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The Only Democracy? » Discrimination » At the Waldorf, Helmet in Hand

At the Waldorf, Helmet in Hand

By Rela Mazali & Diana Dolev

Israeli generals live a life of luxury and extravagance, mostly shaded from public scrutiny, while their soldiers enforce a brutal and criminal occupation upon the Palestinian people. Now they appropriately choose the Waldorf Astoria in New York to solicit more American money. New Profile, an Israeli feminist movement for the civil-zation of Israeli society, asks US citizens to just say NO.

On Tuesday March 9 the US-based non-profit “Friends of the Israel Defense Force” is scheduled to hold its annual fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. The event will host Israel’s Chief of Staff as keynote speaker. Outside the hotel, a coalition of organizations will protest in a moving processing, under slogans such as “No to the occupation and siege of Gaza,” “No to the Israel Defense Force Brutality.”

It’s no coincidence that this particular non-profit, created to enhance the funding of Israel’s army, has chosen to hold this year’s fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria.

It was just last October that Israel’s State Comptroller investigated the outrageous bills run up at lavish hotels by the thirty-nine Israeli army and security officials who attended the Air Salon in Paris. Defense Minister Ehud Barak topped the list in a deluxe 2,500 Euro a night hotel suite.

Two months later, in December 2009, Israeli media revealed the equally lavish pension deal – approximating some 3 million Shekels – struck by a retiring general with the military after arranging a prematurely hiked up salary. “Everything connected to the terms of military pensions remains unknown,” wrote The Marker’s Meirav Arlosoroff, in her report on “these shady deals regarding senior officers’ leaving conditions.” These deals, she said, were “beyond any kind of external supervision … [as] no one … can bring the IDF to disclose its data.”

The Waldorf Astoria is just another glimpse of this entrenched regime of extravagance and corruption.
Israel’s national security budget, 50 Billion Shekels in 2010, with 10 Billion more in US aid, coming from US taxpayers, is by far the largest portion of the public coffers allocated to any single government ministry. Itself a symptom and a benchmark of the state’s extreme militarization, it is moreover insulated from detailed examination by Israel’s elected representatives. The people entrusted with the dispensation of public funds towards implementing policy are in fact denied a transparent breakdown of this major portion of the budget. This has been the case for over sixty years, a perfect hothouse for corruption.

For decades now, Israel’s army and its security administration have enforced a brutal and criminal occupation upon the Palestinian people. At the very least, this choice of ostentatious venue reveals an arrogant, callous indifference to the intense human suffering inflicted by the military organization being honored by the Waldorf Astoria event. The Palestinian people withstanding this suffering are largely disregarded or viciously stereotyped and demonized both within and outside of Israel. In rallying to support Israel’s military, the “Friends of the IDF” align themselves with those acts of erasure and oppression. Their funding and fundraising help uphold the impunity with which such criminal acts continue to be committed. Perhaps less obviously, the “Friends of the IDF” also align themselves with a force that systematically undoes the democratic values and rights of all the people living in the state which the so-called Israel Defense Force claims to protect.

The gala event at the Waldorf Astoria, described on the “Friends of the IDF” website is “themed around the concept of education.” Indeed, education is one of the most militarized areas of civil society in Israel. The state education system, designed to perpetuate obedience to conscription law, produces and maintains the systemic militarization of state and society as it aggressively channels minors from a very young age towards enlistment. The end result – a population of young people with little critical capacity to make informed choices about conscription – is largely achieved by integrating a polarized, militarized world view into almost every aspect of school curricula. The system imbues youngsters with military-centered views, effectively entrenching paranoia while presenting the army as attractive and exciting. Students and teachers are commonly required to participate in lessons offered on school premises by uniformed officers and to visit a variety of military units in programs designed to naturalize armed conflict and enthuse future candidates for conscription. Enormous pressures both convince and oblige teachers to legitimize and normalize the militarized policy choices of warfare and to justify mandatory conscription. Precluding the encouragement of critical thinking, this means, in effect that Israeli youth are being educated as executors of the ongoing occupation of Palestine.

The feminist, anti-militarist movement with which both of us are active has been working for over a decade now to challenge and reverse Israel’s militarization, its onslaught of destruction and self-destruction. Along with all of the members of New Profile: Movement for the Civil-ization of Israeli Society, we are honored to stand with those who protest this event, exposing and denouncing what it stands for. From within Israel, we join the voices raised against Israel’s impunity, against Israel’s war crimes, against Israel’s affront to human rights and democracy.

Dr. Diana Dolev teaches at two schools of design in Israel 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 (ACRI) in Beer Sheva then going 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 media.

Since initiating a weekly Woman in Black vigil in Beer Sheva in 1989, Diana has been active with WIB, and a member of the organizing committee of the August 2005 international WIB conference in Jerusalem.

Diana has been an active member of New Profile since the founding event in 1998, mainly focusing her work with New Profile in the educational team.

Written by

Rela Mazali is an author, an independent researcher, and a feminist peace activist from Israel. Active since 1980 in efforts to end Israel’s occupation, and a founding and active member of New Profile. She was one of eight women from Israel nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize by the Swiss-based One-thousand Peacewomen project. She initiated and took part in creating the 1993 documentary "Testimonies", on Israeli soldiers' actions in the first Palestinian Intifada, and served on the Jury of Conscience at the concluding session of the World Tribunal on Iraq (2005). Maps of Women’s Goings & Stayings (Stanford University Press, 2001), her interrogation of women's spatial existence, was described by reviewers as one of the best among recent "narratives in space and time, by women about women for women", a "daring departure from the conventions of being, telling, writing, and knowing". Her recently published study, "The Gun on the Kitchen Table: The Sexist Subtext of Private Policing in Israel," (in: Farr, Myrttinen & Schnabel eds., Sexed Pistols: The Gendered Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons, 2009, UN Univ. Press, Tokyo) closely scrutinizes Israel's domestic 'security guard' industry.

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