There was once a time when Israeli songs like A Matter of Habit were routinely written, aired and became hits. These were songs of political commentary or protest, songs of hope and idealism. They represented the aspirations of Israel’s secular liberal (generally Ashkenazi) elite. But that was long ago.
Which is why the popularity of A Matter of Habit is so extraordinary in today’s political context. The song, sung by Izhar Ashdot and written by Alona Kimche, speaks of how an Israeli soldier begins slowly to become degraded to his own humanity and that of the Palestinians among whom he patrols. It’s not only a powerful political and social statement, it has those infectious pop “hooks” that are the mark of a lasting hit. As we used to say way back in the 1960s when such music was popular here: it’s got a message and you can dance to it.
The song’s popularity will no doubt be amplified by a ban that Galey Tzahal, Israeli armed forces radio, slapped on the song for “degrading” the IDF. I’m always amazed that whenever the misdeeds of the IDF are documented and criticized that doing so somehow in itself becomes an inhuman or degrading act. So goes the logic of the oppressor who never knows or understands his own power and oppressive acts.
Here’s a peek into the mind of the military oppressors:
The radio station announced that “Due to the song’s contents, which debase IDF soldiers, the station commander decided that there is no room on Army Radio to publicly celebrate a song that denigrates and denounces those that have sacrificed their life for the defense of the country.”
The statement continued, “the artist Izhar Ashdot is held in high esteem by Army Radio. In this specific case however, we believe with the artistic leeway afforded to artists by this station, Army Radio, as a station of soldiers, where many soldiers perform their military serve, should avoid celebrating a song that demonizes those soldiers.”
It appears that the soldiers of the IDF are so fragile that they cannot withstand even a bit of scrutiny or introspection without collapsing into a morass of self-doubt and moral paralysis. God forbid that any such soldier should question himself or his comrades. The entire military order might collapse leaving Israel defenseless before the massing hordes of Arab enemies.
Here are the lyrics translated into English:
Chorus: Learning to kill is a matter of a push
It begins with something small, then it comes easier
Patrolling all night in the Nablus casbah
Hey, what here is ours and what’s yours?
The beginning is an experiment
A rifle butt banging on the door
Fearful children, a terrified family
Then a closure, there’s already danger
Death lies in wait around every corner
You cock your weapon and your arm trembles
Your finger tightens around the trigger
Your heart goes crazy, beats in fright
It knows that the next one will be a lot easier.
They aren’t men or women
They’re only things and shadow
Learning to kill is a matter of routine.
Tidings from on high fall upon the streets
There’s no chance of life going on
The end is near
Prophecies of terror
Like the cries of ravens
Lock the shutters
Seal yourself in your homes
We’re but a handful
And they are so many
A tiny country devoured by enemies
In their hearts there’s only hatred, evil intent and darkness
Learning to fear is a matter of habit.
Learning cruelty is a matter of a push
It begins with something small, and then gets easier
Every boy is a man thirsting for conquests
Hands behind the head, feet spread apart
It’s a time of danger, a time of terror
A solder who weakens isn’t worthy of mercy
Your cousin is like an animal
He’s used to seeing blood.
He doesn’t feel any pain
He’s not a human being.
A field uniform, a jock itch, exhaustion and routine.
The distance between stupidity and evil is short.
The land of Israel is ours and ours alone
Learning cruelty is a matter of habit.
Little boy, little boy stop
Little boy, little boy come back
Come to me sweetheart
Come to me my baby
The skies are threatening and it’s gloomy outside
Your tin soldiers are still here under your bed
Come on home little boy
Learning to love is a matter of tenderness
With a careful step
Into a gentle cloud
We hesitate and melt
Become soft and round around the edges
Learning to love is a matter of habit.
Being a human being is a matter of a push
Conceived like a fetus and then delivered
For a moment to be only here, only today
And to be on the other side of the checkpoint
But our heart’s already become coarsened
Our skin thickened
Deaf and blind in a bubble of this present
In wonder we’ll watch the falling angel
To be a human being is a matter of habit.
The images in the video don’t just represent the lyrics, they expand upon them visually and reinforce them. They’re a work of art in themselves. The last image, as Ashdot sings of a falling angel and being a human being, shows an angel’s wings falling away revealing the bruised back of a tortured Palestinian prisoner. It’s the ultimate subversion of the standard Israeli narrative for the lyricist to picture the Palestinian as the angel and the Israeli as his torturer. This ironic twist brings home the message that we Israelis have become these torturers, but we must strive to be human beings instead.
That such a song, summoning Israelis to return to their innate humanity and turn away from the brutes they’ve become, should be censored by Israeli media is the crowning commentary on what latter-day Israel has become. The YouTube video has now been viewed 150,000 times with nearly three times as many Dislikes as Likes. It’s apparently hit a very raw nerve.