For the past few days Haaretz has carried numerous stories about the riveting eyewitness testimony from IDF officers concerning cold-blooded murders of unarmed Palestinian civilians. The second day of their testimony wasn’t available in the English edition of Haaretz last night, which was why I translated excerpts. But Haaretz now does have the English version available in a fuller translation than my own hastily composed one.
Iris Hefets also informs me that Israeli blogger and seruvnik Idan Landau has compared Haaretz’s Hebrew version of the eyewitness transcript to the original and finds several telling phrases omitted (he uses the term “censored”). If you read Hebrew you can follow that interesting sidebar of the main story.
Tonight I wanted to bring you an equally distressing story which tells of the budding fashion sense of IDF soldiers who, when they return from killing Gazans, boast of personalized T-shirts that they design often with the approval of their IDF superior officers. To be clear, the shirts are not officially sanctioned by the IDF. But the phenomenon is so widespread and tone of the slogans so toxic, that the IDF might just as well have endorsed them.
Here are some of the slogans:
A “graduation” shirt for those who have completed another snipers course depicts a Palestinian baby, who grows into a combative boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, “No matter how it begins, we’ll put an end to it.”
There are also plenty of shirts with blatant sexual messages. For example, the Lavi battalion produced a shirt featuring a drawing of a soldier next to a young woman with bruises, and the slogan, “Bet you got raped!” A few of the images underscore actions whose existence the army officially denies – such as “confirming the kill” (shooting a bullet into an enemy victim’s head from close range, to ensure he is dead)…”We won’t chill ’til we confirm the kill.”
The [T-shirt] slogan “Let every Arab mother know that her son’s fate is in my hands!” [is accompanied by] a drawing depicting a soldier as the Angel of Death, next to a gun and an Arab town,” he explains. “The text was very powerful. The funniest part was that when our soldier came to get the shirts, the man who printed them was an Arab, and the soldier felt so bad that he told the girl at the counter to bring them to him.”
When are these shirts worn?
G. [soldier in an elite unit]: “These are shirts for around the house, for jogging, in the army. Not for going out. Sometimes people will ask you what it’s about.”
Of the shirt depicting a bull’s-eye on a pregnant woman, he said: “…It doesn’t really mean anything. I mean it’s not like someone is gonna go and shoot a pregnant woman.”
What is the idea behind the shirt from July 2007, which has an image of a child with the slogan “Smaller – harder!”?
“It’s a kid, so you’ve got a little more of a problem, morally, and also the target is smaller.”
A shirt printed after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza for Battalion 890 of the Paratroops depicts a King Kong-like soldier in a city under attack. The slogan is unambiguous: “If you believe it can be fixed, then believe it can be destroyed!”
Y., a soldier/yeshiva student, designed the shirt. “You take whoever [in the unit] knows how to draw and then you give it to the commanders before printing,” he explained.
What is the soldier holding in his hand?
Y.: “A mosque. Before I drew the shirt I had some misgivings, because I wanted it to be like King Kong, but not too monstrous. The one holding the mosque – I wanted him to have a more normal-looking face, so it wouldn’t look like an anti-Semitic cartoon. Some of the people who saw it told me, ‘Is that what you’ve got to show for the IDF? That it destroys homes?’ I can understand people who look at this from outside and see it that way, but I was in Gaza and they kept emphasizing that the object of the operation was to wreak destruction on the infrastructure, so that the price the Palestinians and the leadership pay will make them realize that it isn’t worth it for them to go on shooting. So that’s the idea of ‘we’re coming to destroy’ in the drawing.”
This past January, the “Night Predators” demolitions platoon from Golani’s Battalion 13 ordered a T-shirt showing a Golani devil detonating a charge that destroys a mosque. An inscription above it says, “Only God forgives.”
One of the soldiers in the platoon downplays it: “It doesn’t mean much, it’s just a T-shirt from our platoon. It’s not a big deal. A friend of mine drew a picture and we made it into a shirt.”
What’s the idea behind “Only God forgives”?
The soldier: “It’s just a saying.”
No one had a problem with the fact that a mosque gets blown up in the picture?
“I don’t see what you’re getting at. I don’t like the way you’re going with this. Don’t take this somewhere you’re not supposed to, as though we hate Arabs.”
…After Operation Cast Lead, soldiers from that battalion printed a T-shirt depicting a vulture sexually penetrating Hamas’ prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, accompanied by a particularly graphic slogan.
There is one penetrating critique of the entire phenomenon by an academic sociologist from none other than Bar Ilan University (affiliated with the Orthodox community):
Sociologist Dr. Orna Sasson-Levy, of Bar-Ilan University…said that the phenomenon is “part of a radicalization process the entire country is undergoing, and the soldiers are at its forefront. I think that ever since the second intifada there has been a continual shift to the right. The pullout from Gaza and its outcome – the calm that never arrived – led to a further shift rightward.
“This tendency is most strikingly evident among soldiers who encounter various situations in the territories on a daily basis. There is less meticulousness than in the past, and increasing callousness. There is a perception that the Palestinian is not a person, a human being entitled to basic rights, and therefore anything may be done to him.”
Could the printing of clothing be viewed also as a means of venting aggression?
Sasson-Levy: “No. I think it strengthens and stimulates aggression and legitimizes it. What disturbs me is that a shirt is something that has permanence. The soldiers later wear it in civilian life; their girlfriends wear it afterward. It is not a statement, but rather something physical that remains, that is out there in the world. Beyond that, I think the link made between sexist views and nationalist views, as in the ‘Screw Haniyeh’ shirt, is interesting. National chauvinism and gender chauvinism combine and strengthen one another. It establishes a masculinity shaped by violent aggression toward women and Arabs; a masculinity that considers it legitimate to speak in a crude and violent manner toward women and Arabs.”
I don’t think it’s right to blame the soldiers for expressions of such hatred, violence and racism. They are mere projections of the society and military command from which they spring. The generals and politicians, and behind them the Israeli people make these young boys who they are. They fill them with the ideas rolling around in their brains. The soldiers are doing Israel’s bidding.
It is all too common and almost hackneyed to warn how the Occupation has corrupted Israeli society. But these images and slogans bring that message home terribly clearly. Especially when you read the flummoxed soldier who becomes angry with the reporter and warns him not to take the slogans the wrong way lest he think his boys “hate Arabs.” Of course they hate Arabs. They were brought to do so. And they have so little contact with a real Palestinian that they can easily delude themselves into believing that they don’t actually hate them. The truth is they don’t know them and it is terribly easy to hate what you don’t know.
In fact, I often think that about readers and commenters here who vent their disgusting racist and hateful comments both towards me personally and Arabs in general (and a few toward Israelis). They don’t know me. They don’ t even have to see or meet me to write the things they do. This makes the hating all the easier.
But returning to the soldiers and their hate, this is what the Occupation does to Israel. It causes citizens to express and believe ideas whose content even they deny. I can’t think of anything more corrupting, more corrosive to a people than being yoked with an albatross like this which drains the vitality and common sense from body and brain.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.