Blood in the Same Mud
THE MINORITY OF BLACKS IN SOUTH AFRICA who served in the armed forces under apartheid have been called “soldiers without politics.”1 This may be a provocative oversimplification, but their decisions to enlist certainly suggest a departure from the standard assumed ethnic, racial, national, or religious politics of soldiering. There are many cases from around the globe and from different times where soldiers similarly appear to be fighting in the wrong military, on the wrong side. These cases disrupt common, usually nationalistic, assumptions about why soldiers fight wars. From Kurds in the Turkish military fighting Kurdish rebels, Algerians fighting with the French against Algerian independence, or I ndians serving in the colonial British Indian Army, these soldiers complicate tidy understandings of military conflict as occurring between two (or more) separate and bounded groups. They confuse this imagined order and suggest a more complex understanding of ethnic conflict.
In the case of the Israeli–Arab conflict, the story often told is that Jews and Arabs have hated each other from time immemorial, for centuries, always. Hence the military conflict of today.2 The story I tell here is different. Palestinian citizens of Israel who volunteer to serve in the Israeli military frame their military service as an attempt—often failed—at upgrading their citizenship status in Israel. Those who are resentful or bitter are not so because of personal animosity or a clash of civilizations—but