Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Israel and the militarist mindset: Thinking in terms of the other side By Yitzhak Laor

Ha’aretz 7 August 2006

The Israel Defense Forces is not only the biggest local player in the economy and the economy of images, but it also has learned over the years how to become the Israeli “ego ideal.”

Thus, the army is not only “just like us,” like the neighbour across the way, whose intentions are good and who takes his dog out once a day; it is also our best, what we would like to be if we were really good. Not only is it ready to sacrifice its life; it thinks rationally, intellectually, logically, efficiently, and most of all, it has the rare ability to predict the future.

In fact, if not for the army, we wouldn’t be what we are. It cannot be that it is waging war for no reason and bombing villages in which people and babies are hiding in basements, and destroying the economy of the north and perhaps the whole economy, just because its honour has been tarnished. After all, it is our very self, flesh of our flesh. And we would not endanger our lives for the sake of extraneous interests.

When this image goes awry, we move on, as if there is no difference, to the “ordinary soldier.” He too is part of the “ego ideal.” Injured, sweating, rescuing his comrade from the battlefield, the eternal David fighting the Shiite Goliath. Thus the army takes upon itself – with the assistance of the media (the behaviour of most of whom raises the suspicion that they could also serve a totalitarian regime) – the roles of both hero and victim. Anyone listening closely to the broadcasts can discern the grammar immediately: only “we, “us” and “ours.” The enemy has no faces or names, except of course for Nasrallah.

Thus, we are the victims and we are the heroes. That is the meaning of unilateralism, Israel’s battlefield password for many years. Never mind what’s happening around us, we have the power: we will fence; we will close; we will block; we will bomb. Otherwise we have no chance. During wartime this national egotism, beyond its moral implications, becomes part of the process of the spectacular suicide of the State of Israel.

That is the great trap of military thinking, the Israelis’ only way of thought regarding the conflict: not only belief in the need to be superior, right or wrong, able or not able, but especially the inability to think in terms of the other side, not as an object translated and interpreted by the Intelligence Corps, but as human beings. In the army the other side is understood in terms of “war games” (in the day-to-day racist jargon, it sounds like this: “This is the Middle East, here they understand only force”).

But what, in the end, does the military logic say? We are an army, they are the enemy. They want to kill us; meaning, we must kill them. An army cannot think otherwise. It exists to think of the enemy as to be killed. Therefore, given the chance, it will fulfill its own prophecy. Casualties on the home front or the battlefield only “affirm the expectations,” the intelligence predictions. The rain of Katyushas on the north following the bombing of Lebanon, after the kidnapping? We told you so, the military thinking says. They are dangerous. Good thing we went to this war; better late than never.

From this perspective, military thinking is Israel’s real trap. Everything moves within it in a circle. There is no way out, except in a fantasy of total destruction and killing all around. “After all, they want to annihilate us.”

The tragedy of Israeli society is that it has no other organized way of thinking. The impotence comes to the fore in the lack of ability to answer the question posed to opponents of the war: “So what do you propose?” That question implies another: “What do you propose now that the war has started?” There is of course only one answer: Stop immediately. Any other answer allows the army to continue using its blank check. Any other answer means “right now there is an enemy and a response must be dictated to him from a position of superiority. Later on, we’ll see.” Later on never comes, because when everything is all right, everything is, after all, all right.

While our lives – and not only the lives of the Lebanese – are being destroyed, we must not speak because there are funerals, or bombings, and worst of all, heaven forbid, Nasrallah will have a propaganda achievement. And that would really be suicide. And as for power of deterrence: What kind of deterrent power will Israel have left after this war, even if it wipes Lebanon out?

As long as the army is not suspected of being an interested party, one of many in the region and the country, as long as it is not suspected of preferring the military option because that is its purpose, as long as the peace movement is ad hoc and not an opposition to the Israeli way of life and thinking, we have no chance of extricating ourselves from the vicious cycle of bloodshed into which we bring forth our children.

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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"