Pacified into fighting: How Israeli Jewish men are manipulated

IssueJune - August 2002
Feature by Lothan Raz

There is nothing more horrendous than sending people off to war. This is what my country is doing. Israel is sending its children to war and it has been doing so for many years now. Indeed we have been warring from the moment we came into being, and have been involved in conflict pretty much ever since.

For many of us who live in Israel, it seems almost natural, almost a necessary part of our lives, that at the age of 18 we will be enrolled into the army and made to fight these wars. Going to war seems almost integral to our nature.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Although human history is filled with them, people fighting wars is thoroughly inhuman, and intrinsically against both our nature and our intelligence. Human beings have been manipulated and set up for centuries, devastating their lives in worthless wars. This is true of the situation in Israel and for today's Israelis.

Big boys don't cry

From the very beginning of our lives, as Israeli Jews, we are taught to “tough things out”, to figure out how to handle things on our own, and how to suffer pain by ourselves, how not to feel a thing.

Every young boy hears his mother tell him things like: “be mommy's hero”, “big boys don't cry”, “be tough, be brave for daddy”. These phrases are most frequently said to us when we get hurt, physically or otherwise, and when we look to those close to us and who we can trust, to give us care and attention as we try to heal. This happens to everyone: we fall or trip and scrape ourselves, and as we begin to cry, the person closest to us would utter something to us, making it clear that our pain is not welcome, that we must handle it out on our own.

And so we grow up thinking that we must battle things out on our own. We think that we mustn't feel, and that if we do we will be isolated and humiliated. We spend out time pushing our feelings away, ignoring them or putting them aside. And we walk around feeling as though theses challenges are ours alone, that we must not show them or reveal that we are having problems.


In addition to all of this, and perhaps especially in Israel, we live with the ideal of heroism. We are taught that it is heroic to give our lives for this country. As children, we are constantly told stories about brave Israeli men who “gave their lives for this country” and every year we commemorate the wars these young people fought in, their heroism and their sacrifice.

In many ways, there is a lot to commemorate about the generosity of these people. But for children it is scary and confusing to have to mourn for people you do not know, who gave their lives for something you do not understand. The war stories become models for how we should be, and who we should become, models for how we should give our lives.

On top of this, Jews feel scared. As a people we have a history of being persecuted and set up as victims and we have many stories and feelings past on to us which maintain our feelings of fear and insecurity, that in the end, no one will ever be willing to be our allies.

These messages and stories are conveyed in many ways. And in Israel they receive a special twist, because these feelings are directed towards the Palestinians, and our other Arab neighbours. And so we have developed fear of them and are mostly too scared to even consider the possibility that Palestinians are willing to live as our partners in this land. We are told that they want to drive us out, that they only have hate in their hearts, and that they don't really want peace.

It is very scary for us, especially when we are young, to witness terrorist attacks. Because, as young people - or as adults - we don't get good information about how the Palestinian people have suffered. And because we don't get to express how we feel, we are left with that fear and confusion and it becomes easier for us to believe the lies and racism that we have been taught about the Palestinians, as well as the lies that we have been told and made to feel about ourselves.

Scared into submission

At the age of 18, when we are asked to serve in the army and go into combat, we have become so scared and isolated that most of us believe it is our duty, that we must do it, and do it alone, without raising our voice, without thinking things anew, without noticing what we really think or feel.

By the time we are asked to become soldiers, army personnel have already visited our schools to tell us, in an authoritative tone, how important it is to serve our country, how we must put our lives on the line because there is no choice and because people have done this before us.

I have spent the last few years listening to soldiers before, after and during their experience of military service, and have heard many of their stories, thoughts and feelings. They are good, intelligent people, who have been manipulated and tricked, against their own better nature, to fight this war.

These people, my people, who are fighting this war, have been isolated and terrified into it. They were not born to fight. They were not born to kill. They were born to live. We will make this war stop, if only so that men in Israel will never have to be victimised, isolated and angered into becoming oppressors, and so that they get to have the peaceful, kind and fully human lives which they deserve.