By Miriam Scharf
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An Army Like No Other

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Issue 464

The Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) bombing of Gaza in 2014 killed thousands of civilians. Some 95 percent of Israelis justified and supported the operation. Such atrocities by the state disturb world opinion, but are accepted, even glorified, by Israelis. This book goes a long way to explaining this mindset.

Israeli society was born out of violent dispossession of the indigenous people and has used violence to consolidate its power ever since. Bresheeth-Zabner’s clear analysis lays bare the colonial settler operation and the contribution of Zionism to concealing and justifying this brutal enterprise.

He shows the army’s centrality to the growth of the state, and how Israelis are habituated to war as normal and necessary. They live in an ideological environment encouraging them to feel theirs is an exceptional case: their wars, illegal acts and racist laws are all just.

That Israel is not a state with an army like other states, but an army with a state has been argued before. But the author shows this development concretely, from its origins in Jewish support for the British in the Second World War.

The army as the instrument of socially engineering a new Jewish identity was central to the political programme of David Ben-Gurion – Israel’s first prime minister – in the state’s formative decades. Through each offensive war against neighbouring Arab states and later against non-state enemies, Israeli identity and society have been shaped around continual offensive war.

“Israelis are on a quest… to achieve total security, through more missiles, mightier tanks, spy satellites, nuclear submarines, and all-seeing drones,” says Bresheeth-Zabner. “The quest for total security is the pathological engine of Israeli society.”

The Zionist leadership has exploited the real fear of physical extinction in the 1940s ever since. War has allowed Israel to grab more land and dispossess more people. For Jewish Israelis, war is the best means of advancing this agenda. In other societies war would be a crisis to be ended by diplomatic means. For Israel it is functional.

The author will have nothing to do with “the world is against us” Israeli narrative. His fully evidenced analyses of every war from 1948 to 2006 shows the all-important backing of western imperialism. Israel’s impunity from criticism, despite its record of atrocities, rests on its role as protector of western interests in the Middle East.

The book explains how the occupation shifted policies towards apartheid and society to become more brutalised.

Bresheeth-Zabner argues that the level of militarisation means a political solution is nearly impossible. Israel’s unwillingness to look for political solutions is acceptable to most Israelis, who regard non-military solutions as defeatist. Militarism is inculcated as a positive value through a thoroughly propagandist education system, the media, the government and other institutions.

Zabner shows how the IDF and the social, financial, cultural and political apparatus connect to form the most important institution in Israel. The ‘military–industrial–academic complex’ – with Israel’s seven universities leading world research on military, policing, and security – is sold to the world’s rulers.

By looking at the army as a way to understand Jewish-Israeli society, Bresheeth-Zabner has produced an insightful analysis, a key to why this state is a problem for the Palestinians, the region and for a world where a militarised, racist nuclear state will not look for peace.

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