This morning, four social justice and anti-occupation groups—the Women’s Coalition for Peace, the Alternative Information Center, Yesh Gvul, and New Profile—placed a joint advertisement on the front page of Haaretz. The ad reads:
No to the Elections War! We refuse war and the spilling of blood. We refuse the wave of hatred and incitement against the residents of Gaza. We refuse the abandonment of the South for political spin. Join us for demonstrations and protest actions throughout the country.
When a country goes to war, the population is expected to unify, and usually largely complies. “We refuse” is a declaration of disobedience, shared by these protesters in Tel Aviv last night. It echoes the slogan of the women’s peace movement and the Israeli communist party, “we refuse to be enemies” with Palestinians.
Hebrew readers will recognize the unusual use of the feminine plural form, which technically should only be used in reference to an entirely female audience. The feminine here is a direct and deliberate subversion of hegemonic Israeli culture—a culture of militarized masculinity, where it’s hard if not impossible to untangle the close affinities between manhood, heroism, and military answers to every question.
The feminist peace movement has long used the feminine form in Hebrew to speak for the women and men who are part of the movement, signaling that their struggle is not only against the current manifestation of military aggression nor the occupation itself but rather a larger, more fundamental struggle. Theirs is the struggle to remake Israeli society from the inside as a non-militaristic society, where an individual’s worth isn’t judged according to military contributions, and where the state’s most important institutions—from the government to education to the financial sector—aren’t topped by former combat soldiers.
When war comes, Israelis are told to be quiet (“shhh, we’re shooting”) and the absence of women in decision-making capacities becomes all the more stark. Progressive American Jews, too, are told to get in line behind Netanyahu. But shouts of protest and voices of refusal—both here and there—are being heard, even from the bomb shelters in southern Israel. This Ha’aretz ad tells us that using the feminine form of Hebrew offers space for new thoughts and possibilities that have traditionally been closed off. Subverting that tradition—creating that space, generating those ideas, and interrupting this violence that so quickly spins out of control—is of the utmost urgency.