Sebastian Junger has a new book out called Tribe, about the tribal pull inside human societies, the need to belong to a subgroup to derive meaning in life. Much of his book involves the bonding and closeness that soldiers experience by being together in armies, in which people are equal, and everyone suffers the same fears and privations.
Junger was on Leonard Lopate’s show ten days ago, and I can’t let this pass, Lopate asked him about his belief that veterans don’t like special treatment– say, boarding first on airplanes — when they reintegrate into American society. And Lopate injected that Israelis would never grant such privileges to veterans.
Lopate: It’s different in Israel because everybody, or almost everyone, serves.
Junger: Everyone serves in the military, they’re not letting vets go first on airplanes because everyone’s a vet. And no one says, thank you for your service, because it’s like saying thank you for paying your taxes. I mean everybody does it. So what you want from veterans is to reincorporate them into the society.
Just a casual moment, yes, but Junger’s an impressive American storyteller, so it’s worth correcting the record here. Palestinian Israelis do pay taxes, but they are exempted from serving in the Israeli army, though they constitute roughly one-fifth of the country’s population. That’s because they are not considered sufficiently loyal to the country, for obvious reasons: Israel is constituted as a “Jewish state,” and many of its enemies are Palestinians, people who were forced off their lands to permit the state’s establishment, or who now live under occupation with no rights, right alongside Jewish colonists who have full rights, and have to serve in the army. So the Israeli army is overwhelmingly Jewish (though many Druze serve).
Junger’s misstatement is understandable in that most Americans surely share his view of the Israeli army. But it’s just not the case that everyone serves. The United States has not had a situation anything like this in generations. Blacks served in segregated units during World War II. The army was integrated in 1948.
Americans ought to be asking, Why would you want to have a society that one-fifth of the population wouldn’t want to defend? Because the definition of citizenship overlaps with a tribal definition that is highly exclusive, and not at all equal, is why. And that is a big reason that the Palestinian solidarity movement is intent on reforming that society.