The following morning, our entire group climbed into a tour bus and traveled north to the beautiful port city, Haifa. We stayed two nights at the Stella Maris Hotel, a hotel-monastery-church complex on the upper slopes of Mt. Carmel. The church has two altars, the lower one being the cave where the prophet Elijah is thought to have lived.
On arrival, we went directly to our exposure session, a meeting with representatives from New Profile. The goal of this group is to demilitarize Israeli society. It is their belief that the current situation is maintained by decisions made by politicians and not by external forces to which they are passively subject. They feel that while they were taught to believe that the country is faced by threats beyond their control, they now realize that the words “national security” have often masked calculated decisions to choose military action for achievement of political goals. They are concerned about the future of their society, which they believe institutionalizes and normalizes violence as the primary way to solve problems.
The session opened with small group discussions centered around three questions: (1) “What is militarism (not in the context of army)?”, (2) “What is civil society?”, and (3) “Where do you see evidence of militarism here?” Our presenters were two Israeli women, mothers of children both serving in the military and conscientious objectors. They shared their personal stories…”traditional lives in which as a parent you are supposed to guide your children on a path to the military, that were turned upside down” when some of their children refused to serve. This caused tremendous turmoil within the family, rethinking and reshaping of values, and the subsequent formation of New Profile.
The discussion then moved to examples of subtle and not-so-subtle ways that the mindset of militarization is maintained. They stated
that their schools are obligated to identify students who appear to have low motivation for military service. Plain-clothes soldiers come to the schools, befriend these students, and attempt to “bring them around to the right way of thinking”.
A series of magazine advertisements was especially interesting. One showed a young boy with a gap-toothed smile carrying a school bag. The text reads “Philip Azachi, six years old, goes to first grade: “An Israeli is someone like me, who goes to first grade, and waits to go to the army to protect the land of Israel”.” Another depicts a bra made of camouflage material and reads “You’re not alone in this war” and in small print, The Israeli Cancer Society. The first picture in an ad for Macabee Beer shows a young man and young woman backpacking in the countryside while the second shows the same couple marching in uniform. The text reads “To be a bit of this and a bit of that. To be Israeli”. An ad for baking yeast shows a young man standing with his mother in the kitchen munching on a pastry; the text reads “When my boy is home on his usual leave, he deserves some unusual baking”.
Other issues included the fact that when a child turns 16, he/she is “no longer under the control of the family” but is registered with the Defense Ministry. Weapons are visible at all times in all settings. Soldiers returning from checkpoint duty are tense, drive too fast, and also bring the tension and weapons into the home (families must provide financial support during the years of service; some live at home, others spend time on bases).
New Profile doesn’t try to dissuade young people from entering military service, but provides counseling, support, and legal advice for those who don’t wish to serve. They accept that they are viewed by many as naive, foolish, and/or ignorant. They are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians under the occupation and commended our work, but stated that their focus must remain within their own society since ending the occupation wouldn’t get rid of the mindset of a militarized society.
That afternoon, each of the teams gave a presentation on their particular placement site, its challenges and the work they do there. The presentations were critiqued by the staff, the other teams and visiting family/friends which will help us enormously when we prepare our presentations at home.