Israeli Anti-Militarist Activist Speaks Out At Eastern

Sahar Vardi spoke on Oct. 30 regarding her views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Sahar Vardi spoke on Oct. 30 regarding her views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Peter Wiegner | The Waltonian
On Thursday Oct. 30, an Israeli anti-militarist activist, Sahar Vardi, spoke in the Baird Library to an intimate crowd on her experience as a conscientious objector in Israel.

Vardi, a petite young woman with a strong yet soft spoken voice, articulate English, and a hint of an Israeli accent, merited an attentive audience. She began the session by providing a brief history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, highlighting Israel’s progressive land annexation and political influence over Palestine since the 1948 U.N. Partition Plan, which attempted to create two new states, one Arab and one Israeli, in much of the land traditionally known as Israel or Palestine. Following this introduction, Vardi shared about her own experience as a citizen of Israel and her journey to activism against her country’s militarism.

She explained that, although she had grown up in the city of Jerusalem, a city with a large Palestinian population, she had never actually gotten to know any of her Palestinian neighbors. The ones she had encountered were usually cleaning a friend’s house or her school’s hallways. It wasn’t until she attended an olive planting event (olive trees are an important regional and cultural icon) where Israelis and Palestinians worked side-by-side that she recognized a disconnection between her community and the Palestinians. That day, she learned that a wall would soon be built in the valley below which would separate the two communities in a tangible way. It was then, Vardi explained, that she began to question the cultural norms she grew up believing.

Vardi explained that her questions slowly led to a growing awareness of the profound influence militarism has had on Israeli society. She found herself moved to know and be in solidarity with her Palestinian neighbors, which, in light of her approaching age and the near requirement for conscription, caused her to rethink the path Israeli youth almost inevitably follow. She decided that she could not be protesting the injustices of Israeli militarism one day, and then the next, under the orders of a commanding officer, be a part of the militarism. Therefore when she was of age, she refused to enlist in the military. There were legal, punitive consequences, she explained, but the major effect was social stigmatization.

The reason for this effect, Vardi explained, was a result of militarism’s influence on the Israeli culture. Vardi pointed out that the Jews are constantly reminded by their culture, history and traditions that they are a persecuted people. As a result, there is much comfort in having a state defined by a Jewish character and its ability to defend itself from outside intruders. The significance of militarism, Vardi pointed out, has made its way into cultural icons, educational curriculums and everyday life. She noted, for example, that Israelis have become desensitized to guns because they see soldiers everyday walking around with semi-automatic weapons strapped to their hips. Thus, not supporting this militarism is socially deviant behavior, and the result is a kind of marginalization.

She concluded her presentation by citing her reason for coming to Eastern: to ask the community to take responsibility for its role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Vardi explained that the U.S. is one of the largest supporters of Israeli militarism, supplying billions of dollars every year for the country’s military investments, and therefore the EU community needs to speak to its governmental representatives and policy makers about the injustices occurring in the Holy Land.

Dr. Boyd, a professor at EU, and Dr. Nuzzolese, a faculty member at Palmer Theological Seminary, followed up on the presentation by sharing their thoughts after hearing it. Dr. Nuzzolese, a trained psychologist, pointed out that the two communities are suffering from a kind of societal trauma, and Israel’s militarism seems to testify to this condition. Dr. Boyd reflected on how the U.S. also seems to demonstrate a kind of alarming militarism, citing a recent re-emergence in patriotism as an example.

The presentation left the audience quiet and reflective, and the time concluded with questions to ponder: How are U.S. citizens responsible for bringing peace to the Holy Land; how has militarism influenced our own society; what is patriotism for the Christian; and lastly, in light of these things, what does it mean for the Christian to be transformed by the renewing of their mind?

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