Doing security or doing military in Israel- why does it matter?

When you visit Israel for the first time you see uniforms everywhere and you might mistake the many soldiers on the streets for police officers or private security guards.  If you can tell them apart, you might even ask: “hey, aren’t they all doing the same thing?”

This is a common thought process and in many ways these different actors tend to be seen as one and the same and all part of an important national security effort to defend Israel and its population. However, when I started to talk to private security professionals in Israel, I was surprised by something that they kept on telling me.  They told me that no matter how important it was that a security guard had been through military service, it was even more important to have him[1] unlearn his military skills in order to for him to be able to learn new security-related skills. As a curious researcher, this made me very interested in the relationships between military identities and private security identities in Israel. Why was it so important to emphasize the differences between the soldier and the security guard, and what did it mean for those professionals?

Time to mull over identity. Photocredit: Israel Defense Forces (Relaxation) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I realized that security actors in Israel go back and forth between these different identities, sometimes emphasizing their military careers and sometimes emphasizing how security work requires much more than just a military background. This back and forth takes place in a society that is very militarized, meaning that the military is not only materially present (it is commonplace to see soldiers in the streets and military vehicles on the road), but that “things military” seep into every corner of society and its members’ minds. This is because in Israeli society, completion of a (combat) military service is crucial in order to be seen as a “good citizen.”

When the military is so important for a society, former members of this institution, such as generals, officers and the like, need to show that they are still worthy. What I saw during my fieldwork was that private security professionals would emphasize that completing a military service was crucial for new recruits, but not for the reasons I expected.  The military skills of shooting and patrolling, for example, were seen as not useful at all for good security work, in which other tactics were needed and different guns were used.

With all of this in mind, in my Open Access article I demonstrate how Israeli security professionals show us a new kind of militarism that is not solely dependent on a completed (high level) military career but also on (private) security skills.  By emphasizing the added value of their work in the private sector, these actors can further secure their status in a militarized society like Israel. In this way we can understand more about how military service and security work- as well as the relationships between them- influence our societies in ways we might not be aware of.

[1] High level security guards are almost always men

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