We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Israel's Death Hierarchy

Casualty Aversion in a Militarized Democracy

Yagil Levy

Publication Year: 2012

Whose life is worth more?
That is the question that states inevitably face during wartime. Which troops are thrown to the first lines of battle and which ones remain relatively intact? How can various categories of civilian populations be protected? And when front and rear are porous, whose life should receive priority, those of soldiers or those of civilians? In Israel's Death Hierarchy, Yagil Levy uses Israel as a compelling case study to explore the global dynamics and security implications of casualty sensitivity. Israel, Levy argues, originally chose to risk soldiers mobilized from privileged classes, more than civilians and other soldiers. However, with the mounting of casualty sensitivity, the state gradually restructured what Levy calls its “death hierarchy” to favor privileged soldiers over soldiers drawn from lower classes and civilians, and later to place enemy civilians at the bottom of the hierarchy by the use of heavy firepower. The state thus shifted risk from soldiers to civilians. As the Gaza offensive of 2009 demonstrates, this new death hierarchy has opened Israel to global criticism.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (70.6 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (70.5 KB)
pp. vii-viii

List of Figures and Tables

pdf iconDownload PDF (71.5 KB)
pp. ix

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (59.7 KB)
pp. xi

I am indebted to a large number of people and institutions for help with this book. I thank my colleagues who commented on various parts of the book: Aluf Benn, Jonathan Caverley, Stuart Cohen, Yinon Cohen, Tamar Hermann, Gur Huberman, Jef Huysmans, Engin Isin, Xavier Guillaume, Ronald Krebs, Zeev Lerer, Edna-Lomsky-Feder, Oded Löwenheim, Zeev Maoz, Gil Merom, ...

read more

Preface from the Series Editor

pdf iconDownload PDF (72.0 KB)
pp. xiii

The Warfare and Culture series seeks the connections between a society’s beliefs and values and the ways in which its military forces express those in their operations. In short, how does culture affect operations, battle, strategy, planning, doctrine formation, and more? In the modern world, few aspects of a society are more significant to military planning and operations than ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (111.8 KB)
pp. 1-13

In July 2006, Israel launched a full-scale war against Lebanon in response to the abduction of two soldiers by Hezbollah militiamen on the border between Israel and Lebanon. Initially, the government ruled out a ground operation, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) deployed the Air Force. However, when aerial assaults failed to stop the rockets that Hezbollah began ...

read more

1 The Right to Protect and the Right to Protection

pdf iconDownload PDF (153.3 KB)
pp. 15-35

As argued in the Introduction, an unequal burden that also guarantees rewards to those bearing the burden establishes the state’s capacity to provide protection to its citizens by sacrificing its young people. Thus, the implementation of the Hobbesian contract is anchored in a social hierarchy that creates a balanced affinity between two sets of rights—the right to protect and the ...

read more

2 Unbalancing and Balancing the Rights

pdf iconDownload PDF (204.8 KB)
pp. 37-69

This chapter presents the dynamics of rights matching in Israel. Until the 1980s, rights were balanced: in exchange for upholding the right to protect, which was convertible to political and social rights, the secular middle class advanced the community’s right to protection. The legitimation of sacrifice, however, declined after the 1980s, following a drop in the motivation of the ...

read more

3 Bereavement-Motivated Collective Actors

pdf iconDownload PDF (203.4 KB)
pp. 71-108

As we showed in chapter 2, after the 1970s, motivation for military service lessened among privileged groups. This was reflected, inter alia, in the framing of a subversive bereavement discourse. The fourth balancing strategy, burden distribution, gradually but imperfectly shifted the tone from a subversive to a submissive discourse. Still, sensitivity to casualties remained a ...

read more

4 Bereavement-Motivated Collective Actors: A Comparison

pdf iconDownload PDF (139.7 KB)
pp. 109-126

To further understand the workings and impact of bereavement-motivated collective actors and to validate the conceptual framework offered in chapter 3, which highlighted the role of the mode of recruitment in mediating collective actors’ ability to leverage the politics of war, in this chapter I compare the Four Mothers movement to Gold Star Families for Peace in the ...

read more

5 The Death Hierarchy

pdf iconDownload PDF (143.2 KB)
pp. 127-146

As attested to by the prudence shown by the military in deploying its ground forces in the Gazan and Lebanese arenas, the episodes with which this book opened, and the post-Second Lebanon War protest, the balancing strategies the state employed were partially effective, and limitations on risking soldiers’ lives remained in force. ...

read more

6 Casualty Sensitivity Breeds High Lethality

pdf iconDownload PDF (196.4 KB)
pp. 147-180

Right after Operation Cast Lead, in which Israel attacked the Hamas mini-state in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, Israel was globally criticized for excessive use of lethal force, leading to the deaths of about 1,400 Palestinians, about half of them noncombatants, while Israel sacrificed only a few soldiers (B’Tselem 2009). When the offensive ended, it became clear that the ...

read more

7 Casualty Sensitivity and Political-Military Relations

pdf iconDownload PDF (172.6 KB)
pp. 181-203

Casualty aversion may affect the balance of power between generals and policymakers and therefore affect civilian control over the armed forces. As democracies suffer fewer military casualties in their wars than do other regimes (Valentino et al. 2010), this inevitably extends to the way democracies control their militaries. In the end, the willingness to pay the costs of war is one ...

read more

8 Conclusions

pdf iconDownload PDF (91.4 KB)
pp. 205-213

Inspired by the overwhelming casualty sensitivity that appeared in Israeli society in the first decade of the 2000s, this book has tackled the fundamental issue of how the state manages its citizens’ lives and deaths by prompting individuals to be willing to sacrifice their lives for their country. Adequate answers were not found in the existing literature on casualty ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (88.2 KB)
pp. 215-217


pdf iconDownload PDF (206.1 KB)
pp. 219-239


pdf iconDownload PDF (1003.5 KB)
pp. 243-255

read more

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (55.9 KB)
pp. 256

Yagil Levy is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, Political Science, and Communication at the Open University of Israel. His current research interests include the theoretical aspects of relations between society and the military and the linkage between Israel’s war/peace policies and the social structure of the military. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814753354
E-ISBN-10: 0814753345
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814753347

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Casualty aversion (Military science) -- Israel.
  • Civil-military relations -- Israel.
  • Israel -- Military policy.
  • Israel. Tseva haganah le-Yiśraʼel -- Regulations.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access