‘I thought it was a song but it turned out to be a siren’: civilian listening during wartime in Israel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


From warning sirens to loud booms in the sky; from tweaked radio playlists to the silence of a military funeral, sound is central to the civilian experience of wartime in Israel. Drawing upon public discourse among Jewish-Israelis during periods of armed conflict with Hamas militants in Gaza during 2012 and 2014, this article explores practices of civilian listening and sounding during times of national emergency. More than just making the ears prick, wartime sounds are implicated in an assemblage of bodily action: stimulating the body to move, prompting vocal responses and serving as a focal point for conversation. Recent work in ethnomusicology has sought to theorise soundscapes and listening practices during wartime–yet most work to date has focused on combatants. Building on previous literature in sound studies and on civil preparedness, in this article I focus on wartime regimes of civilian listening, arguing that embodied listening and sounding practices index a reconfiguration of the relationship between the state and its citizens, characterised by mutually co-constructed vigilance, and articulating consensual models of disciplined citizenship that help to sustain collective resilience, yet which also reinforce ethnonational divisions in society and bolster neoliberal practices of securitisation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-204
Number of pages20
JournalEthnomusicology Forum
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I would like to thank the Woolf Institute, University of Cambridge, for the 2019 visiting fellowship which gave me time to finish this article, the materials for which had been resonating in my head since the first siren sounded in Jerusalem in 2012. I am grateful to Moshe Morad for insightful conversations about soundscapes during the 2014 war, and to Lauren Aarons, Toni Baum, Jojo Carmel, Shvat Eilat, Sarah Goldberg, Razia Ilan, Elhanan Miller, Benjamin Rutland, Shaul Vardi and Ruvi Ziegler for their helpful comments on specific issues discussed in this paper. Many thanks to the audiences at the several conferences and seminars where I presented this material for their insightful questions, and to the two anonymous reviewers and to Henry Stobart for their helpful suggestions. All errors of interpretation, however, are my own.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Israel-Palestine
  • Operation Protective Edge
  • Wartime sound
  • auditory culture
  • securitisation
  • sirens
  • soundscape

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Music


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