldier. But an officer? That position is reserved for the cream of society, with a few exceptions designed to cover that fact. As would-be soldiers come to understand this situation, their motivation to serve in the army declines.
This is why state oppression is now Ehud Barak's only hope. He means to tighten the rope around young people who don't wish to join the army. He is now building public support for this scheme, by severely denouncing refuseniks as selfish parasites that should be punished for putting the entire nation at risk and exposing it to its enemies. But state oppression can only be a short-term solution, which eventually will serve to sharpen the conflict, and produce louder resistance than just passive draft dodging.
Forcing young people into the army will only make them realize the extent to which their conflict is not with the Palestinians and other Arabs, who they were trained to hate and kill from early childhood, but with the state which oppresses both and turns them against each other. For capitalism, the only thing worse than a small army is a large army with indignant soldiers. These soldiers will one day find that it is better for them to use their weapons for something other than blind obedience to the officer's command.
It is one of the contradictions of capitalism itself that on the one hand it depends on the obedience of the soldiers, and on the other hand it is forced to constantly cut their salaries and privileges. The Israeli solution to this contradiction is not very creative: oppression, cooptation and intimidation - that is what holds together the Israeli state, just like it holds together any other repressive and clientelistic-style regime in the world. History tells us that such measures are only short-term solutions that deepen the conflicts in the long run, because no state is powerful enough to stand against the raging tide of its own organized masses.
- Letter from Israel – The abject poverty of some layers of the population by Mordechai Peargut (March 25, 2008)
- Letter from Israel – the terrible plight of Israeli pensioners by Mordechai Peargut (March 20, 2008)
- Israel storms Gaza: once again “peace” talks prepare war by Francesco Merli (March 5, 2008)
- The Crisis in Gaza and Sderot: break with Zionism, Imperialism and Islamism! by David Markovitz (January 21, 2008)