‘Neither shall they study war anymore’
Carl Hoffman, The Jerusalem Post, 4 September 2008
You are either going to love this group or hate it, depending on where you
stand in Israel’s contemporary political spectrum. There is virtually no
middle ground. Looking through the lenses of our politically
hyper-polarized society, you will either admire this organization as a
beacon of light pointing the way toward a better Israel, or abhor it as a
dangerous threat to the country’s very existence.
The organization is called New Profile - A Movement for the Civil-ization
of Israeli Society. Founded as a feminist organization 10 years ago to
combat what it sees as the “over-militarization” of Israel, New
Profile’s primary objectives are to put an end to compulsory military
service, provide aid and support to imprisoned refuseniks and conscientious
objectors, offer counseling on “all forms of draft resistance and
conscientious objection” to high-school graduates prior to their
enlistment, advocate resistance to Israel’s “occupation” of the West
Bank, and conduct educational programs aimed toward raising public
awareness of what the group believes is the over-emphasis of military
themes in Israeli society and culture. One such program is a portable,
traveling exhibit of photographs entitled, “Neither Shall They Study War
The group’s charter states: “We, a group of feminist women and men, are
convinced that we need not live in a soldiers’ state. Today, Israel is
capable of a determined peace politics. It need not be a militarized
society. We are convinced that we ourselves, our children, our partners,
need not go on being endlessly mobilized, need not go on living as
warriors… We will not go on being mobilized, raising children for
mobilization, supporting mobilized partners, brothers, fathers, while those
in charge of the country go on deploying the army easily, rather than
building other solutions… We oppose the use of military means to enforce
Israeli sovereignty beyond the Green Line. We oppose the use of the army,
police, security forces in the ongoing oppression and discrimination of the
Palestinian citizens of Israel, while demolishing their homes, denying them
building and development rights, using violence to disperse their
Unlike most other Israeli non-profit organizations, New Profile receives
little of its income from private donations. New Profile’s funding comes
principally from international Christian organizations like the Quakers
(United Kingdom) and Bread for the World (United States). New Profile has
worked in tandem with groups like Women in Black, and in conjunction with
the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions to rebuild houses of West
Bank Palestinians demolished by the IDF.
But it is programs like “Think Before Enlisting” and other draft
resistance campaigns that have placed the group at the opposite end of the
spectrum from such organizations as Shivyon - The Israeli Forum for the
Promotion of an Equal Share of the [military] Burden, with whom New Profile
is often at bitter odds. The latest flashpoint has been the recent
imprisonment of Udi Nir, 18, of Herzliya, who was ordered jailed on August
21 for refusing to serve in the IDF. Nir is one of a group of high-school
seniors who recently signed a collective declaration of refusal to serve.
The group, who call themselves “Shministim Letter 2008 - Refusing the
Occupation,” have a page on Facebook.com and are featured as heroes of
conscience on New Profile’s website. Nir and his group, however, provoked
the following angry comments from Shivyon spokesperson Zohara Berger-Tzur,
published in The Jerusalem Post on August 22: “The situation is absurd.
Suddenly everyone has a reason not to serve - the haredim have their
reasons why they can’t serve, and the pacifists have their reasons why
they can’t serve. It’s demagoguery, that’s what it is…There are
still some who serve with pride, but there are others who simply worry
about themselves. If we keep it up, we won’t have anything left to
Claiming some 2,000 supporters and run by “40-60″ active volunteers,
New Profile operates with a “feminist, non-hierarchical” system of
organization. Accordingly, the group prides itself in having no leaders, no
one occupying any official positions, no fixed division of labor, or even
an office. New Profile members run the group from their own homes.
The organization also lacks an official spokesperson, but Dr. Diana Dolev,
a founder and prominent figure within the group, agreed to talk with Metro
about New Profile’s general ideology and activities. Dolev, a
fifth-generation Israeli - “Fifth or more, I’m not sure,” she says -
holds a Ph.D. in the History and Theory of Architecture and teaches at the
Holon Institute of Technology. She is involved primarily with New
Profile’s outreach educational programs.
If I understand you correctly, New Profile’s basic position is that
Israel is an “over-militarized society.” I have lived in some highly
militarized countries, like Indonesia under General Suharto, when the army
ran the country and anyone of any importance was an actively-serving army
general. Few people look at Israel and see anything like that here.
If people don’t see it, it’s because they don’t want to see it.
There’s this trick here of melting down the border between what is civil
and what is military. So you don’t see soldiers marching in good form. We
don’t have all that. We ridicule this kind of militarism. Our soldiers
aren’t tidy soldiers. They’re very schlumperich [unkempt], which
creates this image of a soldier that is half civilian. One of the hevre.
Not a “soldierly” soldier. But I think this is a sort of cover. I think
that actually, in a more concealed way, this image contributes to
militaristic ideas filtering into civil society without our noticing it.
Such as lots of advertising, based on [images] of a soldier and his mother,
or a soldier and his girlfriend. We show examples of this in our
exhibitions. Or, for instance, show business people posing on the covers of
magazines, saluting. They’re civilians - why should they be saluting?
What’s the idea there? And you can see today with all the political
crises [about] how Tzipi Livni is being attacked as being unsuitable to be
prime minister because she hasn’t got experience leading the nation into
war. People don’t even question this idea. If you’re not a general or
an ex-general, you’re not suitable to become prime minister.
But isn’t the military’s cultural importance due to the obvious fact
that we’re in a bad neighborhood, with dangerous enemies, under threat?
That’s a very common idea. But we quote a book by Motti Golani, a
professor at the University of Haifa, called Wars Do Not Just Happen.
Although he comes from a very militaristic family, he has analyzed all our
wars and says it’s not true that the wars were all caused by our
neighbors. We [took] an active part. We don’t have to automatically
believe everything we are told by our leaders. We have to look into things
a bit deeper, and we will find out that, for different reasons, our leaders
wanted the war, or they were never able to think about conflicts other than
war and the force of our army.
Are you saying, then, that some of our wars were unnecessary?
The last wars, of course. This is without any question. All of the wars
against Lebanon should have been avoided. But we can go back even to other
wars - wars that there’s a positive consensus about, and Dr. Golani says
that they could have been avoided, as well. But from reading the
newspapers, including yours I suppose, you can see that the discourse is
always in militaristic terms. We think that if we change people’s
mind-sets, the discourse will change also. And then people will be
searching for other solutions.
Do you really believe that whether we have war or peace is up to us?
People keep saying, “Well, it’s not up to us. We have bad neighbors.”
But we have peace with Egypt, we have peace with Jordan. Lebanon never
started a war against Israel, and Syria is [doing] its best not to attack
Israel. So what are we talking about? Iran? [Laughs].
In your opinion, what is our best alternative?
The alternative is diplomacy, of course, but the problem is very
complicated because the militarism here is so deeply rooted. It would take
a new way of looking at our neighbors. If one of our leaders failed to
speak of Arab leaders in a degrading way, he would not be considered the
kind of strong leader that we want for Israel. People would think that he
was weak. It’s all about being strong. But in my opinion it’s not about
showing your muscle. Being strong is also being polite, compassionate,
talking about another leader as your equal or someone you can learn from
and have a dialogue with. Israeli leaders have not done that at all.
Never? Not at all?
Not at all.
Why do you think our leaders have not tried your approach?
I think it’s a combination… of always seeing ourselves as the victim,
thinking that the whole world is against us and that we are under constant
threats to our existence. All that has been overused and has been one part
of creating our militarization.
But what about the threats to our existence? What about Hizbullah, or
Well, Hamas is a difficult question, because we’ve probably gone too far
in undermining Palestinian society in the territories. Israel created
Hamas. We created Hamas because of this idea that if we get the
Palestinians to fight each other, we win. If they destroy each other, we
win. This strategy has failed completely. It failed in Lebanon, and we’ve
paid a high cost for this. Same with the Palestinians. I think Israel
should simply leave them alone. We should leave them alone, pay them
compensation for what we owe them for so many years of occupation, and let
them go on with their lives.
We can leave the Palestinians alone, but will the Palestinians leave us
It’s worth trying. Up to now, the military force that we’ve been using
against them hasn’t brought us any peace and quiet, any end of danger. So
maybe we should try. Maybe they will be so busy organizing their lives,
maybe they’ll be so overwhelmed [by] children going freely to school,
being able to do business, to travel around freely without the humiliation
and suffering of going through checkpoints - who knows?
So, in your opinion, how large an army does Israel actually need?
I don’t often quote Ehud Barak, but I will now. He has said that Israel
needs a small and smart army. When we call ourselves “New Profile for
Israel” we are referring both to the centrality of the military induction
“profile” that every kid gets when he goes into the army, and to
changing Israel’s civil profile. We think that this has to change so that
the military profile will not be central at all, but will instead be
marginalized in Israeli society, in our civil profile.
If military service is no longer compulsory for all young Israelis, is it
not possible that only the poor and disadvantaged will actually serve,
while children from better-off families will find ways of avoiding military
First of all, it’s only a myth that everyone goes into the army. This is
an idea that has been created to [make] people feel that this is something
very “Israeli,” and unless you go into the army you’re not a true
Israeli, and all that crap. The truth is that 56% of those eligible do not
serve in the army. This includes the haredim and the Arabs. It includes
people who started to serve, but whom the army decided it didn’t want -
perhaps because they didn’t contribute anything, or were beyond the
army’s manpower needs. And also people the army has deemed “unfit.”
Also people in national service.
Secondly, the army is one of the tools for creating a class system in
Israel. In addition to the physical “profile” kids receive when
they’re going into the army, they receive another classification based on
family status - income, education and so on. Kids from elite families - if
they want to go into the army - go to elite units. They become things like
pilots very easily. This is very prestigious, both in the army and
afterwards… On the other hand, Ethiopians for instance, go to the
checkpoints. The myth is that the army is all colors and backgrounds
working together, but it’s not true. Especially regarding women. The army
is one of the major tools in Israel for marginalizing women, putting them
in danger of being harassed and sexually abused. The men then take this
attitude toward women into civil life. So the army is a very bad place for
women, and women are 51% of Israeli society.
Women continue to compose the majority of New Profile’s support base. Is
that by design?
No, it just so happens. We are a feminist organization, but we have male
members, and youth groups of boys and girls. Maybe the fact that we’re
feminist brings in more women, but from my long experience in peace
activism in Israel, it’s mostly women who are active in peace
What is New Profile’s attitude toward Israel’s non-military compulsory
We don’t have a unanimous opinion about this, or anything we could
declare as New Profile’s “position” on the subject. It’s a complex
issue for us. Some of our members did do civil service. Some did service
with political organizations like Physicians for Human Rights, and that
seemed right to them. On the whole, we think people ought to be educated to
contribute to society for many years - not just one or two or three. Also,
we feel that [in the case of] national service, the state interferes with
people’s lives. And in a state where people have so much difficulty
finding jobs, it’s not right for the state to fund “volunteer” work
that isn’t volunteer at all by young people just out of school taking the
place of someone who really needs the job. And also, we feel that [national
service also] becomes a tool to separate people into first- and
second-class citizens, depending on whether they did their service or not.
We resent that.
Are there any circumstances under which you think that war is justified or
Oh, yes. I’m not a pacifist. A lot of people in New Profile are not. I
guess there are such circumstances. I recall meeting a delegate to an
international conference of Women in Black. I think she came from the
United States. We told her how we use a tank as a visual image of war to
show how militarized we are. But she said, “You know, my image of a tank
is one of rescue.” She was a child in Germany during the Second World
War, and they were hiding in a cellar. They hid until they realized they
were surrounded by US army tanks. So for her, the tank was an image of
rescue, of life. So yes, I’m sure there are - there must be -
circumstances in which war is justified. But what we’re trying to say is
that our leaders do not explore all of the other possibilities before
deciding to go to war.
What kind of Israel are you trying to create?
Paradise. A country with friendlier relations with its neighbors. A more
just state for all its citizens. A genuinely pluralistic society. A country
that knows you don’t have to be strong all the time, where real
“strength” is about defending people who have been weakened. We are a
very violent society… New Profile is about looking at society critically
- not through nationalist lenses, but about ourselves as people in a highly
militarized society - to find out how our mind-sets have been influenced.
We want to open people’s eyes.
ALTHOUGH A lot of New Profile’s energy and resources are directed toward
“educational programs” like training workshops and travelling
exhibitions, the group’s major focus is helping young people avoid
service in the IDF. New Profile goes about this in two ways: by organizing
youth groups where options and alternatives to army service are presented
and discussed, and by maintaining a network of counselors who assist
individual boys and girls who have decided not to serve.
Lotahn Raz, 27, is a co-founder and co-coordinator of New Profile’s youth
groups program. Despite having inherited a flawless American drawl from his
parents, Raz was born and has spent all his life here in Israel. He was
himself a conscientious objector and was imprisoned for two months in 1999
for refusing to enter the army.
What happens in a New Profile youth group?
The goal is to create a space for young people to openly think, talk and
discuss issues related to military service. It’s about creating a space
to ask questions and think thoughts that don’t have space to be thought
or discussed otherwise. Our principle is that in Israeli society there is
no space for young people to talk about military service. It’s considered
to be a non-question. But in our perspective, it’s a political issue, a
political question. And the fact that military service is shoved down
people’s throats without having the space to ask questions is
undemocratic and very problematic. Space needs to be made for people to ask
questions and think. And that’s the idea. It’s not our perspective to
say what people should do; it’s just to create the space to talk about
Do these people come to you or do you go to them?
Mostly people come to us. We get a a lot of e-mail from young people from
around the country, asking for a place to talk. When we open a youth group,
we go around and look for young people who we know are interested in these
questions. Like any other youth group would do, we look for places where
people would be interested in what we have to offer. At this point, we have
groups in Jerusalem, Beersheba, Haifa, Tel Aviv… we’re opening one in
the Sharon, we had one last year in Rehovot and another in Pardess Hanna.
And we’re looking to open one in the Galilee.
Do you provide draft counseling at these youth group meetings?
No. That’s done within our counseling network. Our youth groups are there
to provide young people with space to think, ask questions, and make
decisions. The purpose of the counseling networks is to follow individuals
through the process of draft resistance. We give people information that
does not exist elsewhere - what are the different possibilities, how does
one go about refusing?
So what are the different possibilities?
The main one, the political one, is to go the conscientious objector route,
to go before the government’s conscientious objectors committee and end
up being imprisoned like me, and then eventually receiving ‘unfit for
military service’ status. And then there are the exemptions for medical
reasons, mental health reasons, or other issues.
How far does New Profile actually go in counseling people about, say,
medical exemptions? Would you advise a sane person to act ‘crazy’ or a
healthy person to pretend to be sick?
We would never tell anybody to lie. That would be immoral and wrong. What
we do is give information about how the system works - about how a
psychiatric release from the army is decided upon, for example.
So are you saying that you inform people about how the army decides that
someone is psychologically unfit for service and then tell them to take it
Well, yeah. Our job is to give people information and help them through the
process. People need to do the work and basically it’s their decision.
But remember, the ones who decide to release people from the military are
the military itself. New Profile has no impact on that. It’s the
military’s decision to decide who they want and who they don’t want.
Less nuanced and far more direct are the responses of Sergei Sandler,
self-described “activist” and very active member of New Profile’s
counseling network. Now 33, Sandler was brought to Israel by his family at
age six from the former Soviet Union. Also a conscientious objector,
Sandler was imprisoned for brief periods in 1994-1995 for refusing to serve
in the IDF.
Do you help everyone who wants to avoid army service, regardless of their
reasons for not wanting to serve?
Does it bother you that perhaps not everyone you help is a genuine
conscientious objector, and that people with less “noble” motives might
simply be using you to avoid service?
You’re defining “conscientious objector” in the narrow sense if you
take the nature of Israeli society into account. You’re not living in a
society where someone can freely decide whether or not he or she wants to
go into the army. You’re living in a society where there is tremendous
social pressure on young people to enlist. And if you get someone who
actually gets to a point where they resist that pressure, to the point
where they say they won’t enlist, that’s not just any odd decision that
someone is making.
We speak with people and we can tell that people who have been deliberating
this know it’s a very big decision. And while not all people say that
their reasons are ideological, all know that they’re going to disappoint
their families and have all sorts of other problems. Some people don’t
cite any reasons in particular - they just show that they are rejecting the
overall brainwashing. In any case, it’s not a simple process. So in that
sense, you can say that anyone deciding not to enlist is a conscientious
objector, in every sense of the word.
In addition to conscientious objector status, there are also exemptions
from service for medical and mental health problems. Do you simply make
people aware of how these exemptions are granted or take it a step further
and advise people to pretend?
We don’t advise people to pretend. We really don’t need to. Pyschiatric
exemptions are the major gateway out of the military. If someone is serious
and persistent about pursuing a psychiatric exemption - despite all of the
stigma against people with mental conditions, and despite the stories the
military itself is spreading around about those exemptions, which are meant
to scare people off - if in spite of all this someone is really serious
about getting this kind of exemption, the military reckons that this person
really doesn’t want to serve in the military, and the military doesn’t
want that person to serve. It’s sort of an informal deal that the
military has, actually. Attacking New Profile on this point is utter
But your critics charge that you are getting people to model their behavior
after the military’s medical and psychiatric exemption criteria - in
effect, to pretend.
I’ll tell you something. It’s true that we will counsel anyone who
decides not to serve in the military. And that’s because they have the
right not to serve in the military. That’s a basic right - the right to
refuse to kill is a basic human right. And we don’t really feel that we
have to dig into people’s motives. But apart from that, many people who
appeal to us are soldiers already. That’s a very important group of
people who actually ask for our help. And many, many, many of those
soldiers are in a serious state of trauma or depression. We counsel
soldiers who, if the system had been working well, would have been exempted
long ago. But the system doesn’t work well.
The military health care system and mental health care system are there to
serve the interests of the military, not the interests of the person. When
you’re there as a patient, you’re not treated as someone who needs
help, but as someone who is there to get something. Part of our work - and
in many cases it has been part of our work - is to speak to people who are
obviously and evidently in a state of trauma and in a state of depression,
and who obviously and evidently should have been out of the military by the
military’s own criteria. We try to explain to them how to make those
things evident enough to the people around them - in the military at large,
and to military healthcare professionals.
One final question. The State of Israel indisputably has real enemies -
Yes, and it’s been working very hard to make them.
Don’t we need a strong, standing military force to protect us?
Well, you’re actually talking about something that goes beyond the common
line in New Profile. New Profile is composed of different people thinking
different things, united in a common belief that the military is bloated
and that the country is over-militarized. But right now, you happen to be
talking to a pacifist. And as a pacifist I would say quite clearly that
nobody needs an army. And I don’t see how the Israeli military offers me
protection. I personally am not willing to differentiate the Israeli
military from that of Syria or Iran. They’re all on the same team - the
team that kills people - playing over the heads of the civilians. And no
one is offering us protection.
In a written response to Metro’s inquiry about
New Profile, The IDF refused to directly acknowledge the group or its
“Even after 60 years of independence, Israeli society is forced to defend
itself militarily and politically against terror organizations that have
not accepted our existence in this region.
The present generation, like those before it, must bear its part of the
security burden, in accordance with the Military Service Law.
IDF service is compulsory, but is also a great privilege. Every young man
and woman can take part in protecting their family, their friends, and the
Everyone who serves in the IDF is a role model, and deserves to be honored
The Israeli society as a whole has made IDF service its goal - the
government, the school system, and the young people themselves.”
Dr. Diana Dolev teaches at two schools of design in Israel (WIZO
College of Design in Haifa and and Holon Academic Technology
Institute) and researches the connections between national identity and architecture. Her PhD
dissertation analyzed the militarization of the Mt. Scopus campus of the
Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
Diana has been an activist since 1980 when she facilitated a group of
Palestinian and Jewish students at the "Education for Peace" program at Ben
Gurion University, Beer Sheva, later introducing the curriculum into six
high schools in Israel. In 1987, Diana established a branch of the
Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) in Beer Sheva and then went
on to found the "Gaza Team," which petitioned Israeli authorities against
human rights violations in the Gaza Strip. The team collected detailed
testimonies and succeeded in exposing Israeli atrocities in the mainstream
Since initiating a weekly Women in Black vigil in Beer Sheva in 1988, Diana
has been consistently active with WIB, most recently as a member of the
organizing committee of the August 2005 international WIB conference in
Diana has been a member of New Profile since the founding event in 1998,
focusing her work on education.