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A Nation-In-Arms: State, Nation, and Militarism in Israel's First Years

Author(s): Uri Ben-Eliezer

Source: Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Apr., 1995), pp. 264-285
Published by: Cambridge University Press
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Comparative Studies in Society and History.
A Nation-in-Arms:State, Nation, and
Militarismin Israel's First Years

Like many other states, Israel was forged throughthe struggle of a national
liberationmovementthat likely drew inspirationfrom an ethnic past and that
certainly worked to establish a political framework.1Once the state existed,
however, its leaders did not regardthe ethnie as an objective category that
would in large measuredeterminewhethera nation would emerge.2 Instead,
they viewed the ethnie as a subjectsusceptible,in varyingdegrees, to manipu-
lation, invention, domination, and mobilization.3As the prime minister of
Piedmont said, "We have made Italy, now we have to make Italians";or as
Israel's first prime minister, Ben-Gurion, put it in April 1951 during the
election campaign:"I see in these elections the shaping of a nation for the
state because there is a state but not a nation."4
This essay deals with the firstyearsafterthe foundingof the Israelistate. My
main concern is to examine the way in which the state constructedan ethnic
populationinto a fighting nation, a nation-in-arms.Usually, states construct
nationsthroughvariousmeans, such as the school system, the media, and the
army.In a speech to the Israeliparliament(Knesset),Ben- Gurionclaimedthat
efficiency was the reason, amongall the possibilities, for the reconstructionof
the Israeli nation, primarilyby the army:
I havebeen a Zionistall my life andI do not denythe existenceof Israel,heaven
forbid . . . but . . . even the English nation was not always that nation . . . but was

Anthony D. Smith, "State-Makingand Nation-Building,"in John A. Hall, ed., States in

History (Oxford:Basil Blackwell, 1986), 251.
2 An ethnic
community,or ethnie, shares a common myth of origins and descent, a common
history, elements of distinctive culture, a common territorialassociation, and sense of group
solidarity.A nationis much more impersonal,abstract,andovertly political thanan ethnic group.
It is a cultural-politicalcommunity that has become conscious of its coherence, unity, and
particularinterests. See, AnthonyD. Smith, "Ethnieand Nationin the Moder World,"Millenni-
um, 14:2 (1983), 128-32; Peter Alter, Nationalism (London:EdwardArnold, 1989), 17.
3 John
Breuilly,Nationalismand the State (Manchester:ManchesterUniversity Press, 1982);
Eric J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780 (Cambridge:CambridgeUniversity
Press, 1990); Ernest Gellner, Nation and Nationalism (New York: Cornell University Press,
1983); Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities(London:Verso, 1983).
4 Hobsbawm,Nations and NationalismSince 1780, 44-45; Ben-Gurionin Mapai's meeting,
from Eyal Kafkafi,A CountrySearchingForIts People (Tel-Aviv:HakibutHameuchad,1991), 3.
0010-4175/95/2387-0548 $5.00 + .10 ? 1995 Society for ComparativeStudy of Society and History


composed of differenttribes . . . fighting one another.And only after a development

of hundredsof years did they become one nation. ... We do not have hundredsof
years, and without the instrumentof the army ... we will not soon be a nation ....
We must guide the progress of history, accelerate it, direct it. ... This requires a
frameworkof duty . . . a frameworkof national discipline.5

Israeli military sociologists have accepted Ben-Gurion's rationalization.

Relying on theories of nation building and modernization that perceive the
army as an agent of development and integration,6 these sociologists wrote on
"the many and varied functions of the Israeli army" and on its expanding role
in the civil sphere. The army was said to contribute to immigrant absorption,
act as a melting pot for Jewish ethnic groups, help in conquering the wilder-
ness and in further settlement, educate for good citizenship and for love of
country, and foster culture. Virtually no area of life seems to have escaped the
eyes of the scholars who probed "the non-military use of the military."7 As for
the army's involvement in internal politics or the chances of a military coup,
this possibility, most scholars claimed, was not real, since Israel is a nation-
The nation-in-arms was portrayed as a model of relations between the civil
and military sectors, in which the boundaries between the two are frag-
mented.8 These permeable boundaries, some scholars believed, allowed the
two sectors (and the two elites) to interact across a wide range of situations
and to benefit from reciprocal influence after agreeing on the rules of the
game. It made it possible, on the one hand, to conceive of expanding the
army's role and intervention in building the nation, a phenomenon that
Horowitz and Lissak termed (partial) militarization of the civil sector. At the
same time, it was said to bring about "civilianization," in which civilians
increase their influence and involvement in the military sector, for example,
through Israel's unique system of service in the reserves, which transformed

5 Kneset Protokol, August 19, 1952.

6 John J. Johnson, ed., The Role of the Military in UnderdevelopedCountries (Princeton:
PrincetonUniversityPress, 1962); LucianW. Pie, "Armiesin the Process of Political Moderniza-
tion," in Johnson, The Role of the Militaryin UnderdevelopedCountries, 69-89; Moshe Lissak,
Military Roles and Modernization(California, Sage, 1976).
7 Moshe Lissak, "The Israel Defence Forces as an
Agent of Socialization and Education,"in
M. R. VanGils, ed., The PerceivedRole of the Military(Rotterdam:RotterdamUniversityPress,
1971) 325-39; Dan Horowitz and Baruch Kimmerling, "Some Social Implicationsof Military
Service and the Reserve System in Israel,"Archieve EuropeanSociologie, 15 (1974), 262-76;
Amos Perlmutter,TheMilitaryand Politics in ModernTimes(New Haven:Yale UniversityPress,
1977), 251-80; Idem., Militaryand Politics in Israel: Nation Buildingand Role Expansion(New
York:FrederickA. Praeger, 1969); Victor Azarya and BaruchKimmerling,"New Immigrantsin
the Israeli Armed Forces," ArmedForces and Society, 6:3 (1980), 22-41.
8 A. R. Luckham, "A ComparativeTypology of Civil-MilitaryRelations," Governmentand
Opposition, 6 (1971), 17-20; David Rapoport,"A ComparativeTheory of Militaryand Political
Types," in Samuel Huntington, ed., Changing Patterns.of Military Politics (New York: Free
Press, 1962), 71-100; Adam Roberts, Nation in Arms, The Theory and Practice of Territorial
Defence (London: Chatto and Windus, 1976).

the army into a "people's army"imbuedwith the democraticand civil (some

added, egalitarian)spirit characteristicof the general society.9
Overall, these studies tended to focus on the army's integrativemission,
ignoring its instrumentalrole of wielding the means of organized violence.
The integrativeapproach,doubtfulenough in researchon the third world,10
was wholly inappropriatefor Israel, which had experienced plenty of wars
with violent confrontationsin the intervalsbetween them. Interestingly,even
the few scholarswho went beyond the civil role of the Israeli nation-in-arms
and dealt with its military, instrumentalaspect, preferredto stay within the
integrativeapproachand to write abouthow the nation-in-armsfunctions"as a
means to survive in a hostile strategic environment."11These scholars ad-
dressedneitherthe crucialrole the armyplayed in controllingthe Israeli-Arab
citizens throughthe militaryadministrationduringthe 1950s and early 1960s
nor theirexclusion from participatingin the nation-formationprocess because
they were exempt from militaryservice.12
The question that should be asked is whether it makes sense to view the
nation-in-armsas a functional mechanism for avoiding military coups, as a
responseto needs of survival, or as a meansof modernizing;perhapsit should
be seen as a political meansthatconscious political actorsuse to legitimize the
idea of solving political problems by military means throughthe attemptto
make the business of the militarythe preoccupationand concern of the entire


Ever since the nation-state became the centralorganizingprinciplein Europe,
both in principleand in practice, this system has producedboth internaland
externalwars.13 More frequentwars meantthatthe nation-state was forced to
tax the populationmore heavily, mobilize citizens for combat, and demand

9 Dan Horowitz and Moshe Lissak, Out of Utopia (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989), 195-230;
Dan Horowitz, "The Israeli Defense Forces: A Civilianized Military in a Partially Militarized
Society," in RomanKolkowicz and AndreiKorbonski,Soldiers, Peasantsand Bureaucrats(Lon-
don: George Allen and Unwin, 1982), 77-106; EduardLuttwakand Dan Horowitz, The Israeli
Army (London:Allen Lane, 1975); YoramPeri, "Political-MilitaryPartnershipin Israel,"Inter-
national Political Science Review, 2:3 (1981), 303-15.
10 Vicky Randall and Robin Theobald, Political Change and Underdevelopment(Durham:
Duke University Press, 1985), 67-98.
11 Dan Horowitz, "StrategicLimitationsof A Nation in Arms," Armed Forces and Society,
13:2 (1987), 277-94.
12 On the
tendencyto ignore the Palestiniansin the IsraeliSociology, see BaruchKimmerling,
"Sociology, Ideology, and Nation-Building:The Palestiniansand their Meaning in Israeli Soci-
ety," AmericanSociological Review, 57:4 (1992), 446-60.
13 F. Gilbert, ed., The Historical
Essays of Otto Hintze (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1975), 159-77; Michael Howard, "Warand the Nation-State,"in his The Causes of Wars(Lon-
don: Unwin Paperbacks,1984), 23-35.

absolute loyalty.'4 It was within this context that the nation-in-armswas

France after the revolution, Prussia following its defeat by Napoleon, and
Japanin the early years of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) are examples of states
which constructed a nation for the purpose of war. The wars that France
waged for more than twenty years had one distinctive featurethat its adver-
saries lacked: nationalpassions. France'swars were those of a nation, a fact
given legal affirmationby the levee en masse, in which the entire male
populationwas conscripted.The nation-in-armswould later extend this idea,
in the form of the moraland materialcontributionof the home frontto the war
effort and of the blurringof differencesbetween soldiers and citizens.15
Napoleon, who inheritedthe Jacobin nation-in-arms,exploited it craftily
for the purpose of waging war. Half a century later, the 1870s humiliating
defeat to PrussiaturnedFranceagain into a nation-in-arms,ready for revenge
throughthe Reveil national of the years 1910-14, a rediscoveryof patriotic
ideals and vocabularywithin large segments of Frenchsociety.16Even more
than France, Prussiais an historicalexample of how a nationwas constructed
or inventedfrom above with the conscious aim of winning wars. The cardinal
expressionof the new concept was the reformscarriedout within the Prussian
army after Napoleon defeated it in 1807. These included a gradualtransition
from a standingarmy composed of mercenariesand foreign troops to a mass
army which included a nationalmilitia.17
The Prussianarmy's reformsdid not reflect a surrenderby the government
to nationalist, radical, or liberal tendencies but were, even more than in the
Frenchcase, a calculated manufactureof nationalfeeling to help in winning
wars. Vagts labels the Prussian generals who fomented the changes in the
army and in the general conception of war Prussia's militaryJacobins. And
aptly so. Total mobilization enabled the state to indoctrinatethe conscripts
with a nationalist-militaristoutlook which, after their discharge, they trans-
ferred to the rest of the population. GraduallyPrussia-Germanybecame a
14 Samuel E.
Finer, "State and Nation-Buildingin Europe: The Role of the Military,"in
Charles Tilly, ed., The Formationof National States in WesternEurope (Princeton:Princeton
University Press, 1975), 84-163; RichardBear, "Warand the Birth of the Nation State," The
Journal of Economic History, 33 (1973), 203-21; Anthony Giddnes, The Nation State and
Violence (Berkeley: University of California Press), 1987; Karen A. Rasler and William R.
Thompson, Warand State Making (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989).
15 Carlton J. H. Hayes, "JacobinNationalism,"in his The Historical Evolution of Modern
Nationalism (New York, Russel and Russell, 1931), 43-83; Hans Kohn, Nationalism, Its Mean-
ing and History (Malabar:Robert E. Kreiger), 65, 82, 27-29; Alfred Vagts, A History of
Militarism (New York, Meridian Books, 1959), 104-28; Richard D. Challener, The French
Theory of the Nation in Arms (New York:Russell and Russell, 1965).
16 David B. Ralston, The Army of the Republic, The Place of the Military in the Political
Evolution of France, 1871-1914 (Cambridge,MA: M.I.T. Press, 1967); Douglas Porch, The
March to the Marne, The French Army, 1871-1914 (Cambridge:CambridgeUniversity Press,
17 Gilbert, TheHistorical
Essays of OttoHintze, 208; Vagts,A History of Militarism, 129-52.

state almost constantlyat war, blurringthe boundarybetween civil and mili-

tary to the point where war became everyone'sproject. All that remainedwas
to spur the nation to war, a goal that GeneralBaron ColmarVon Der Goltz,
for example, set himself, at the turn of the century. "Wars,"the general
noted in his book, The Nation in Arms, "are the fate of mankind . . . in our
day not only the rulers must be familiarwith the art of war: wars are of the
The aim of Japan'sleadersat the adventof the twentiethcenturywas to turn
their country into an empire able to stand on an equal footing with the
Europeanempires. Warwas one avenueto thatgoal, albeitnot in the tradition-
al sense. A Japanesemilitary academy reportexplained:
A characteristicof moder war is a fight with the total strengthof nations. War in
earliertimes was decided by the side with the strongestmilitarypower. In modem war,
fighting is on the level of financialwar, ideological war, and strategicwar, in addition
to the military war.19
In the years following the Meiji Restorationof 1868, Japanhad the ambitions
of a great power but the resources of a small power. By applying universal
conscription,Japan'sleadersembraceda plan to use the army as a school for
the population,a means to inculcatenationaland militaristicvalues. The vast
reserve system applied from that time on turned Japan into a "nation-in-
The FrenchJacobinsand then Napoleon, the Prussianreformers,the impe-
rial Japaneseleadersare all paradigmaticexamplesof a moder phenomenon:
Wars are no longer fought by the nobility or by mercenariesbut by mass
armies imbued with a nationalist spirit and backed by active civilian sup-
port. The nation-in-armsmodel ascribes an importantplace to the state in
creating-or exploiting-nationalist sentiment, and in linking it to the need
for war and then to the army as the state's instrumentfor waging war, thus
placing the armyin a position of no longerbeing consideredalien and separate
18 MartinKitchen, The German
OfficerCorps, 1890-1914 (Oxford:ClarendonPress, 1968;
Emillio Willems, A Way of Life and Death, Three Centuries of Prussian-GermanMilitarism
(Nashville: VanderbiltUniversity Press, 1986) 49-112; Geoff Eley, "Army, State and Civil
Society: Revisiting the Problemof GermanMilitarism,"from his Unificationto Nazism (Boston:
Allen and Unwin, 1987), 85-109; Geoffry Best, "TheMilitarizationof EuropeanSociety 1870-
1914", in J. R. Gillis, ed., The Militarizationof the WesternWorld(New York:RutgersUniver-
sity Press, 1989), 13-29; Colmar Von Der Goltz, The Nation in Arms (London: Hugh Rees,
1913), 470-71.
19 Theodore F. Cook, "The JapaneseReserve Experience:From Nation-in-Armsto Baseline
Defense," in Louis A. Zurcherand Gwyn Harries-Jenkins,SupplementaryMilitaryForces (Lon-
don: Sage, 1978), 265.
20 Ibid, 259-73; HakwonH. Sunoo, JapaneseMilitarism,Past and Present(Chicago:Nelson-

Hall, 1975), 1-65; Meirion and Susie Harries, Sheathing the Sword: The Demilitarizationof
Japan (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987); J. B. Crowley, "FromClosed Door to Empire:The
Formationof the Meiji MilitaryEstablishment,"in BernardS. Silbermanand H. D. Harootunian,
eds., ModernJapaneseLeadership:Traditionand Change (Tucson:Universityof ArizonaPress,

from society at large. For that reason, perhaps, the nation-in-armsdoes not
excel in military coups; but it is certainly not immune to militarism, which
makes wars a normativeand legitimate solution for political problems.21
Whatfollows is an analysis of how a nation-in-armswas formedas a way to
legitimize the solution of political problems by military means. The first
section deals with two causes, partypolitics on one side and nationalpolitics
on the other, that induced the state's leadershipto develop the new mode of
mobilization. The second section deals with the practices that have built the
nation-in-armsconstruct, and the third section illustrateshow this construct
was culturallylegitimized. The last section examines the relationsbetween a
fighting nation and the possibility of war.
A state is not a legal entity thatderives its existence solely from a declaration
(in this case, May 14, 1948). In the seminal period of Israel, variouspolitical
actions were carriedout in an attemptto constructthe state. One such action
involved the transition from a militia and an undergroundforce to a full-
fledged army fighting a war. Beginning in December 1947 and reaching a
peak the following summer,this change was markedalso by mobilizationon
the basis of order and duty.22Israel still did not resemble a nation-in-arms.
When that idea was first raised in a small forum by the acting chief of staff,
Yigael Yadin, it was rejected. "A nation-in-armscannot be trusted, we need
trainedpeople," Yadinwas told. And: "Youcannot make a commandoforce
out of vendors from the market."23
Statism (mamlakhtiut)was the principle of action that the state's leaders
invoked in orderto transferto the state the responsibilityand control of most
functions from the voluntarybodies usually attachedto political partiesin the
pre-state era. The state would thereby concentratethe bulk of power in its
hand. The process included, for example, the attemptto eliminate the differ-
ent educational tracks; the formation of an independentstate bureaucracy;
and, most crucial, the placementof a monopoly on the means of violence, so
cardinalto every state.24
The process of forming one army,however, encounteredserious obstacles.
21 On the
concept of militarism, see Volker R. Berghahn, Militarism: The History of an
InternationalDebate, 1861-1979 (Cambridge:CambridgeUniversity Press, 1981), 31-36; Mi-
chael Mann, "The Roots and Contradictionsof Modem Militarism," in his States, War and
Capitalism (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 166-87; Kjell Skejelsbaek, "Militarism, its
Dimensions and Corollaries:An Attemptto ConceptualClarification,"in AsbjornEdie and Narek
Thee, eds., Problemsof ContemporaryMilitarism(New York:St. Martin'sPress, 1980), 77-105.
22 Yoav Gelber, "Ben-Gurionand the Establishmentof the IDF," Jerusalem
Quarterly, 50
(1989), 56-80.
23 Ben-Gurion's
Diary, March 17, 1948, Ben-GurionArchive.
24 PeterY.
Medding, TheFoundingof Israeli Democracy 1946-1967 (Oxford:OxfordUniver-
sity Press, 1990), 134-37; Charles Liebman and Eliezer Don-Yehiya, Civil Religion in Israel
(Berkeley: University of Berkeley Press, 1983), 81-122.

Many of those who had set the tone in the militaryinfrastructurebefore the
state's establishmentand during the war were identified not with the ruling
party, Mapai (Israel Labor party) but with the more left-wing opposition,
Mapam. Attemptsby Mapai, led by Ben-Gurion, to obtain influence in the
army before and duringthe war were not always successful. The army was
rife with partyfactionalism,even in the war's darkestdays, which often left it
unable to act.25Now, citing the creationof the state and his authorityas its
elected leader, Ben-Gurionaspiredto form a state armynot saddledby party
politics. Naturally,Mapamobjected. In August 1949, when the government
submittedto the Knesset a law on security,Mapamsaid it fearedthat such an
armywould producea militarist,technocraticelite estrangedfrom the nation's
needs. As an alternative,Mapamproposeda militia stronglyresembling the
forces of the pre-stateperiodthatwould drawits strengthfrom the people, not
the state bureaucraticapparatusthat operatedby law and fiat.26 Mapam, in
fact, had raisedthe idea of a people's armybased on the notionthatthe people
themselves, not the state, would determinethe use of arms. Unlike the nation-
in-arms, the people's army implies that the state's authorityis weakening or
being rejected.27Mapam'sunderlyingrationalewas obvious. If its proposals
were accepted, the party would gain a huge political advantageand would
dislodge Mapai's foothold in the army. But even many in the ruling party,
Mapai, could not understandwhy Ben-Gurionwas so eagerto tamperwith the
power centers in which their party wielded influence and to transfer full
political weight to the state. Ben-Gurion'spoliticalview was clear. The devel-
opmentof political partiesin public life had not necessarilyaccordedhis party
a superior position and during the pre-state period had often paralyzed its
ability to act. It was this inclusion of political parties in public life that
enabled Mapam to influence security forces. Statism, Ben-Gurion hoped,
would give a tremendouspower advantageto those who headed the state and
controlled its centralistand autonomousmechanisms. Thus, to the query of
Mapai activists-"Is it conceivable that the party will not be active in the
army?"-Ben-Gurion replied, "It is for the good of the state and not to the
detrimentof the party."28
The controversiessurroundingthe effortsby state'sleadersto form a supra-
party mass army recalled disputes generatedby the Junkers'attemptsto re-
form their army. They, too, ostensibly acted against their own interests by
demandingsuch reforms. But their calculationwas clear. A strong Prussian

25 Anita
Shapira,The ArmyControversy,1948, Ben-Gurion'sStrugglefor Control(Tel-Aviv:
HakibutzHameuchad,1985; YoavGelber, Whythe PalmachWasDissolved (Jerusalem:Shoken,
26 August 15, 1949, Kneset Protokol(Israel's parliament);Mapai Center, February2, 1950,
Mapai Archive.
27 Roberts, Nation in Arms, 37. 28 Mapai Secretariat,August 7, 1949, Mapai Archive.

army under indirectJunkercontrol would serve Junkerpolitics better than a

weak and depleted Junkerarmy, which would risk defeat in a war.29
The analogy between the Prussianand Israeli cases is even more compre-
hensive. If Ben-Gurionhad established a strong professional standing state
army,he would have played into the handsof the Mapamoppositionby giving
a basis for theirfear thatthe armywould be isolatedfrom society's needs. The
nation-in-armswas the appropriateformula for avoiding this potential criti-
cism. This is a formulaof an army that is not a militia but exhibits the ele-
ments of a militia: an army controlledby the state, not by the people, but in
which the people participate.Likewise, in orderto neutralizeliberal and left-
wing criticismagainsta strongstandingstatearmy,the Prussianreformersdid
not stop with generalconscriptionto form an hierarchical,regimental,formal
mass army, the Landstrum,but combined with it a militia element, the less
rigid and more populist Landwehr.This enabled the Prussiansto presentthe
reformed army as representingthe people and the modem, ratherthan the
traditional,political order.30
Party politics was only one reason for the nation-in-arms.Neither the
Prussian, Japanese, nor French model of the nation-in-armswas built in
routine times. Japanfaced a change of leadershipfollowing the defeat and
overthrowof the TokugawaShogun. Intrusionsby Westernnations into Japa-
nese internalaffairs were crucial in triggeringthe Meiji Restoration.France
was under threatof invasion and facing a desperatemilitary situation, while
Prussiahad been defeated in a war, and its leadersdefined reality in terms of
national catastrophe.These vicissitudes were appropriatefor the leaders to
establish new social arrangementsfor mobilizing the population.
Israel, too, was facing tremendousupheaval. The 600,000 PalestinianAr-
abs who had left the country during the war were waiting for permission to
return, and those who had remained were placed under military govern-
ment.31 This situation could threatenIsrael no less than the fact that most
states did not recognize the new state's borders, which did not follow the
United Nations 1947 partitionresolutionbut were redrawnaccordingto war
gains. Underthese circumstances,the leadershipwantedto preparethe popu-
lation for the possibility of a second round. The formationof a strong mass
ethnic army was the main means to achieve that goal, although it was not
enough by itself. Almost concurrentlywith the Arab's mass exodus, about

Vagts, The History of Militarism, 59-60.
Ibid, 138-9. As for the Frenchcase, Challener'sbook, TheFrenchTheoryof the Nation in
Arms, provides an excellent discussionof the connectionbetweenpartypolitics and the nation-in-
31 Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian
Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (Cambridge:
CambridgeUniversity Press, 1989); Ian Lustick, Arabs in a Jewish State (Texas:University of
Texas Press, 1980).

200,000 Jews streamedinto Israel at a rate of 15,000 to 30,000 per month;

and within a few years the country's population more than doubled.32The
immigrantsturnedIsraelinto a state in which one ethnic groupconstitutedthe
majority.But was it a nation?
The Jewish immigrantscame from every corer of the world. They brought
a babel of languages, a bewildering array of customs and outlooks. Some
were Ashkenazi (like the majorityin the pre-stateperiod), but most of them
were Sephardi(from NorthAfrica and the Middle East). Few were acquainted
with the Zionist movement and its realizationin the pre-stateperiod. When
the prime minister visited a battalion commanders'class in the army, he
describedhis impressions,saying thathe saw only "one race, Ashkenazis.""I
see no greaterdanger,"he added, "thanif the commandersare from a 'noble'
race and the rank and file from a low race."33
Ben-Gurionresisted the possibility that the Sephardiand Ashkenazi com-
munities would become focal points of identification.The Israeli leadership
designatedthe armyas the means for makingthe new immigrantspartof both
the nation and its ethnic army.A case in point was the army's involvementin
the ma'abarot,the squalidcamps in which the majorityof the new immigrants
were housed in that period. Beginning in 1950 the army assumed respon-
sibility for many of these camps. Its involvement-teaching, looking afterthe
children, doing maintenancework, dispensing medical aid, and supplying
food and clothing-extended even to makingarrangementsfor laundryor for
communicationsfacilities in the camps.34
The army'spresence in the ma'abarotdrew it closer to the new immigrants
and preventedthe creationof a possible barrierbetween the two groups. As
the journal for the Israeli Defense Force stated, "The army's help . . . will
teach the new immigrantthat the army and the uniform he sees are in fact
his." And, again:"Thearmy'shelp is furtherproofthatthe soldieris really the
right-handof the civilian."35The army,then, was not depicted in terms of its
primaryfunction, as the instrumentof organizedviolence in the society, but
was given a civil image of an intimate friendly force. Newspapers of the
period ran numerousfeaturestitled, "SoldiersTakeGood Care of the Kids,"
"Female Soldiers Teach Hebrew,"and the like.36 This intimacy attested not
only to an ethnic sympathybut, morebroadly,to the immigrants'mobilization
to the security missions of the new state.

July 5, 1949, KnesetProtokol;Tom Segev, TheFirst Israelis (New York:Free Press, 1986);
VardaPilovski, ed., TransitionFrom 'Yishuv'to State 1947-1949 (in Hebrew) (Haifa: Haifa
University, 1988); MordechaiNaor, ed., First Yearto Statehood, 1948-1949 (Hebrew) (Jerusa-
lem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 1988).
33 Mapai Secretariat,June 1, 1950, Mapai Archive.
34 Bamachane (IDF's Bulletin), November 23, 1950; Kneset Protokol, January29, 1951,
Bamachane, September20, 1951; Kneset Protokol, December 20, 1951.
35 Bamachane, November 23, 1950; Bamachane, April 5, 1951.
36 Bamachane,
September20, 1951.

Now the army was involved in civilian tasks, just as the immigrantswould
soon take part in the military.Ben-Gurionleft no doubt about the purposeof
the institutionalaffiliationsforged between the new immigrantsand the army.
They would learn, he said, "not armyHebrewbut Hebrew soldiering."37The
army's involvement in educating the new immigrants was part of a vast
projectmeantto turnthe IsraeliJewish populationinto a fighting nation along
the lines of the classic Frenchexamplepresentedin the Frenchassembly in the
following terms:The young men were to go forth to battle;the marriedmen
would forge arms;the women were to make tents and clothing; and the aged
were "to preach hatredof kings and the unity of the Republic."38


On August 23, 1793, the Jacobinstate gave organizationalexpression to the
aim of creatinga strong army.The levee en masse made it mandatoryfor all
Frenchmales to enlist. Three hundredthousandwere mobilized immediately.
Within little more than a year the army would number over one million
soldiers.39The Israeli military service law of August 1949 and a numberof
subsequent amendmentsgave legal validity to the special arrangementsin-
tended to establish a strong, professional, mass army in Israel. Particularly
notablewas the decision to createa four-tiermilitarysystem: a careerarmy,as
well as a regular army; the reserves; and the border settlements. The army
comprised men and women alike, even those in the age group of fourteento
eighteen years old were placed within a security framework(Gadna) to pre-
pare them for militaryservice by means of a few hoursof activity each week.
The durationof compulsoryservice for males, in those days consideredvery
lengthy, was two years; from 1952, it was two and a half years.40
The suppositionsof some scholarsnotwithstanding,the purposeof Israel's
extensive reserve corps was not to introducecivilian patternsinto the army.41
The historicalexample can be helpful here too. Prussianswho completedtheir
five-year stint in the army(threeyears as a conscriptand two of reserve duty)
were transferredto the Landwehrmilitia, which had no professional officer
corps and lacked the severe discipline of the regulararmy.Nevertheless, the
Prussian militia was an extension of Prussianmilitarism, not its antithesis.
The armywas backedup by the first Landwehr,then by the second Landwehr,
and in the last resort by the entire remaining male population, the Land-

37 Kneset Protokol, August 18, 1952.

Challener,The French Theoryof the Nation in Arms, 3.
39 Pierre Birenbaum, States and Collective Action: The European Experience
CambridgeUniversity Press, 1988), 55-66.
40 Kneset Protokol, August 29, 1949.
41 Lissak, "The Israel Defence forces as an Agent of Socializationand Education";Horowitz
and Kimmerling, "Some Social Implications of Military Service and the Reserve System in
Israel";Horowitz, "TheIsraeli Defense Forces:A CivilianizedMilitaryin a PartiallyMilitarized

sturm.42In Japan, too, where leaders wanted to create a nation capable of

standingon an equal footing with the West, an efficient conscriptsystem was
developed. The example of the Frenchnation-in-armsand the Germanmili-
tarymodel were never far fromthe mindsof Japan'sleaderswhen they backed
up the men in active service with an extensive system of organizedreserves.
After two years of service the soldierpassed into the FirstReserve for a period
of five years and four months, then to the Second Reserve for ten years. This
amountedto seventeen years and four months of militaryobligation.43
The patternrecurredin Israel, where the aim was to establish a mass army
of conscripts, called up by state order, combined with professional officers,
for whom being a soldier was their only job. This was backed up by the
reserve army of citizens trained to be soldiers in every respect and who
demonstratedexcellence, among other ways, by their ability to shift, quickly
and efficiently, whenever called upon, from civilian to soldier status.44Such
an armyhad one purposeonly: to win in a war. Hence, Ben-Gurion'sreply to
the left-wing Mapam'sidea of a voluntarymilitia:"Wemust forget the roman-
ticism of the army. . . . We will make war not with a local militia but with an
army of rapid movement and heavy firepower, activating large formations,
various corps . . . in combined operations . . . with uniform planning and
In 1952 Ben-Gurionused this same spirittojustify the government'sdecision
to extendcmilitaryservice by an additionalsix months. Israel's security, he
stated, was based on trainingthe entire nation-people of all ages capable of
bearingarms-to fight when threatened.Ben-Guriondeclaredthatif Israelwas
not wiling to be a fightingnation,it could not be a living nationandcertainlynot
an independentone.46 The Israeli prime ministeraspiredto constructa new
Israeli, even as the Jacobinstate had constructeda new Frenchman.The ideal
was describedby Barere,the strongman of thatJacobinstate, in his memoirs:
"In France the soldier is a citizen, and the citizen a soldier."47
Moreover, Ben-Gurionexplained, when he offered reasons for prolonging
army service, "quantityis also decisive." It was a comment in the style of
Napoleon's "God walks with the big battalions."Not surprisingly,the over-
whelming majorityof the Israeliparliament,includingthe right-wingopposi-
tion Herut party,led by MenachemBegin, supportedthe proposal to extend
armyservice by six months. The vote was seventy in favorand eleven against,
a very impressivemajoritydemonstratingthatthe people's elected representa-
tives unequivocallysupportedthe idea of a nation-in-armsfor Israel.48
42 Gilbert, The Historical
Essays of Otto Hintze, 208; Finer, "State and Nation-Buildingin
Europe," 153.
43 Cook, "The JapaneseReserve Experience,"260-2.
44 Kneset Protokol, August 29, 1949. 45 Kneset Protokol, November 9, 1949.
46 Kneset Protokol, August 18, 1952.
47 Hayes, The Historical Evolution of ModernNationalism, 43-83.
48 Kneset Protokol,
August 18, 1952.

The governmentlost no time in implementingthe law of August 1949. In

March 1950 the daily press reported that citizens would be called up for
reserveduty. This was explainedas anotherimportantstep in deploying all the
branches of the Israeli security forces to meet any situation. And just to
preventself-satisfactionon the partof those not yet called up, the newspapers
explained that until now these people had been given "a kind of break"but
would henceforthshare in responsibilityfor the state's security.49
In July 1950, Phase Two of the mass call-up began. Initially,all those who
had already served in the IDF were assigned to the reserves. Now came the
turnof all males below the age of fifty who had not yet done militaryservice
(mainly new immigrants). The military reserve system then encompassed
almost the entireJewish male population.The armyjournalnoted:"Onething
is clear to us all-that the main strength of our state, in addition to the
conscript army and the staff of the career army-is the army of the nation,
namely, the nation itself."50So importantwas the motif of participatingin the
nation-in-armsthat the army bulletin boasted about the reserve call-up of
mules every year and described the way in which the poor animals were
processed and incorporatedin their military unit. The implied message was
clear: If livestock could be drafted, so could the new immigrants.51
GeneralYadinfirst describedthe Israeli citizen as a soldier on ten months'
leave. In Japan,TanakaGi'ichi', one of the foundersof the ImperialMilitary
Reserve Associate, commented in 1911 that "all citizens are soldiers."52In
both cases, the idea went beyond serving in the armyunderlegal obligation:It
implied civil virtue and a non-formalcriterionof citizenship. The organiza-
tional arrangements,which guided all Israelis who would be, directly or
indirectly, involved in military affairs, formed the social basis for Israeli
militarism. The concept also entailed a singulardefinition of reality.


Immediately after the end of the 1948 war, in reply to a question from the
army's journal, Ben-Guriondescribed the situation as a "temporarytruce."
During the Knesset debate on the militaryservice law he spoke of an "armed
peace." No one should harborillusions about the future, the prime minister
asserted, warning about the dangers of a "false peace."53On anotherocca-
sion, Ben-Gurionsaid that a "mini-war"was being conductedbetween Israel
and its neighbors, for which the blame lay with those states in the region that
were caught up in a maelstromof disturbances,coups, political chaos and
political assassinations-a volatile situation with unknowableconsequences
which could spreadanywhere. The Knesset listened in silence to the demoni-
49 Haaretz (daily newspaper),March 12, 1950. 50 Bamachane, July 20, 1950.
51 "Draft-Cardsfor Mules," Bamachane,
July 31, 1952.
52 Cook, "The JapaneseReserve
53 Bamachane, October 17, 1949; Kneset Protokol,
August 29, 1949.

zation of Israel's neighboring countries, and only one member, from the
CommunistParty,called out: "This is a preludeto the order,it is preparation
for war."54
Ben-Gurionpresented a broad concept of security. Security, he had ex-
plained in 1949, meant more than the army.It entailed stepping up the birth
rate and populatingempty areas.55With the passing of time, Ben-Gurion's
definition of security would be broadenedstill further;and the civil sphere
would shrink correspondingly. Militarism became something universally
sharedwhen Ben-Guriondeclaredin 1955: "Securityis not possible without
immigration . . . security means settlements . . . the conquest of the sea and
air. Securityis economic independence,it meansfosteringresearchand scien-
tific ability . . . voluntarism of the population for difficult and dangerous
One of the means resortedto by the leadershipto create a broaddefinition
of securitywas Nahal (the acronymfor FightingPioneerYouth).This special
unit combinedcivil missions like agricultureand land settlementwith combat
roles. The civil missions, however, were part of the broad definition of
security. Whenever a dispute arose between the Defense Ministry and the
kibbutzmovementsover settlementsites for the youth movements'graduates
who comprised Nahal, the ministryhad the last word. To prevent such fric-
tion, the he'ahzut, the security settlement, was created. Its purposes were
based entirelyon militaryconsiderations:The he'ahzutwas the most complete
expression of using settlementfor militarypurposes.57
Nahal, thus, reconstructedsettlementand army into Siamese twins, never
to be separated. If a certain civilian image was attached to Nahal in the
soldiers' dress, their lax discipline, their loose sexual mores, in the informal,
communal relations within their units-and if the army made no effort to
reverse such tendencies, the goal was clear. The statist professionalarmy in
uniform was likely to arouse opposition in a country in which the socialist
ethos prevailed, labor partiesruled, and ideology strove as much to create a
voluntaristicsociety as to form a new state. The special arrangementsand
practices that brought about the nation-in-armsconstitutedthe leadership's
formulafor reconciliationand effectively merged voluntaristicwith coercive
elements. The IDF was not to be a classic state armybased on coercion only
but was to display elements of voluntarism,emotion, pioneering, comrade-
ship, and a militia-like ethos, all imputed to the nation's needs. Ben-
54 KnesetProtokol,August 19, 1952;Davar (daily newspaper),August 19, 20, 1952. See also
Baruch Kimmerling's article about Israel's conception of peace ("ExchangingTerritoriesfor
Peace: A MacrosociologicalApproach,"TheJournalof AppliedBehavioralScience, 23:1 [1987],
55 Mapai Center, January12, 1949, Mapai Archive.
56 Kneset Protokol, November 7, 1955.
57 Asnat Shiran, The Policy of SettlementDuring the IndependentWarand After (in Hebrew)
(Tel-Aviv:M. A. thesis, Tel-Aviv University, 1992), 197-98.

Gurion called it "statist pioneering"(halutziutmamlakhtit),explaining that

even though Israelpossessed a powerful instrumentof manifoldperformance,
meaning the state, it still needed pre-statepioneer endeavors.58Nahal was,
then, an extreme example of the general pattern, a fusion of the statist,
coercive, bureaucraticmechanism of mobilization with an emotional and
communal element, a synthesis that helped to mobilize the Israeli Jewish
Mass maneuvers were another means that served to construct a broad
concept of security. "Every exercise has its own mission," the daily news-
paper, Ha'aretz, informed its readers in the autumn of 1953, going on to
describe how that year's maneuversdifferedfrom previous ones of 1951 and
1952. Nor did the paper pass up the opportunityto publicize the army's
slogan: "Andyou, the citizen, sharein theirmission and theirsuccess."60The
large-scale maneuvers, like the reserves system, were the handiworkof the
chief of staff, Yigael Yadin. Throughthem Yadinwantedto test the idea of a
nation-in-arms.To dramatizehis point, Yadinin 1950 sent militarypolice to
arrestthe secretaryof the Finance Ministry,who had the impressionthat his
position exempted him from service. Yadin also demandedthat at least one
exercise be held with 100,000 troopsparticipating-virtually the entire army
that Israel would put into action in the event of a war.6'
The mass maneuvers blurredthe distinction between two types of time:
peace and war. The press provideddaily reportson the exercises: "A surprise
attack by the 'Reds' on the 'Blacks' in the air force maneuvers,"one paper
wrote. A few days later "paratroopsfrom the countryof the 'Yellows' "were
reportedto" have landed on the soil of the 'Blacks."' And three days after-
ward readers learned that "effortsby the 'Greens' to breach the lines of the
'Blues' were thwarted."The entire population was involved, as befitted a
nation-in-arms.While the maneuverswere in progress, a numberof incidents
occurredon the Egyptianborder,blurringthe line between trainingexercises
and real attacks. The uncertaintywas heightenedwhen Israeldenied, at first,
thatits soldiers had enteredthe demilitarizedzone, ascribingeverythingto the
Egyptians' over-vivid imagination.The press wrote that travelersin the Gal-
ilee (where the maneuverswere being held) were caught up in a war atmo-
sphere. The country'spresident,escortedby the chief of staff, touredthe area
of what were labeled battles. The day after his visit the IDF raided the
Jordanianvillage of Qibiyeh, this time "for real," killing some fifty inhabi-
tants and blowing up about forty houses. The United Nations and the Great
Powers were outragedat the scale of the operation, its brutality,and Israel's

Mapai Council, June 19, 1948, Mapai Archive.
59 Uri Ben-Eliezer, "Israel'sMyth of Pioneeringand the Elusive Distinction between Society
and State," in Megamot (forthcoming, 1995).
60 Haaretz,
September28, 1953.
61 Shabtai
Tevet, Moshe Dayan (Tel-Aviv:Shoken, 1971), 355.

violation of the armisticeaccords. The government,in contrast,continuedto

hold what it called "thoroughdiscussions on security."62
The Arab states had difficulty in acceptingthe idea that Jewish state could
exist in the Middle East. They, too, preparedfor a second round. Concur-
rently, Palestinians continued to infiltrate into Israel. At first these were
refugees seeking to return to their homes, and then they were sabotage-
and-murdersquads. The Israeli sense of security,however, cannot be under-
stood as the direct result of an objective situation. Rather, it was the prod-
uct of a politics that presentedmilitary action as the only viable alternative
to the Arab threats.Throughoutthe early 1950s, borderincidents-triggered
mainly by conflicting interpretationsof the armistice agreements, the sta-
tus of the demilitarizedzones, and the exact location of the boundaries-
occurredwith Syria, Jordan,and Egypt. The governmentdecided to reactvig-
orously. After Moshe Dayan was appointedchief of staff, at the end of 1953,
Israel opted particularlyfor reprisal, usually using the paratroopsto carry
it out.
Reportersfor the army weekly accompanyingthe fighting forces on their
missions acquaintedevery family in Israel with the daring bravery of the
soldiersthroughfirst-personarticlesandauthenticphotographs.63The reprisal
raids graduallyspawned a myth of heroic warriors;the nation esteemed its
militaryemissaries and made them symbols of the new Israel. Every young-
ster who was draftedinsisted on joining the Red Berets (the paratroops),and
those who were accepted became the pride of the family or neighborhood.64
In themselves, the borderdisputes and the infiltrationsdid not attest directly
to an imminent war but legitimized the creation of a crisis atmosphereand
justified the possibility of war as a means of solving political problems, a
phenomenonwhich is defined as militarism.
Althoughadmirationfor the armyintensified,the presscontinuedto demon-
ize the enemy anddownplaythe Israeli-Palestinianconflict. The armyjournal,
for example, rana series of articlesby a Dr. Sasson Ashrikiwhich were meant
to enlighten the readerabout "the Arabproblem."In them the refugees were
describedas "abandoners"and as "thejoker in the hands of the Arab states."
There was no refugee problem, the writerclaimed, stating that the refugees
were not interestedin returningbut were being incited by their leaders. Dr.
Ashriki also had a scoop: "Fortypercent of the abandonerswho receive aid
fromthe U.N.-do not even exist."65By the mid-1950s the Jewishpopulation
was given the opportunityto demonstrateits nationalcommitment.

Haaretz, October7, 12, 15, 21, 1953.
63 Bamachane,
September18, 1956; October3, 1956.
64 Teveth, Moshe Dayan, 399; Uzi Benziman, Sharon, an Israeli Caesar (New York:Adama
Books, 1985), 50; Uri Milstein, By Blood and Fire (in Hebrew;Tel-Aviv:Levine-Epstein, 1975)
65 Bamachane, October 5, 12, 1955.


At the end of September 1955, the arms deal between Czechoslovakia and
Egypt was made public; and a wave of popularvoluntarismswept the country
in the form of contributionsfor arms purchasesthroughwhat was called the
DefenderFund (KerenHamagen). The new immigrants,the so-called Second
Israel, now shared in a collective effort aimed at supplying the army with
funds. The press published the amounts donated and described the donors,
noting "the generalenthusiasmand manifestationsof mass voluntarismnever
before seen in the country."66
On October 21, the newspaperspublishedprice lists of weapons; and the
public began buying them. The Teachers'Association contributedan amount
sufficient to purchase one warplane and one tank. The Haifa City Council
decided to contributea torpedo boat to the navy. The Artisans' Association
purchaseda warplane. The City of RamatGan bought a transportplane and
one hundredparachutes. Discount Bank collected enough for a tank. The
town of Ramle's elected representativesdecided to purchase a tank to be
called "Ramle 1." At the same time the popularmanifestationscontinued. As
the cabinet was deliberatingthe Defender Fund, an elderly woman appeared
and donatedan ancientVenetianglass vase. A second womanturnedup at the
Prime Minister's Office with a heavy bracelet made of pure gold. Lydia
Balulu, motherof ten, who had received a childbearingprize of 100 pounds
sterling, donatedit to the fund. Schoolchildrenorganizedstreetparades, and
Yadin, the formerchief of staff, made an emotional appeal:"Parents,buy a
suit of iron, a suit of armorfor the defense of your children."67
The spontaneousorganizing attested to a sense of partnership,to proto-
nationalbonds.68The leadershiplost no time in directingthis outpouringof
feelings into channels it found desirable. Paradesand mass demonstrations
were organized,booths for donationsand special offices were set up; informa-
tion pamphlets were distributed;and two former chiefs of staff headed a
public committee which declared that it intended to raise $25 million for
purchasingweapons. This intense activity was based on both the leadership's
guidance and the public's active commitment.69This activity indicated the
success of a political method that sought to blur any distinction between
politics from above and from below. This was the nation-in-armsmanifested
not only as a policy of the leadershipor any other state agent but as a project
of all.70
Anotherexpressionof the "nation'sfinest hour"at that time was Operation
Wall (MivtzaHoma). The army did not want to budget funds for obviously
defensive purposes, such as developing civilian supportor fortifying settle-
66 Davar, October 21, 23, 1955. 67 Davar, October24, 25, 1955; November 5, 6, 1955.
Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism, 10-11.
69 HistadrutPolitical Committee, December 28, 1955, HistadrutArchive.
Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism, 46.

ments. The result was that non-governmentcompanies belonging to civil

institutions,such as the HistadrutFederationof Laborandthe Jewish Agency,
rallied to the cause of improvingthe defenses of bordersettlements. Workers
from the big cities volunteeredto help in the construction.The operationwas
made viable, thanksto the cooperationtypical betweenthe civilian companies
and the army,a clear indicationthatsecuritywas no longerpurely a projectof
the state and its bureaucracybut an enterpriseof the people. Gradually,the
campaign gatheredmomentum, becoming a mass movement that ultimately
encompassed more than 100,000 volunteersand 300 settlements.71
The Jacobinsin Francespoke of the need to turnhouses into fortresses.72In
Israel a similarnotion was put forward.As early as March 1951, Ben-Gurion
had stated in the Israeli parliamentthat it was essential for every settlement
and locality to be strengthenedand trainedto face the enemy.73A few years
later a Defense Ministryofficial, Shimon Peres, explainedthe significance of
OperationWall in termsof its contributionto the nation-in-armsmodel. Peres
noted that, until the nineteenthcenturywars had been fought by professional
soldiers whose goals were military strongholds. However, as national senti-
ment developed and as nations emerged, wars ceased to be a matter for
mercenariesand militarystrongholdswere no longer theironly target. Nowa-
days, he noted, soldiers and civilians were interchangeable.Today's soldier
would be tomorrow's civilian, and vice versa; today's civilian settlement
would be tomorrow'smilitarystronghold, and vice versa.74
The Jacobin state endeavoredto keep its citizens in a state of permanent
activity. Something of the same sort was also discernible through the mass
participationelicited by the Defender Fund and OperationWall in the new
Israel. This state of constant mobilization also led to the dominance of a
conceptionthatfound advantagesin the special situationof "neitherpeace nor
war."It was Dayan's formulation,and aroundthe same time the newspaperof
the ruling party published an article explaining that this should be regarded
not only as a descriptionof the actual, but also of the desirable, situation.The
absence of peace, the articlestressed, was not entirelya negative condition:It
highlightedthe nation and its mobilization, underscoredthe success of Israel
and the IDF as the "melting pot" of the exiles, and helped reduce class,
communal, and even party disparities.75
In the state's first years, the leadershipdescribedreality in terms of non-

71 MordechaiBar-On, The Gates of Gaza (in Hebrew) (Tel-Aviv:Am-Oved, 1992), 86-97;

MordechaiBar-On, Challenge and Quarrel, The Road to Sinai 1956 (in Hebrew) (Beer-Sheba:
Ben-GurionUniversity, 1991).
72 Hayes, The Historical Evolution of ModernNationalism, 43-83.
73 Kneset Protokol, March 5, 1951.
74 HistadrutCentralCommittee,
July 19, 1956, HistadrutArchive.
75 Chagai Eshed, "No Peace-No War,"Davar, October26, 1955.

peace. Now, however,thatrealitywas definedin the affirmative.In the profes-

sional literature,a frameof mindlike thatunderlyingthe news articleis known
as "positive militarism."76Its manifestationsin thatera were manifold. Thus,
the Actions Committee of the Histadrutlabor union felt that the emergency
situationand the warpreparationswould radicallyboost the economy, increase
tax collection, and lead to the total eliminationof corruptionand speculation
while motivating the young generationto new heights of voluntarism.77
The existence of positive militarismindicatedthat the nation was ready for
war. Ben-Gurionwas well-awareof this situationwhen he decided, on Octo-
ber 23, 1955, that Israel must go to war. Dayan supported the decision
enthusiasticallyand began preparingthe army.78The clock ran out quickly.
The IDF launched OperationsDetonation in order to provoke Nasser into
startingthe war.79During the springand summernearlyall the IDF's reserve
units were called up for trainingexercises. The deputy chief of staff, Major
GeneralHaim Laskov, issued a set of stringentnew orders, which became the
talk of the army, to streamline the mobilization of the reserves in a war
In Jacobin France, Lazare Carnotwas able to put the economy on a war
footing in orderto armand equip the troops. Coaches and horses were nation-
alized; artisans'workshopswere convertedto sewing uniforms;even church
bells and ritual objects were supposedly donated. Even writers and artists
rallied to the cause.81In Japan,as well, readinessfor war involved the whole
population. When the China Incident occurred, in the summerof 1937, the
purpose of the massive call-up was quite clear. A military academy report
described it: "National mobilization is intended to control and utilize all
human and materialresources in order to concentrateall available power in
the most effective manner. ... Humanresourcesinclude not only the actual
numberof soldiers, but also the spiritualpower, technicalability,and laborof
the nation."82Similarly, in Israel, the home front now also was readied for
war. The governmentset up two civilian committees to consider placing the
economy on an emergency footing, while the Knesset passed a law for the
mobilizationof civilian vehicles andheavy machineryfor militarypurposes.83
In June, Moshe Sharet, the moderate, left the government. "Once again I

"Militarism,"in Kerning,Marxism, Communismand WesternSociety.
77 Berl Reptur,HistadrutCentralCommittee, November 10, 1955; HistadrutArchive.
78 Kneset
Protokol, November 2, 1955.
79 Bar-On, The Gates of Gaza, 59-67; Bar-On, Challenge and Quarrel, 47-50.
80 Bar-On,
Challenge and Quarrel, 82.
81 Albert Soboul, The French Revolution, 1787-1799 (New York: Vintage Books, 1974),
Cook, "The JapaneseReserve Experience."
83 KnesetProtokol,June4, 1956; Bar-On,The Gates of Gaza, 103-4; Bar-On,Challenge and
Quarrel, 83-84.

asked myself," he wrote in his diary,"whetherthe emergenceof the assump-

tion that we are on the brinkof war and instilling [thatidea] in the minds of
the masses may not by itself become a factor which will finally bring about
war."84WasSharet'sconcernjustified?The presentarticleset out not to count
causal variablesfor warbut to deliniatethe way in which a fightingnationwas
constructedwith the idea of war as a reasonable,justifiablemeans for solving
political problems if there were no other choice. However, preparationsfor
war, certainly if they consist both of a massive callup of reserves and of
mental adjustment,might operatenot only as a conditionfor waging war but
also as one of its causes.85
The Prussian-German case is very interesting in this regard, as the
Blitzkrieg, Carl von Clausewitz'sfamous militarystrategy,turnedinto a poli-
tics of war through his loyal pupils. Count Helmuth von Moltke's idea of
"people's war," or that of the "nation-in-arms"of his military successor,
GeneralBaronColmarVon Der Goltz, provedhow narrowthe gap was indeed
between a strategicmeans and a political end. Totalwar became the ultimate
and only possible option;the whole of society was subordinatedto it, even in
peacetime; and Prussia-Germanybecame a warfarestate.86The Israeli case
and the Prussian-Germancase are so dissimilar that it is precisely their
common elements that are interestingand worth examining.
When the Israeli-Egyptian war finally broke out, it was the hour of the
whole nation. Jewish citizens were quickly mobilized, with the help of civil
institutions,like town halls or the bus company.Soon, no men of militaryage
were to be seen on the streets. Many left work;publictransportationcame to a
halt. The highly oiled machine of the nation-in-armsoperatedwith consider-
able efficiency to wage a quick, offensive, and successful war.
The victory was not only ascribedto the entirenationbut linked to its past.
Fourteenhundredyears earlier,Ben-Guriontold the Knesset, Jewish indepen-
dence had existed on the island of Yotvata(Tiran),south of Eilat, which had
been "liberated"two days before. Articles began to appearin the press about
Israel's historic right to the Sinai Peninsula. Davar, the newspaper of the
leading party,describedthe city of Gaza and the Sinai Peninsulaas "thecradle
of our transformationinto a nation and harbingersof hopes for the future."
The nation's historical attachmentto Mount Sinai was also reiterated(not-
withstandingthat its exact location is unknown). But no one outdid Ben-
Gurion, who in a message to a militaryceremonysummingup the fighting at
Sharm e-Sheikh, wrote that the soldiers had "stretchedout a hand to King
84 Moshe
Sharet, Personal Diary (in Hebrew) (Tel-Aviv:MaarivLibrary,1978), 1385 (April
3, 1956).
85 This was also
provenin the waitingperiodof July 1967 thatprecededthe Six-Days War.See
Horowitz, "StrategicLimitationsof 'A Nation in Arms,'" 285.
E.g., Stig Forster,"Facing'People War':Moltkethe Elderand Germany'sMilitaryOptions
after 1871," The Journal of Strategic Studies, 10:2 (1987), 209-29; V. R. Berghahn,Germany
and the Approachof Warin 1914 (London:Macmillan, 1973).

Solomon" and that the occupied areas would become part of Israel, part of
"the third Jewish kingdom." The message was replete with biblical expres-
sions and images, including a quotation from the Song of the Sea, which
warns other nations that Israel is strong and triumphantbecause the Lord is
with them.87Thus, the nation'spast, or its interpretationof thatpast, was also
mobilized in order to justify war and conquest.
In short order, however, Israel was forced to withdrawfrom Sinai under
pressurefrom the United Nations and an ultimatumof the superpowers.It is
possible that Ben-Gurionlearned a lesson from Sinai, as his views became
more moderateafterward.88But the mechanismof the nation-in-arms,to the
creation of which Ben-Gurioncontributedso powerfully, continued to func-
tion decades later.

Based on the literaturewhich emphasizes the centralityof the state and the
state's elite in the making of a nation, this essay dealt with the way in which
an ethnic populationwas constructedas a nation-in-arms.Following the his-
torical precedentsand the data on Israel, the nation-in-armsshould be seen as
a form of militaristicpolitics characterizedby the attemptto turnthe affairsof
the militaryand the imminenceof war into the business of the whole popula-
tion, making them the nation's occupationand concern.
In contrastto the 1948 war, which was characterizedby insufficientprepa-
rations and the lack of a plan for activating the entire population, the 1956
Sinai Campaignwas the resultof lengthy preparationsby the state. It included
not only the creationof a strongmass armybut also practicesthatblurredthe
distinction between civil and military,a broad definition of security, and the
inculcation of the ideas that war is not always the less-preferredchoice and
that peace is not always worth the price.
Scholarsof Israelimilitarysociology have tendedto cite the nation-in-arms
as a mechanismthat enables regularcivilian life to proceed underconditions
of war. It does not preventdemocracyand does not encouragemilitarycoups
because it provides a link between the needs of the nation and the interestsof
the army in a situation of war. These scholars continued the traditionthat
started perhaps with FrederickStern's famous, but politically biased 1957
book, The CitizenArmy,and continuedwith Janowitz,Rappoport,Luckham,
and others89;all can be labelled under the category of the "civil-military
paradigm."This article describes the Israeli nation-in-armsdifferently-as

87 Davar, November7, 1956; Bamachane,

January18, 1957;Bar-On,Challengeand Quarrel,
88 Yonatan
Shapiro,TheRoad to Power,HerutPartyin Israel (New York:SUNY Press, 1990),
89 Fritz
Ster, The Citizen Army,Key to Defense in the Atomic Age (New York:St. Martin
Press, 1957). See also note 9.

one in which the populationwas constructedas a fighting nation, not for the
sake of a liberal democracybut for the purposeof war. Although the current
theory claims that since the modem state requiredthe population to under-
write its expendituresas taxpayersor to serve in the wars as conscript sol-
diers, it was forced to pay attention to the opinions of its subjects and,
therefore, gave them a voice-in the Swedish expression:"one soldier, one
rifle, one vote"-generally throughvarious kinds of elected bodies.90 I sug-
gest a different model. According to the nation-in-armsdescribed here, the
population'sthrustfor political participationand involvement,partof Israel's
political culture, is channeledto non-liberalcollectivistic patternsof serving
in the army for the sake of the nation.91
In analyzing Israel as a nation-in-arms,in historical and political, rather
than in functional terms, I intended not to demonstratea case of an excep-
tionally high degree of manpowermobilizationfor a possible war but, rather,
to presentthe nation-in-armsas a mechanismcomposed of both rationaland
emotionalelements, therebyblurringthe differencebetween civilian and mili-
tary institutionsand turningthem into one entity. Thus, the business of war
becomes something embedded within the spirit of the nation, a part of the
orderof things. In this respect, the Israelicase resemblesFrance,Prussia, and
Japanduringcertainhistoricalperiods. Anothersimilaritylies in the fact that
in these cases the nation-in-armsis the result of both party and national
politics. It is in fact the combinationof these two variables, the internaland
the external,which makesthe nation-in-armsan importantmodel, not perhaps
as an explanatoryvariablefor wars but certainlyas a variablefor describing
the culturalconditionsthatmake war a legitimate, even necessary,possibility.
Ever since the Sinai Campaign, Israel has been a nation-in-armsas the
resultof an institutionalprocess thatbegan with a deliberatepolicy and ended
with a mechanism that embodies "the will of the nation"no less than "the
power of the state."Israelis a nation-in-arms,not only because it continuesto
have a mass national army that is involved in wars but because its wars and
territorialoccupationsare not carriedout by the army alone. In practice, this
means that various organizationsthat are supposed to be civil-such as the
bus monopoly (Egged), the civilian armed settlers and the Civil Administra-
tion in the occupied territories,the Society for the Preservationof Nature-
are all engaged in security missions and tasks.
Israel, as a nation-in-arms,displays as well, social institutions that are
located on the seam between the civil and the militaryand functionto fuse the
two spheresinto one entity. To enumeratesome of them: Galei Zahal, a radio
station staffed by both civilians and soldiers;voluntaryassociations, like the
90 S. E. Finer, "StateBuilding, State Boundariesand BorderControl,"Social Science Infor-
mation, 13 (1974), 79-126; Hobsbawm,Nations and Nationalism, 80.
91 Uri Ben-Eliezer, "The Meaningof Political Participationin a Non-LiberalDemocracy:The
Israeli Example," ComparativePolitics, 25:4 (June 1983).

Civil Guard (HamishmarHae'zrahi) that de-emphasize differences between

the soldier and the citizen and between civilian supportandthe military'sfront
line; and KerenLibi, a fund for raising money from the public for the army.
A nation-in-armsmeans, as well, retiredgenerals, affiliatedwith eitherleft-
wing or right-wingpolitical parties, setting aside their political differencesto
fight together against the "ultra-Orthodoxshirking"of military service or
organizingin orderto demonstratecomradeshipwith one of theirnumberwho
is attackedin the media for not ever taking part in a combat war.92It means
also the parentswho take an active part, with the army's encouragement,in
their children's military service.93Despite some changes within the last few
years, one could still find many more examples in Israelof social institutions
and arrangementsthat contributeto a situationin which the entire nation is
preoccupiedwith, and mobilized in, matterspertainingto organizedmeans of
violence and places this preoccupationat its center.

92 YediotAchronot (daily newspaper),November 29, 1988.

93 YediotAchronot, May 12, 1992; Davar, May 15, 1992.