The Fantasy of Humanizing Israel’s Soldiers

Sunday 6 June 202111:18 am
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The crimes of the occupation army that accompanied the recent bombing of the Gaza Strip have once again exposed the true face of Israel. Its abhorrent targeting of civilians, as well as the killing and intimidation of children have significantly contributed to mobilizing public opinion to having a more sympathetic attitude towards the Palestinians and their cause.

In an attempt to get a jump on the situation before it gets too out of hand, accounts affiliated with the Israeli war machine are waging a “soft war” on social media, in a bid to whitewash the image of the occupation army and “humanize” its soldiers. They are also trying to portray the military men as “good” people that love, have a good time, and build snowmen in order to cover up their atrocities towards the Palestinian people.

This battle is nothing new to the Israelis, but perhaps, it never has been this intense.

An Aesthetic that Masks the Ugliness of Colonialism

Several days ago, the Palestinian website “Metras” addressed the presence of Israeli occupation soldiers on social media, starting with Israeli female recruits showcasing their charms via Instagram in a “distorted ‘aesthetic’ pattern that masks the absolute ugliness and barbarity of the colonial machine.” It also addresses posts flaunting the participation of occupation soldiers in military operations in Palestinian cities, in addition to the boasting of accounts belonging to the occupation army about the “humanitarian” stories and the humane side of its soldiers, such as supporting cancer patients.

“Pretty” female recruits showcasing their charm and soldiers having fun and building snowmen... The occupation army is waging a “soft war” via social media to whitewash its image and humanize its soldiers

“Metras” sees that everything published by these accounts — most of which are official and/or funded in attempts to “humanize” soldiers of the occupation — is “an open invitation for recruitment in front of the foreign ‘friends of the army’, and heralds the next adventure that the military service will carry out” via promoting, at times, because some recruits prefer to spend their honeymoon “on the front lines” rather than through travel and in resorts.

This is an age-old practice that has evolved and is now getting more intense. On Valentine’s Day in 2019, the official account of the Israeli occupation army on Facebook (IDF) posted a video clip in English that included “special” greetings by its soldiers for this day. It showed the soldiers’ messages of ardent love and devoted affection to their weapons and military dogs, seeing as they are their “work partners”.

While Israel continues to systematically violate the Lebanese borders and airspace, Israeli occupation soldiers took advantage of the 77th anniversary of Lebanon’s independence to send their “greetings” to the Lebanese people, filled with cloaked political messages. The greetings posted on a number of various occasions — the month of Ramadan, and religious and national holidays, among others — fall within the framework of positioning Israel as a partner “nation” to the surrounding countries and positioning the occupation army as a central institution.

The symbolizing of Israel or wholly summing it up with the occupation army alone is something that is associated with the colonial nature of the Israeli society. That is why it is not surprising that they attempt to export or transmit an exaggerated image of the “heroism” of these soldiers and marginalize everything else in a way that would contribute to reproducing the centrality of the army in Israeli society.

There’s an attempt to represent the occupation army as an Eden, a place where soldiers prefer to spend their honeymoon instead of resorts. But the suicide rates, mental health disorders, cases of sexual assault and military service deserters expose another reality

Reality is a “Jungle”

Behind this illusory and misleading “rosy” image that the occupation army seeks to paint through social media, there lies the bitter truth. As was indicated in the film “Leviah” (Hebrew for lioness) — which exposes the rampant sexual violations and abuse of female soldiers in the occupation army — it can be said that joining the Israeli army is “like living in a jungle”, where no laws, no morals, and no humanity are honored or respected.

According to the latest figures of the Manpower Directorate of the Israeli occupation army, 28 soldiers were killed in 2020, including nine that had ended their own lives, while four were rescued while on the verge of committing suicide. These numbers compare to the 27 total deaths in 2019 that included 12 suicides, bearing in mind that the occupation army has used “technological capabilities of detection” to address and prevent instances of suicide among its soldiers.

Not to mention the continuous annual rise in reports, and not just cases, of sexual harassment and physical abuse against the male and female soldiers of the occupation army.

Last February, the Israel Hayom newspaper reported an abnormal increase, calling it an “aberrant jump of 24%” in the number of reports of sexual assault and abuse within the occupation army during the year of 2020 alone, with “1,542 official complaints about military sexual assault were filed” in this regard, compared to 1,239 reports in 2019. The report noted that, “in the past decade, complaints have risen by an average of 11% each year”.

In addition to the above- mentioned, many of those affiliated with the occupation army suffer from various psychological and mental health disorders, even though there are no accurate numbers that properly reflect them, and sometimes numbers that have been officially announced are called into question.

For example, official figures show that 1 in 12 soldiers in the Israeli occupation army suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects people who witness or live through traumatic events such as natural disasters, dangerous accidents, terrorist acts, engaging in military service or action, or being subjected to incidents of rape or death threats.

A former Israeli Air Force pilot: “I refused to be part of this terrorist organization. The Israeli army is a terrorist organization that kills civilians and I did not want to be a part of the oppression of millions of Palestinians”

A Counter Narrative

Even the “strength” and “heroism” of the soldiers of the “invincible army” are open to question. On many occasions, photographers’ cameras have captured images and video clips of Israeli commanders reprimanding and scolding their soldiers as they flee from a confrontation — and not with armed men like themselves — but rather with young men and even children wielding stones and using them to defend themselves and their homes. Other instances include an Israeli soldier refusing to go to a place of service that has direct dealings with unarmed Palestinians, or even an officer that is absolutely “terrified” of a needle.

In stark contrast to the soldiers that boast about their battles against defenseless opponents, there is a tiny sliver of Israelis that refuse to serve in the occupation army out of conscience, moral principles, and human values. The most prominent example of this is Hallel Rabin, age 20, who preferred to be imprisoned on four separate occasions than be a part of the crimes of the occupation army, due to her pacifist convictions and strong beliefs in “non- violence”.

Military service is compulsory in Israel for young women when they reach the age of 18, who are drafted for a period of two years while men must serve at least 32 months of military service. Exceptions are made to members of the ultra-Orthodox community along with the so-called “Israeli Arabs”. Some claim that they suffer from mental health issues in order to seek exemptions and avoid joining the occupation army, according to “The Times of Israel”.

However, Rabin chose to speak out over her refusal to serve in the military amid claims of “madness”, rejecting “the easy way (out),” and saying, “I can say I’m crazy and lie... I’m not crazy. The situation here… is crazy.” The conscientious objector goes on to explain, “The fact that we are occupying Palestinian territories, imposing a siege on Gaza, and practicing shocking discrimination has reinforced my decision not to take part in this. Because the military is subject to a policy that oppresses, discriminates, conquers, and oppresses a people.”

There are also numerous statements — some of which have been circulating as of late — of former officers in the occupation army admitting that war crimes are being committed against Palestinians. The statements detail their withdrawal from service after they discovered the “trickery” that they’ve been exposed to through the false claims that they were in military service in order to spread security, and not “terrorize” the Palestinians.

A former Israeli Air Force pilot, Yonatan Shapira, has described both the Israeli government and army as “terrorist organizations” run by “war criminals.” Commenting on an Israeli war pilot’s statement to Israel’s Channel 12 that the bombing of residential towers in Gaza was a way to “vent the frustrations of the Israeli army” over the resilience of the Palestinian resistance in addition to it inflicting heavy losses on Israel, Shapira told Al Jazeera, “I appeal to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute them for the war crimes that they have committed in Gaza.”

He continued, “I personally was one of the Israeli pilots in 2003, 18 years ago, even though I did not bomb any human targets. I refused to be part of this terrorist organization. The Israeli army is a terrorist organization that kills civilians and I did not want to be a part of the oppression of millions of Palestinians.”

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