'No Woman's Law Will Rot This State': the Israeli Racial State and Feminist Resistance

by Ronit Lentin
Trinity College Dublin

Sociological Research Online, Volume 9, Issue 3,

Received: 26 Apr 2004     Accepted: 12 Jul 2004    Published: 31 Aug 2004


This paper employs social theory and empirical observation, juxtaposing Israel as a 'racial state' (Goldberg, 2002) and the concept of femina sacra, a female version of Agamben's homo sacer or 'bare life' (Agamben, 1998), to think about some aspects of Israeli feminist peace activism since the onset of the second Intifada. Although Israeli feminist peace activism seems to discursively vacillate between essentialist motherhood narratives and subversive draft resistance practices, reading draft resistance narratives of young Israeli women conscripts, the paper tentatively suggests that where the state positions itself above morality, while evoking morality in its defence, feminist 'peace activism' in Israel/Palestine, though providing a potent counter-narrative to the Zionist narration of nation, does not destabilise the racial state, which is apparently gradually destroying itself while wilfully destroying its Others. I conclude by asking whether morally positioning itself in contrast to the racial state, such resistance can be theorised as gendered.

Keywords: Israel, Palestine, Racial State, Draft Resistance, Feminist Peace Activism


Picture 1.

'Since that day, all I could think of was how to get out of the mess this state put me in... I decided not to lie or fake it...' (Draft resister Moran Farhan, cited by Mazali and Werner, 2004: 17, emphasis added).

1.1 According to O'Gorman and Jabri (1999), the feminist challenge to International Relations is about articulating women's positions and experiences of the international through the reworking of sites of 'the international' such as war, international institution building, and de/colonisation, by 'worlding women' (Pettman, 1996). 'Womaning' Israel-Palestine by positioning women in multiple ways along the complex intersections of power is at the heart of my analysis of the relationship between what I theorise as the racial masculinist Israeli state and its subversive draft resisting daughters (c.f. Lentin, 2000a).

1.2 This article employs social theory and empirical observation to think about some aspects of Israeli feminist peace activism since the onset of the al Aqsa Intifada. I begin by arguing, after David Theo Goldberg (2002), that Israel, like other modern nation-states, but in its own specific way, is a 'racial state', and juxtapose it with the concept of femina sacra, the female version of Agamben's homo sacer or 'bare life' (Agamben, 1998; see also Ghanem, 2003). I argue that Israeli feminist peace activism, although often vacillating between essentialist motherhood narratives and subversive draft resistance practices, discursively subverts masculinist Israeli sovereignty. [1] Re-reading some statements by Israeli feminist peace activists, and draft resistance narratives by young Israeli women conscientious objectors (New Profile, 2003), the article argues that where the state - privileging 'national security' - positions itself above morality, while evoking morality in its defence, feminist 'peace activism' in Israel/Palestine - despite inner divisions and streaks of essentialism - provides a potent counter-narrative to state might, yet does not destabilise the Zionist narration of nation, or the racial state itself.

1.3 The Israeli-Palestinian sociologist Huneida Ghanem (2003) and the Israeli-Jewish sociologist Hanna Herzog (2004) examine different resistance locations of Palestinian women citizens of Israel. While Ghanem posits the Palestinian woman as subjected to internal colonial edicts of having to guard her collective's honour and shame in the border zone between her Israeli and her Palestinian identities, Herzog positions educated Israeli-Palestinian women in a liminal intersection between shifting identities. However, while this article keeps the liminal positioning of Palestinian women's resistance in mind (inter alia, via the figure of the female suicide bomber, see Dworkin, 2003, beyond the scope of this article), I have chosen to concentrate on resistance strategies of young Israeli female draft resisters, interrogating in particular the gendering of such resistance.

1.4 Side by side with support by the majority of Israeli women (and men) for the war against the Palestinians, increasingly conceived as 'a war against terrorism', and with their willing and enthusiastic participation in military combat, [2] the work by Israeli women political activists doing peace, draft resistance and dialogue work across the divide - even though I am not proposing to essentialise women as peace makers - has the potential to subvert the racial state.

1.5 I have chosen to illustrate the article with photographs which represent women as Palestinian victims of the Israeli Defence Forces (1), Israeli and Palestinian anti-occupation 'Women in Black' demonstrators (2), and Israeli women draft resisters (3). [3]

The Israeli Racial State and its Gendered Others

2.1 David Theo Goldberg (2002) posits all modern nation-states as 'racial states', which he theorises as 'states of power', asserting control over those within the state and excluding others from outside the state. Through border controls, the military, constitutions, the law, policy making, bureaucracy, and governmental technologies such as census categorisations, invented histories and traditions, ceremonies and cultural imaginings, the modern state is defined by its power to exclude (and include) in racially ordered terms.

2.2 Employing the term 'racism' is relatively recent in the Israeli context, with social scientists preferring instead to configure divides as 'ethnic' (regarding intra-Jewish divides between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews, see e.g., Shohat, 1988; Hever et al, 2002; Shenhav, 2003), or 'national' (regarding the Israeli-Palestinian divide) rather than 'racial' - evincing an understanding of 'race' as pertaining to biology. Herzog, who conducted 108 interviews with Palestinian women citizens of Israel, only 18 of them mentioned the term 'racism', concludes, after Essed (1991), that avoiding the term 'racism' in the Israeli context is linked to 'the absence of legitimacy for the term in the dominant discourse in Israel and a strong tendency to construct the discourse about the relations between Jews and Palestinian-Arabs in national rather than civil terms (Herzog, 2004: 60-1; see also Balibar, 1991 on the racism-nationalism interface).

2.3 A comprehensive examination of the racialisation of Israeli state and society is beyond the scope of this article, however I propose that Israel is 'racial' in specific ways, without privileging 'race' as a biological concept, or, as Herzog (2004: 60) describes it, 'racism without race'. Bearing in mind the disavowal Herzog identifies, and in particular the theorisation of racism as '(developing) within nation-states that seek to consolidate their national project' (Herzog, 2004: 54), I suggest that the Israeli state is an illustrative rather than a paradigmatic exemplification of Goldberg's model of the modern state, where race and nation are defined in terms of each other to produce a coherent picture of the population in the face of a divisive heterogeneity - alternatively defined as standing outside or inside the state - as I briefly explore below.

2.4 The Israeli state, defined as the state of the 'entire Jewish nation' and not merely of its citizens, grants automatic citizenship to any Jew wishing to immigrate by strength of the racially-discriminating 'Law of Return', while opposing the right of return to Palestinians made refugees by the establishment of Israel in 1948 (Karmi, forthcoming) and by subsequent expulsions following the 1967 war and the occupation of Palestinian territories (Aminov, forthcoming). Furthermore, the state of Israel, through the offices of the Jewish National Funds, has designated 95 per cent of the state territory as 'state lands' and has enacted laws that differentiate between Jew and non-Jew making it illegal for non-Jews (read Palestinians) to lease state lands; between 1948 and 1973, the Jewish Agency established 594 Jewish settlements and not one Arab settlement (Aminov, forthcoming).

2.5 Citing demographic anxiety, according to which Jews might become a minority by 2020, the Israeli state continues to enact racial laws based on Jewish belonging - Judaism here conceptualised not merely as a religion, but also as nationality and ethnicity - to preserve Jewish demographic superiority. Recent examples are the 'Citizenship and Entry Act' (2003), which prohibits non-Jewish (read: Palestinian) spouses of Israeli Jewish citizens to enter the state, and the proposal to deport hundreds of Israeli-born children of migrant workers (Aloni, 2003: B9).

2.6 The modern state, according to Foucault (2003), can scarcely function without becoming involved with racism, which he sees as 'the break between what must live and what must die'. In constructing homogeneities, the state becomes a normalising, regulating biopower state. The deadly play between a power based on the sovereign right to kill and biopolitical management of life, though illustrated at its worst in the Nazi state, appears in all modern states, and racism is intrinsic to the nature of all modern normalising states, whose biological technologies occur in varying intensities, ranging from social exclusion to mass murder. Beyond the obvious demarcation between 'what must live and what must die' evidenced in daily incursions by the Israeli Defence Forces in the occupied territories, Abu-Saad (2004: 101-27) argues that the state of Israel has 'racially derogatory attitudes towards the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel' which result, among other things, in 'discriminatory practices in the state-run educational system'.

2.7 Giorgio Agamben (1998) develops Foucault's theorisation of the modern nation-state as a 'state of population', using a series of technologies to monitor and control the nation's biological life which becomes the problem of sovereign power. Beyond Foucault's 'life becoming the principal object of the calculations of state power', Agamben posits 'bare life' coinciding with the political realm:

At once excluding bare life and capturing it within the political order, the state of exception actually constituted, in its very separateness, the hidden foundation on which the entire political system rested (Agamben, 1998: 9).

2.8 Agamben posits a sovereign power versus bare life binary: the sovereign is the point of indistinction between violence and the law, and the bearer of this link is called 'bare life', or homo sacer (Agamben, 1998: 10). If the sovereign, representing the unity of the people, embodies unlimited power insofar as he is identified with the biological life of the people, the existence of the person of homo sacer is reduced to bare life stripped of every right by virtue of the fact that anybody can kill him and he can save himself only in perpetual flight or in a foreign land (Agamben, 1998: 184).

2.9 Agamben (1998: 167-71) proposes the (concentration) camp as the paradigm of modernity and of political space at the point in which politics becomes biopolitics and homo sacer is virtually confused with the citizen. The camp is produced at the point at which the political system of the modern nation-state, founded on the land-territory-nation nexus, enters into crisis, and the state decides to assume direct care of the population's biological life. Agamben's suggestion that the reality of the camp fits contemporary life, can arguably be used to theorise not only the detention centres in Israel/Palestine, where Palestinian detainees are stripped of their rights in the name of (Israeli) sovereign power and of protecting the (Israeli) population, but also the entire occupied West Bank and Gaza, where Palestinians can be theorised as 'bare life' at the mercy of Israeli sovereign power.

2.10 Employing Agamben's homo sacer conceptualisation, Huneida Ghanem positions the Israeli state border as the signifier of the state of emergency (Israeli) Palestinians find themselves in:

(The border) signified the violent severance of the lives and family ties they had before the Nakba, [4] and the loss of olive orchards to the other side of the border. In the shadow of the post-Nakba Military Government, the border became the scene of life in the shadow of death, where the Palestinian body was made by the Israeli authorities to undergo a transformation and become bare life, exposed and devoid of meaning, homo sacer (Ghanem, 2003).

Femina Sacra?

3.1 Due to the link between birth and nation (deriving from nascere - to be born), the intersection of state racism and state sexism means that women, the producers of future generations of racially 'inferior' collectives, are often permanently banned as impure (c.f. Yuval-Davis and Anthias, 1989). Woman's body creates and contains birth-nations and demarcates territories, and is therefore the basis of nation-states. Yet woman - the gendered other of modernity - is often deleted from state protection and right (though not from state regulation) and sovereign power makes a further exception in relation to women's bare life, and women are often abandoned, because of their temporary-made-permanent ban (Agamben, 1998: 114). In this article I am positing the female version of Agamben's notion of homo sacer, femina sacra, to think about the precarious position of women vis a vis states, particularly in conflict situations.

3.2 An illustration of the precarious position of women in relation to state sovereign power is the rape camps in the former Yugoslavia, where woman, due to her sexual vulnerability and her function as a vehicle of ethnic cleansing, became femina sacra, at the mercy of male sovereign power: she who can not only be killed, but also impregnated, yet who cannot be sacrificed due to her impurity.

3.3 Rape of the 'enemy woman' is not only a sovereign technology of power and an ethnomarker, but also a powerful metaphor. It is remarkable that up to relatively recently, reports of widespread rapes of Palestinian women by Israeli soldiers were rare. In November 2003 Ha'aretz reported a horrific case in which a troupe of male soldiers gang-raped a young Bedouin girl prior to killing her and burying her in the sand during the 1948-9 'war of independence' (Lavie and Gorali, 2003). Benny Morris, 'new historian' turned apologist for the Israeli racial state, admitted that during the 1948 war, alongside the destruction of over 400 Palestinian villages and the expulsion of their inhabitants, and alongside several well documented massacres, rapes were a common occurrence, and that most rapes ended with murder. 'Because neither the raped nor the rapists like to report these cases, we have to assume that the dozen reported rape cases are not the whole story, rather the tip of the iceberg' (Shavit, 2004). [5] On the one hand, Israelis silenced these and later rapes, because, according to 1948 veteran and peace activist Uri Avneri, rapes supposedly 'did not happen for racist reasons. Having sex with an Arab woman was considered undignified' (Lavie and Gorali, 2003, emphasis added). This racist view was substantiated by the Palestinian political activist Suheir Aszzouni Mahshi, who wrote, already in 1995:

The violations of women's rights by the occupation were particularly cruel. Many women were imprisoned, many were humiliated during interrogation; they were forced to undress and threatened with rape. I know of at least two who were raped with a stick, the implication being that they were not worthy of being touched (Mahshi, 1995: 8)

3.4 On the other hand, Palestinians too silenced the rapes because, as Ghanem suggests, the Palestinian (Israeli) female, charged with the collective's honour, was doubly colonised, both as homo sacer at the mercy of external Israeli colonialism, and female bare life controlled by internal (Palestinian) patriarchal colonialism (Ghanem, 2003; see also Ghanem, 1995). Mahshi is more explicit about the collusion between the Palestinian patriarchy and the Israeli occupation: 'The occupation authorities reinforced and exploited the traditional view of the importance of a girl's "honour" (connected to her virginity) in Palestinian society, and used it against women. Many women were forced into compromising positions and then they or their husbands, brothers or fathers were blackmailed and forced into collaboration with the occupation' (Mahshi, 1995: 8).

From (Feminist) Silence to Essentialist Peace Activism

4.1 Having briefly outlined the specificities of Israel as a 'racial state', and positioned the Palestinian citizen and occupied subject as homo sacer at the mercy of Israeli sovereign power, let me now turn to a discussion of Israeli feminist peace responses to the al Aqsa Intifada. Herzog surveys feminist theorisations of the location of women's bodies in Israel 'as an arena for conducting population policy, involving, inter alia, 'population classification and categorisation according to regimes of justification that refer to collective traits (race, nationality, ethnicity etc)' and argues that women's experience in Israel is based on multiple layers of oppression and inclusion, allowing women to forge identities that are 'hybrid, changing, multidimensional and often conflicted and contradictory' (Herzog, 2004: 57).

4.2 While the homo sacer argument cannot be extended in a linear fashion to theorise Israeli feminist peace activists, I propose that in positioning themselves against state morality in an arguably gendered way, they can be theorised mot as forging a 'third space' between 'cultural, gender, class, national and racial structures that generates a continual ambivalence' as Herzog (2004: 53) proposes in relation to educated Palestinian Israeli women, but rather as agents of resistance who explicitly challenge the certitudes of the Israeli state of exception, while not necessarily subverting the entire Zionist logic.

4.3 At the start of al Aqsa Intifada many Israeli feminists initially joined other Israeli intellectuals in nurturing Israeli victimhood and blaming the Palestinian leadership, and, implicitly, Palestinian women, for the escalation in violence (see Abdo and Lentin, 2002). In October 2002, attempting to explain this initial self silencing, Shlomo Sand (2000) argued that 'apart from the Lebanon war, each Israeli-Arab confrontation saw the central intellectual players line up with the establishment, giving it the necessary legitimacy' (Karpel, 2000). However, by May 2002, after the siege of West Bank cities, and several massive suicide bombs, Israeli voices of peace and dialogue struggled to overcome the near universal support for the brutal Israeli war against the second Intifada. Developments such as the public refusal by high ranking reserve officers to serve in the occupied territories, and the growing, unprecedented, phenomenon of conscientious objection by young conscripts, as well as ongoing anti-occupation and anti-wall demonstrations, indicated that the Israeli 'peace camp', after its initial stunned self silencing, is rallying around.

4.4 Safran (1995) argues that Israeli women's peace groups (which date to the 1982 Lebanon War, but which came into the fore during the 1987-93 'first' Intifada), while opposing the oppression of the Palestinians by Israel, 'had a greater impact agitating for a voice for women in society'. Through peace groups, Safran argues, Israeli women, initially thought as undeserving of a voice in public affairs, challenged their 'traditional roles as mothers and keepers of the home-front and (took) positions on crucial political matters such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict' (Safran, 1995: 23; see Chazan, 1991, for an early mapping of Israeli women and peace activism).

4.5 There have been several sociological studies of Israeli feminist peace activism (e.g., Sharoni, 1993; Herzog, 1999; Shadmi, 2000; Emmet, 2004) critiquing, inter alia, the implicit middle class, heterosexual and Ashkenazi composition of the Israeli feminist peace movement. Another critique (Lentin, 2000b) is that Israeli feminist peace activism tends to maintain an essentialist discourse of women, and particularly mothers, as more adept than men at conflict resolution. [6] The veteran Israeli feminist peace activist Gila Svirsky makes this claim explicit when she writes: '(Israeli) women have consistently been a large part, if not the majority, of the rank-and-file peace activists, and have often led the pack in out-of-the-box thinking. ... Ever since "Women in Black" began its first vigil in January 1988, women's peace activism in Israel has consistently been more varied, more progressive, and more courageous than the peace activism of the mixed-gender peace groups' (Svirsky, 2002: 236). [7]

Picture 2.

4.6 While some Israeli feminist peace activists resist the essentialist evocation of motherhood and the equation of women with peace, essentialism may persist, as was demonstrated for instance in a December 2001 Ha'aretz article reporting 'hundreds of mothers who object openly to their sons serving in the IDF in general and in the occupied territories in particular' (Abramovich, 2001: B6). The article cites New Profile member Orit Degani, who joined other mothers in opposing her son's military service: 'Like many other Israeli mothers, I had wanted my son to be an army paratrooper. Today I do not want to desert my son and I am finding more and more partners in this belief. These are mothers who don't want merely to save their sons but also to change this terrible reality' (Abramovich, 2001: B6). Degani's narrative progresses from nurturing the ultimate Zionist dream of 'my son, the paratrooper' to the maternal peace discourse of wishing to save her son from military service, while, at the same time, 'changing this terrible reality'. In 'Not a soldier's mother' Hannah Safran (2000) argues that had women's voice been included in the peace process from the start, feminists would not have had to resort to maternal arguments, as Israeli women are only listened to as the mothers of soldiers, not as political beings in their own right.

4.7 A potent resistance strategy is the relatively new and increasing phenomenon of draft resistance. In September 2003 Israeli society was stunned when 27 active and reserve senior air force pilots (all male) signed a declaration expressing their refusal to bomb civilian targets in the occupied territories (Mosko, 2003: 20). The pilots, many of them highly decorated soldiers, are not opponents of the racial state or of the occupation, and consciously speak from the heart of the Zionist ideology. In expressing concern for Israel's morality and 'refusing to become war criminals', they broaden the consensus against the ongoing excesses of the occupation, without, however, undermining the racial state itself. Without diminishing the pilots' courage, I would like to suggest that their statement was in line with the post Lebanon war history of peace activism in Israel initiated by high ranking (male) army officers, in organisations such as Peace Now, springing from the heart of the Zionist consensus and concerned mostly about the brutalisation of Israeli society (see Chazan, 1991).

4.8 In a military state such as Israel where discourses of national security overshadow all other considerations and where military service has been regarded, until recently, an unquestionable national duty (see e.g., Ben Eliezer, 1995; Lomsky-Feder and Ben Ari, 1999), conscientious objection is not formally recognised and draft resistance is a relatively recent phenomenon. Several organisations have been established to support conscientious objectors, both conscripts and reserve soldiers. The mission statement by Yesh Gvul (There is a Limit), for instance, reads:

We, soldiers of the IDF, men and women, hereby declare that we will take no part in the continued oppression of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, and we will not participate in political actions or in guaranteeing the settlements (http://www.yeshgvul.org)

4.9 Another organisation supporting conscientious objectors is New Profile, according to which the extent of draft resistance means that 'thousands of young women and men are currently avoiding conscription and combat duty'. New Profile regards everyone who does not enlist as a draft resister, and although many would not characterise their action in political terms, in practice, they are excluding themselves and stating that they are not part of the military game. In addition, desertion levels are rising fast, largely due to economic causes, and military prisons are overflowing. New Profile views this 'social resistance' as a form of draft resistance. According to New Profile founder-member Rela Mazali, 'a third of every cohort of candidates for service do not enlist at all (this includes the orthodox); another 20 per cent of those who do enlist drop out early on. The result is that about half of every age group either doesn't serve at all or does very partial service. Thus the declared objectors are just the tip of the iceberg, and if you look at the whole citizenry at a given age group (including about 20 per cent Palestinians), only a minority serves in the IDF (Mazali, personal email communication, 3 March, 2003; see also http://www.newprofile.org).

4.10 Israel is the only state to conscript women and therefore the only state where women's conscientious objection exists. According to New Profile, which puts special emphasis on women draft resistance, the IDF refuses to release data relating to women's draft resistance, but media sources indicate that '40 per cent of women conscripts do not enlist each year, and in the last decade the number of women who do not enlist for religious or conscience reasons has increased from 10 to 30 per cent. In contrast to men who refuse conscription, and who are jailed in military prisons, women's conscientious objection has gained the army's recognition' and they are eligible for discharge, providing they can persuade a military 'conscience committee', an arbitrary and often humiliating process (Werner and Mazali, 200416).

Picture 3.

4.11 If motherhood and women's 'natural' peace making role are central themes in much Israeli feminist peace activism discourse, young women draft resisters express commitment to individual morality as opposed to state logic. In picture 3, draft resisters Noa Kaufman and Tal Matalon hold a placard reading 'Thou shalt not murder' (the original Hebrew version of the 'Thou shalt not kill' biblical commandment), with the letter 'zadik' in the word 'murder' painted in green also denoting the letter 'zadik' for Zahal - the Hebrew acronym for the IDF).

4.12 The 17 and 18 years old women draft resisters whose narratives were collected by New Profile anchor their decision in various key events and denote a commitment to an anti-state morality. For Tal Matalon the deciding event was the violent death of her friends Ofer Ron and Adi Shiran on March 31 2002 in a suicide bombing at the Matsa Restaurant in Haifa:

We lit candles and brought flowers and sat and talked. And then Aviv asked me if I'm still going to refuse. And I said yes. Because it was obvious to me that yes... If people die, it should be stopped, right? More people shouldn't die, should they? But Aviv already stopped listening. For good, actually, because he never talked to me again... (Tal Matalon)

4.13 Noa Kaufman's decision was made during a Taayush joint Palestinian-Israeli demonstration in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Abu Dis on October 12 2002, where the demonstrators and the local Palestinians were tear gassed:

I felt something crystallising... a hatred for those in uniform. I've always tried not to hate - to understand, to remember that friends of mine wear the same uniforms too and get the same orders, but at that point I felt like taking some soldier, pushing him into a sealed room, and filling it with tear gas...I was shocked by the force of my feelings, and I tried to imagine how those living under perpetual occupation hated the soldiers - living day by day with tanks wrecking their streets, destroying what they had been building all their lives, blowing up homes, shooting loved ones (Noa Kaufman).

4.14 For Danya Vaknin it was a 'terrorist' brought into the hospital ward in which she was volunteering:

I heard the doctors whispering, there were rumours he was a terrorist. When I asked the head nurse she yelled at me and said it made no difference whether or not he was a terrorist and that if I had a problem with it I should leave and not come back. She's right. It doesn't matter if he's a terrorist or not...When I told my friends about it, they were stunned. Some of them were angry and said if they had been there, they would have let him die, and how could I even talk about something so immoral... (Danya Vaknin)

4.15 The women refuseniks share a belief that since 'men are more vital to the IDF' (Danya Vaknin), women's draft resistance, though significant for themselves, their families and friends, is not as significant. Furthermore, 'the positive discrimination of women as opposed to men in relation to the recognition of their right to refuse is a direct result of women's lower position in the military and in Israeli society as a whole. Women are discharged because they are not really important, they are not "the real thing" - that is "a combat soldier". Therefore, their refusal "does not count", is not reported in the media, and is not publicly visible' (Werner and Mazali, 2004: 16). Yet these women are learning to raise their voices 'against the background of the establishment of testosterone-laced refusenik movements', insisting that although 'we support the guys, our focus is the struggle against the occupation' (Galili, 2004). As draft resister Shani Werner expresses it: '... after the "conscience committee" I ... phoned home. There had been a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv... a young boy chose to commit suicide in order to kill Israelis. If only I could have told him about other Israelis, who refuse to be his occupiers...' (Werner and Mazali, 2004: 17).

Conclusion: Gendering Resistance?

'If I have broken their laws / I will learn from it, and suffer gladly. / But if the crime lies with my judges / I wish my sentences upon them...' (Morrison, 2003: 30).

5.1 Huneida Ghanem (2003) engenders the relationship between the Israeli state and the Palestinians, by provocatively suggesting that the Palestinians escaped their lands in 1948 to guard the family honour. Ghanem argues that Palestinian women were charged with guarding the collective's lost honour: the Palestinian female who 'does nothing' so as not to infringe the (sexual) code of honour is parallel to the 'good Arab' whose collaboration with the Israeli occupation means 'doing nothing' while having his lands confiscated

5.2 I have similarly attempted in this article to engender or 'woman' the relationship between the Israeli state and women draft resisters. For the title of the article I have deliberately quoted Creon's statement that women's morality would not deter him from maintaining state sovereignty (Morrison, 2003). Like Antigone, who knows that breaking state rule does not mean breaking the rules of morality, Israeli women draft resisters position themselves as moral agents set against the 'very broad consensus' of state might:

I know what I think about the situation in Israel and how to solve this long, ongoing conflict. I just know that I myself along with other conscientious objectors resisting the draft... have made the most moral choice possible. We've refused to enlist in the IDF. We've disrupted a very broad consensus, but it's very important to disrupt it, important for people to start asking questions (Danya Vaknin, emphases added).

5.3 In conclusion, I want to ask whether Israeli female draft resistance can usefully be theorised as a gendered opposition to the racial state, bearing in mind that male draft resistance is as courageous and as potent, but also that male draft resisters are 'taken more seriously' by the IDF and are more often jailed than women resisters. For iek (2002), apparently adhering to the male/public versus female/private domain divisions, Antigone does not speak merely as a female subject. In appealing to Creon, she acts in the masculine public domain of politics. Creon and Antigone are the binary opposites of the symbolic social order: state versus family, the legal order versus the divine order, sovereign power versus femina sacra. Antigone subverts the existing social order by representing the death impulse; while still alive, she is already dead, or, as Huneida Ghanem puts it, living 'life in the shadow of death'.

5.4 According to iek's reading of Judith Butler (2000), Antigone acts as a spokesperson for all subversive 'pathological' demands for acceptance in the public domain. But she is more than homo sacer (or femina sacra), since, according to Agamben, in today's 'post-politics', democracy masks the fact that we are all ultimately 'homines sacri' at the mercy of the sovereign power of the racial state (iek's, 2002: 108-110). In the Israeli-Palestinian context, all Palestinians under the Israeli occupation are reduced to homines sacri; they are objects of discipline, but never equal citizens. The real achievement of the draft resisters, in response to Creon's statement that 'no woman's law will rot this state', and refusing to go on serving the racial state, is closing the distance between homo sacer and your fellow human.

5.5 However, although most casualties of war are men, women are the symbolic representations of the 'raped nation' (Lentin, 1999). They signify the border zone between inside and outside, and are subject to the controlling gaze of both racial state and racialised subject collective. Beyond symbolism, we need to theorise women's multiple and heterogeneous material realities to chart the relations between state and woman in all their complexities. The subject position 'woman' possesses no essentialist privilege in doing peace work, yet feminist peace activists, and in particular female draft resisters - in calling attention to their marginal position in relation to 'state matters' such as occupation, war and security, and in choosing to put their bodies in otherwise masculine public spaces - have the potential to subvert the racial state, and bear witness not only to its masculinising militarism, but also to the wilful destruction of the racial state's occupied Others.


1 See Lentin, 2000a for an analysis of Israeli Zionism as a masculinist construction in opposition to the feminisation of the Jewish diaspora.

2 The liberal feminist struggle to incorporate women into military combat roles in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) was won after the successful appeal in 2000 by Alice Miller to be recruited as a pilot by the Israeli air force, until then a strictly male preserve (Noga, 2000: 34-6). At present women have access to 83% IDF positions, and 450 women-soldiers are serving in IDF infantry combat units, mostly guarding the relatively 'safe' borders with Egypt and Jordan, so as to release men for the 'more important' duties of policing the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza (Hadar, 2003).

3 The photographs used in this article were emailed by a variety of Israeli and Palestinian peace organisations, and photographer credits are not always available. Picture 1 is of an Israeli soldier aiming his weapon at a Palestinian mother and her two children. Picture 2 is of an Israeli-Palestinian women's peace demonstration, 29 December 2001, sent by Bat Shalom (http://www.batshalom.org). Picture 3 depicts draft resisters Noa Kaufman and Tal Matalon at a New Profile demonstration (http://www.newprofile.org/english).

4'Nakba' is the name given by Palestinian to the 1948 catastrophic dispossession of their lands by the Israeli state. Israelis refer to 1948 as 'the war of independence' (see contributors to Abdo and Lentin (2002) for women's account of their families' memories of the Nakba.

5 Morris, whose research has sparked off the 'new history' of the Israeli 1948 war, argues that the atrocities he describes justify ethnic cleansing: 'There is no justification for rapes or massacres. These are war crimes. But in certain situations expulsion is not a war crime. I don't think that the 1948 expulsions were war crimes... There are historical circumstances which justify ethnic cleansing. I know this term is utterly negative in 21st century discourse, but when the choice is between ethnic cleansing and genocide, your own nation's genocide, I prefer ethnic cleansing' (Shavit, 2004).

6 Israeli feminist peace organisations include 'Women in Black', who continue to hold silent weekly vigils; 'Bat Shalom' - the Israeli part of the joint Israeli-Palestinian feminist peace organisations The Jerusalem Link; 'New Profile - the Movement for the Civil-isation of Israeli Society', whose members support conscripts and reservists who resist the draft; the 'Coalition of Women for a Just Peace' (see Svirsky, 2002); and more recently Machsom Watch, whose members (described as 'typical Jewish grandmothers', see Ebbesen, 2003) monitor human rights infringements at military checkpoints which control the movement of Palestinians (Machsom meaning 'checkpoint' in Hebrew) in the occupied territories(http://www.machsomwatch.org) and 'Women against the Wall', who protest against the building of the separation wall between pre-1967 Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories (http://www.geocities.com/women_against_the_wall).

7 Beside a belief in the greater ability of women as peace makers, many feminist peace activists, while intent on dismantling the occupation, are not opposed to Israeli sovereignty, as a journalist wrote of one member of Machsom Watch: 'Ora is not opposed to fences in principle. She wants the Israeli government to end the occupation, withdraw to the Green Line and build a border. "There will still be terror"' she said' "but we will be justified if we hit back" (normblog.typepad.com/2004/02/machsom_watch).


I wish to extend thanks to the two anonymous reviewers and the editors of Sociological Research Online whose comments have assisted me to re think this article.


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