Conscientious Objectors in Israel: Citizenship, Sacrifice, Trials of Fealty (The Ethnography of Political Violence)

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9780812245929: Conscientious Objectors in Israel: Citizenship, Sacrifice, Trials of Fealty (The Ethnography of Political Violence)

In Conscientious Objectors in Israel, Erica Weiss examines the lives of Israelis who have refused to perform military service for reasons of conscience. Based on long-term fieldwork, this ethnography chronicles the personal experiences of two generations of Jewish conscientious objectors as they grapple with the pressure of justifying their actions to the Israeli state and society—often suffering severe social and legal consequences, including imprisonment.

While most scholarly work has considered the causes of animosity and violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Conscientious Objectors in Israel examines how and under what circumstances one is able to refuse to commit acts of violence in the midst of that conflict. By exploring the social life of conscientious dissent, Weiss exposes the tension within liberal citizenship between the protection of individual rights and obligations of self-sacrifice. While conscience is a strong cultural claim, military refusal directly challenges Israeli state sovereignty. Weiss explores conscience as a political entity that sits precariously outside the jurisdictional bounds of state power. Through the lens of Israeli conscientious objection, Weiss looks at the nature of contemporary citizenship, examining how the expectations of sacrifice shape the politics of both consent and dissent. In doing so, she exposes the sacrificial logic of the modern nation-state and demonstrates how personal crises of conscience can play out on the geopolitical stage.

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About the Author:

Erica Weiss teaches anthropology at Tel Aviv University.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

Conscience twinges. It pinches, tugs, stabs and pricks. It must be wrestled with, when one is not plagued by it. It calls and dictates. It is a worm, and a court. Conscience is articulated in these ways as the most solitary, individual, and idiosyncratic of faculties. Yet, as both a personal ethical experience and a potent public discourse, conscience also dramatically reshapes the social terrain. Conscience can make the illegal legal and the offensive admirable, or have the opposite effect. Beliefs regarding the inviolability of conscience in Western ethical traditions persist in close relation to idea that religious beliefs need to be protected and privileged above other social obligations. Despite these claims to precedence, conscience does not displace other social obligations, loyalties, responsibilities, and sacrifices that refuse to be slighted without consequence. The following ethnography of the social life of conscientious objection from military service in Israel exposes the tension between the liberal protections of individual rights the state provides and an idea of citizenship that requires great and specific sacrifices. The links between citizenship and sacrifice shape the politics of both consent and dissent. Although conscience is a strong cultural claim, carrying the weight of its long and exalted philosophical genealogy through Socrates, John Locke, and Immanuel Kant, military refusal challenges Israeli state sovereignty in a fundamental way. It questions the state's moral authority and challenges the state's coercive capabilities. Yet conscience sits precariously and partially outside the jurisdictional bounds of state power. The war of position described in what follows, over the ideal relationship between the ethics of the individual, the community, and the state, has many guises, sometimes strategic, sometimes visceral, and often agonizingly played out in the most intimate of spaces.

Conscientious objection forces a number of difficult questions to the fore. What do religious and ethnic belonging entail? Why is it legitimate for the state to require you to risk your life in war, but illegitimate to ask you to risk your conscience? Refusal of military service in Israel reflects more than ethical qualms over violence: it also reflects the central ontology of the Israeli state and its notions of community, loyalty, obligation, and betrayal always tied to the question of Palestine. The social negotiation of conscientious objection takes place with a constant eye to the Palestinian other, who is the ethical object of refusal. This dissent is with regard not only to the occupation, but also to broader beliefs on ethical responsibility to others and the limits of such responsibility. Many who have investigated zones of conflict are familiar with the ideological and discursive processes that can lead an individual to take part in violence, such as dehumanization and the cultivation of fear. On the contrary, conscientious objection investigates whether an individual is allowed—ethically, socially, legally, or politically—to refuse participation in sanctioned violence.

Conscientious objection in Israel unearths fundamental tensions regarding social relationships and obligations in modern rights-oriented democracies. Claims of conscience expose a different side of the individual's responsibility to the group than accounts of modern politics usually consider. Many anthropological accounts focus on the centrality of rights-centered individualism to Western conceptions of personhood. Their point is well taken that supposedly neutral secular liberalism in fact harbors a cultural specificity that privileges the individual and establishes separate realms for the private and the public, thus creating an uninhabitable space for those whose cultural traditions do not lend themselves to such divisions. Yet conscientious objection reveals the ways the individual in a liberal democracy is still deeply bound by communal obligations. The demand for great sacrifice in the nation state is strong and insistent. The flag of conscience offers some uneven and fragmentary protection, but claims are certainly not taken at face value. Soldiers who claim conscience may not be immediately sent to jail, but they often pay a heavy price. Much of their fate lies in their ability to defend their actions as they are called to appear in trials of conscience, which take place variably in the courts, in the media, and often in the home.

Yossi recalls the moment he decided to refuse to serve in the military as one of epiphany and profound humiliation. As a combat soldier serving in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, he had a visceral experience that crystalized previous qualms and apprehensions about his activities in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Following security protocols led him to aim a gun at a young boy who had frozen in fear. Struck in the moment by the scene he was involved in provoked a sense of disgrace, fundamentally at odds with how he had pictured himself until that point, as an elite and self-sacrificing soldier. His understanding of the world, the Jewish experience, and his role in it, began to crumble beneath him and he experienced a period of existential unease that culminated with his decision to refuse to continue military service. Yossi describes coming to this decision like arrival on dry land, as a resolution to a period of confusion.

Aya's final clash with her high school principal resulted in her expulsion from the school. Located in Tel Aviv, and specializing in fine arts education, her school had gained some notoriety for the high number of students who did not serve in the military. The media had deemed this evidence of systematic shirking of military duty and had cast the school and the city of Tel Aviv itself as self-indulgent and unwilling to sacrifice. Her principal, relatively new to the school, was determined to change this impression, and to make sure that his students would not dodge their military service. He introduced a special curricular emphasis on the connections between Jewish peoplehood, nationalism, and military service. Because Aya was determined to avoid military service for reasons of conscience, she had frequent run-ins with the principal over her objections to these activities. For example, with other students she protested the visitation of military representatives to the school and student trips to military bases, both intended to inform and excite students about their upcoming service. It was a trip to Jerusalem focused on "our Jewish heritage" that ultimately led to her expulsion. Feeling that the trip supported ethnic nationalism, she stayed home. When she refused to do a make-up assignment about what her Jewish heritage meant to her, she was expelled.

Amos insisted that the worst moment of his life was when he sat in his family's living room and told his father that, after many years serving in the military, he planned to sign the letter of refusal to serve. "Sitting there, I would have preferred to tell him a thousand times that I am gay, rather than have to tell him even once that I was signing that letter." In becoming a combat soldier, Amos had followed in the footsteps of his father, who had served in the Six-Day War. He struggled to find a way to explain to his father that he believed things were different than when his father had served, that the occupation had turned soldiers from defenders into aggressors. He knew that his father would never be able to accept that Amos truly believed this was the right thing to do. His father's generation, for whom Jewish self-defense was a radical revelation and a new lease on life after the Holocaust, would never be able to see his refusal as anything but a dangerous step backward. After that encounter, it was more than a year before he spoke with his father again. Amos's wife and her family were supportive, but the rift was very difficult for Amos, who had enjoyed his tight-knit family and their emotional and material support.

Growing up in the United States, I was like many of my compatriots, ignorant of and quite indifferent to my own mixed-up family history. As such, I was struck by the public and private significance of familial, cultural, and ethnic genealogy in Israel. I was also struck by the central role of the military in Israeli life, which is what drew me to this topic (for a vivid account of how military force acquired so much legitimacy and centrality in Israeli society, see Ben-Eliezer 1998). My hometown, a village of six thousand in the northeast United States, still has multiple stores specializing in 1960s-style tie-dye T-shirts, and the local political cultural of nonviolence and antiestablishment sentiment made military service seem quite remote from my life. My religious education made it even more so. When I met my Israeli boyfriend (now husband) and visited Israel for the first time, I became fascinated by this cultural difference, not only the prominent problems of militarism, but also the ethos of volunteerism, cooperation, and communal sacrifice. I also met those who refused to serve in the military, and discovered the life complications they faced as a result.

After spending several summers in Israel, I conducted extended fieldwork there from 2007 to 2009 with the two main groups currently associated with conscientious objection. One organization is Combatants for Peace (CFP), whose members are former elite officers in the Israeli Defense Forces. Based on their experiences as soldiers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, these ex-soldiers have come to the conclusion that the occupation is morally wrong, and have decided to refuse to perform their reserve military service until this unjust situation is rectified. This group is made up of mostly men in their thirties. The other group is composed of young women and men in their early twenties who have never served in the military. It includes many pacifists and is loosely associated with the organization New Profile, a feminist organization that favors demilitarizing Israeli society. These two groups are associated with far left-wing politics in Israel, and are uniformly against the occupation or de facto control of Palestinian territories, the Gaza Strip on Israel's west, and the West Bank on Israel's east.

During my fieldwork, I lived in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is the economic center of the country; it is the second largest city in Israel and considered the more secular and liberal counterpart to Jerusalem, the capital. Many conscientious objectors from both groups were from Tel Aviv or its suburbs. I traveled to Jerusalem to meet with refusers there, and occasionally to more peripheral areas. Over time, I got to know members of Combatants for Peace and younger conscientious objectors. I conducted interviews and also met people informally and socially. I spent time with them at home and met their families and friends. I participated in the meetings of both groups. These include meetings for members conducted in Israel and in the West Bank, as well as organized presentations that invited Israeli audiences. I also attended solidarity events in support of Palestinian communities that my interlocutors participated in. Requesting contact information from friends and acquaintances in this group, I was also able to meet other conscientious objectors not formally involved with any activist organization, as well as people who considered refusal but ultimately decided against it. I worked with a New Profile youth group in Tel Aviv for young people considering refusal. When the leaders of the group were looking for a new meeting spot, I offered to host the group at my apartment. I followed a number of these young people as they appealed for exemption from service on the basis of pacifism. That process entailed going before what is popularly known as the military Conscience Committee, which evaluates the appellant's pacifist conscience for authenticity and sincerity. I also conducted interviews with members of the Conscience Committee, the Israeli military prosecutor, lawyers representing conscientious objectors, and legal scholars writing on the issue.

Conscientious objection in Israel (sarvanoot le'sibot matzpooniot) relies on the premise that conscience is a privileged status requiring protection, even above physical well-being. The military can require all manner of physical sacrifice from soldiers, including missions with a high probability of death, but it does not have the right to require moral compromise. Indeed, many cultural norms govern the physical risk to which the state can expose a soldier. The limits of such risk are often in dispute and concern serious cultural matters such as how to define necessary risk, the appropriate ratio between risk and monetary expense, and the value of an individual life. For example, recent public debates in Israel have centered on whether all soldiers need bulletproof vests, and whether the defensive materials used on transportation vehicles need to be of the best quality available. How high a price to pay for the return of a captured soldier is another controversial deliberation. Yet conscience and moral good are not negotiated in the same way. Conscience is thought of in absolute terms. The state cannot directly ask a citizen, even a soldier, to do something they have already concluded is wrong. Likewise, although giving one's life for the state is considered the ultimate sacrifice, going against one's conscience for the state is not similarly esteemed.

How did conscience come to acquire such protections against the normative expectations requiring sacrifice? Some anthropologists have recently suggested ethics as a productive anthropological category. They note that, worldwide, people have varied ethical traditions concerning how to do the "right thing," that is, on the rules and norms that govern social interactions. Conscience is an ethical idea that developed and became important in Europe and in the Western tradition. It came to be considered one of the truest and most authentic forms through which an individual could take a stance in society. Conscience is the idea of an internal faculty that judges our actions and informs us of its conclusions through feelings of guilt, shame, purity, and innocence. The modern meaning of conscience incorporates a sense of an individual ethical regulator, and that the dictates of conscience require the individual to privilege these imperatives above other social obligations. As a result, when someone testifies or witnesses to their conscience, there is public recognition that it is authentic and compulsory, despite the lack of other evidence. Conscience has become a powerful idea that is simultaneously a way through which some people experience and understand their ethical encounters, and a cultural symbol and rationality through which people explain their actions to their community. A long-term interaction of intellectual thought and popular culture has contributed to the high cultural reverence for conscience. From Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment to the film Blade Runner, to dramatic acts of political protest, conscience has been reinforced as a cultural value with new idioms in each generation. Jewish thinkers, steeped in European philosophical traditions, have contribu...

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Descripción University of Pennsylvania Press, United States, 2014. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In Conscientious Objectors in Israel, Erica Weiss examines the lives of Israelis who have refused to perform military service for reasons of conscience. Based on long-term fieldwork, this ethnography chronicles the personal experiences of two generations of Jewish conscientious objectors as they grapple with the pressure of justifying their actions to the Israeli state and society-often suffering severe social and legal consequences, including imprisonment. While most scholarly work has considered the causes of animosity and violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Conscientious Objectors in Israel examines how and under what circumstances one is able to refuse to commit acts of violence in the midst of that conflict. By exploring the social life of conscientious dissent, Weiss exposes the tension within liberal citizenship between the protection of individual rights and obligations of self-sacrifice. While conscience is a strong cultural claim, military refusal directly challenges Israeli state sovereignty. Weiss explores conscience as a political entity that sits precariously outside the jurisdictional bounds of state power. Through the lens of Israeli conscientious objection, Weiss looks at the nature of contemporary citizenship, examining how the expectations of sacrifice shape the politics of both consent and dissent. In doing so, she exposes the sacrificial logic of the modern nation-state and demonstrates how personal crises of conscience can play out on the geopolitical stage. Nº de ref. de la librería AAJ9780812245929

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Descripción University of Pennsylvania Press, United States, 2014. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In Conscientious Objectors in Israel, Erica Weiss examines the lives of Israelis who have refused to perform military service for reasons of conscience. Based on long-term fieldwork, this ethnography chronicles the personal experiences of two generations of Jewish conscientious objectors as they grapple with the pressure of justifying their actions to the Israeli state and society-often suffering severe social and legal consequences, including imprisonment. While most scholarly work has considered the causes of animosity and violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Conscientious Objectors in Israel examines how and under what circumstances one is able to refuse to commit acts of violence in the midst of that conflict. By exploring the social life of conscientious dissent, Weiss exposes the tension within liberal citizenship between the protection of individual rights and obligations of self-sacrifice. While conscience is a strong cultural claim, military refusal directly challenges Israeli state sovereignty. Weiss explores conscience as a political entity that sits precariously outside the jurisdictional bounds of state power. Through the lens of Israeli conscientious objection, Weiss looks at the nature of contemporary citizenship, examining how the expectations of sacrifice shape the politics of both consent and dissent. In doing so, she exposes the sacrificial logic of the modern nation-state and demonstrates how personal crises of conscience can play out on the geopolitical stage. Nº de ref. de la librería AAJ9780812245929

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Descripción University of Pennsylvania Press, United States, 2014. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. In Conscientious Objectors in Israel, Erica Weiss examines the lives of Israelis who have refused to perform military service for reasons of conscience. Based on long-term fieldwork, this ethnography chronicles the personal experiences of two generations of Jewish conscientious objectors as they grapple with the pressure of justifying their actions to the Israeli state and society-often suffering severe social and legal consequences, including imprisonment. While most scholarly work has considered the causes of animosity and violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Conscientious Objectors in Israel examines how and under what circumstances one is able to refuse to commit acts of violence in the midst of that conflict. By exploring the social life of conscientious dissent, Weiss exposes the tension within liberal citizenship between the protection of individual rights and obligations of self-sacrifice. While conscience is a strong cultural claim, military refusal directly challenges Israeli state sovereignty. Weiss explores conscience as a political entity that sits precariously outside the jurisdictional bounds of state power. Through the lens of Israeli conscientious objection, Weiss looks at the nature of contemporary citizenship, examining how the expectations of sacrifice shape the politics of both consent and dissent. In doing so, she exposes the sacrificial logic of the modern nation-state and demonstrates how personal crises of conscience can play out on the geopolitical stage. Nº de ref. de la librería BTE9780812245929

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