Posts tagged IDF

Men in Uniform #2

(Via Austro-Athenian Empire 2009-03-21.)

The office at the Adiv fabric-printing shop in south Tel Aviv handles a constant stream of customers, many of them soldiers in uniform, who come to order custom clothing featuring their unit’s insignia, usually accompanied by a slogan and drawing of their choosing. Elsewhere on the premises, the sketches are turned into plates used for imprinting the ordered items, mainly T-shirts and baseball caps, but also hoodies, fleece jackets and pants. A young Arab man from Jaffa supervises the workers who imprint the words and pictures, and afterward hands over the finished product.

Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children’s graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques — these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty. The slogans accompanying the drawings are not exactly anemic either: A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription Better use Durex, next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter’s T-shirt from the Givati Brigade’s Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull’s-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, 1 shot, 2 kills. 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.

. . . 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), or harming religious sites, or female or child non-combatants. In many cases, the content is submitted for approval to one of the unit’s commanders. The latter, however, do not always have control over what gets printed, because the artwork is a private initiative of soldiers that they never hear about. Drawings or slogans previously banned in certain units have been approved for distribution elsewhere. For example, shirts declaring, We won’t chill ’til we confirm the kill were banned in the past (the IDF claims that the practice doesn’t exist), yet the Haruv battalion printed some last year.

The slogan Let every Arab mother know that her son’s fate is in my hands! had previously been banned for use on another infantry unit’s shirt. A Givati soldier said this week, however, that at the end of last year, his platoon printed up dozens of shirts, fleece jackets and pants bearing this slogan.

It has 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.

— Uri Blau, Ha’aretz (2009-03-20): Dead Palestinian babies and bombed mosques – IDF fashion 2009

One of the most consistent themes running through the designs for these t-shirts is the use of sexualized violence — in particular, cartoons of rape and verbal threats of rape against women and men identified with the enemy — as the punchline and the basis for bonding among the men in uniform.

There are also plenty of shirts with blatant sexual messages [sic –R.G.]. 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!

. . . After Operation Cast Lead [the Israeli government’s invasion of Gaza from December 2008 – January 2009], soldiers from that battalion printed a T-shirt depicting a vulture sexually penetrating Hamas’ prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, accompanied by a particularly graphic slogan. S., a soldier in the platoon that ordered the shirt, said the idea came from a similar shirt, printed after the Second Lebanon War, that featured Hassan Nasrallah instead of Haniyeh. . . .

[Ha’aretz:] What’s the problem with this shirt?

S.: It bothers some people to see these things, from a religious standpoint …

. . .

[IDF veteran Yossi] Kaufman has also been exposed to T-shirts of the sort described here. I know there are shirts like these, he says. I’ve heard and also seen a little. These are not shirts that soldiers can wear in civilian life, because they would get stoned, nor at a battalion get-together, because the battalion commander would be pissed off. They wear them on very rare occasions. There’s all sorts of black humor stuff, mainly from snipers . . . . There’s a Golani or Givati shirt of a soldier raping a girl, and underneath it says, No virgins, no terror attacks. I laughed, but it was pretty awful. When I was asked once to draw things like that, I said it wasn’t appropriate.

. . .

Sociologist Dr. Orna Sasson-Levy, of Bar-Ilan University, author of Identities in Uniform: Masculinities and Femininities in the Israeli Military, 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. [sic –R.G.]

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.

Col. (res.) Ron Levy began his military service in the Sayeret Matkal elite commando force before the Six-Day War. He was the IDF’s chief psychologist, and headed the army’s mental health department in the 1980s.

Levy: I’m familiar with things of this sort going back 40, 50 years, and each time they take a different form. Psychologically speaking, this is one of the ways in which soldiers project their anger, frustration and violence. It is a certain expression of things, which I call below the belt. [sic –R.G.]

— Uri Blau, Ha’aretz (2009-03-20): Dead Palestinian babies and bombed mosques – IDF fashion 2009

See also:

In which commentary becomes copy-and-paste

The Israeli government’s military began heavy artillery shelling of civilian targets in Gaza this weekend. The idea was that by besieging Gaza, and then firing heavy artillery down into one of the world’s most densely populated urban areas — along with a continued barrage of aerial bombardment, which has been blowing the hell out of universities, mosques, residential neighborhoods, and other civilian targets for the past several days — the Israeli government’s military might be able to somewhat reduce the number of its professional soldiers killed in combat during a ground invasion.

Israel unleashed an artillery bombardment on Gaza today for the first time in its week-long offensive, prompting increased speculation that a ground invasion is about to begin.

Palestinian medical officials also said that an Israeli airstrike on a Gaza mosque had killed 10 people and wounded dozens more. Al Jazeera quoted witnesses as saying there were at least 200 people at prayer inside the Ibrahim al-Maqadna mosque in northern Gaza when the missile struck.

The Israeli TV station Channel 10 said the entire length of the Gaza Strip was under attack. Palestinian witnesses told Reuters the shelling had caused a large explosion in Gaza City and there were a series of blasts close to the frontier with Israel. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Israeli TV commentators said shelling could be used to clear Hamas-laid minefields ahead of a possible ground invasion. Israeli troops are massed on the border waiting for orders to go in.

. . .

More than 400 Palestinians and at least four Israelis have been killed since Israel launched its offensive last Saturday. The UN estimated yesterday that a quarter of the Palestinians killed were civilians.

— Matthew Weaver, The Guardian (2009-01-03): Israel fires artillery shells into Gaza

Then the Israeli government’s military began its ground assault — that is, sending in infantry and armored divisions to invade and occupy Gaza, with the usual imposition of martial law and military curfews and more-or-less shoot-on-sight procedures, the blockading of roads and bridges, the house to house operations of storming, searching, and commandeering civilian homes en masse, and all the rest involved in exerting military command-and-control over a large, besieged city.

Israel has said that its offensive in Gaza could take many long days as its troops moved deeper into the Palestinian territory in the second day of its ground attack.

Troops backed by air and naval power surrounded Gaza City and in effect sliced the territory in two.

An Israeli air strike hit two ambulances in Gaza on Sunday, killing four paramedics as they tried to reach those injured in the offensive.

Israeli government officials say they are not targeting civilians, only trying to stop rockets by the Palestinian Hamas movement governing Gaza, which are still being fired into southern Israel.

Civilian injuries and casualties in Gaza continue to mount and the death toll now stands at 521, with at least 64 people killed since the ground offensive began, according to Palestinian medical authorities. Some 2,450 have been injured.

Among the latest victims were a mother and her four young children, killed in an Israeli air strike on their home in Gaza.

Four Israeli civilians have been killed and two injured by Palestinian rocket attacks.

Al-Jazeera (2009-01-05): Israel [sic] intensifies assault on Gaza

According to Shimon Peres, arbitrary President over the territory of Israel, the idea is to teach a lesson to Hamas.

We don’t intend neither to occupy Gaza nor to crush Hamas, but to crush terror. And Hamas needs a real and serious lesson. They are now getting it.

Shimon Peres, quoted in Al-Jazeera (2009-01-05): Israel [sic] intensifies assault on Gaza

Somewhere above 100 civilians have been murdered in the process of delivering this lesson to unrelated third parties. Ehud Barak, arbitrary Minister of Defense over the territory of Israel, tells us (from his perch in a comfortable government meeting room) that this is because War is not a picnic.

The operation will be expanded and intensified as much as necessary. War is not a picnic.

Ehud Barak, quoted in Al-Jazeera (2009-01-05): Israel [sic] intensifies assault on Gaza

Indeed; but for whom?

So, anyway, to review, in Israel, four civilians have been murdered, two have been injured, and some other residents of towns near the Gaza strip have suffered some fright and some property damage from poorly-aimed rocket attacks launched by Hamas, the quasi-governmental terrorist faction that claims a right to rule over the 1.5 million people living in Gaza. In the process of retaliating against these attacks, the Israeli government’s military has locked down those 1.5 million people — the primary victims of Hamas — under a state of siege and bombarded their homes, their schools, their roads, their houses of worship, and the ambulances that tried to come to their rescue. They have killed more than 100 times as many Palestinians as Hamas has killed Israelis, and injured more than 1,000 times as many. More than 100 of those killed in the massive indiscriminate bombardment (that is, at least 25 times the number killed in Israel) are known to have been civilians, who had nothing in particular to do with the poorly-aimed rocket attacks that the Israeli government’s military claims to be trying to stop. Many of those killed have been children. The Israeli government’s military has also deliberately stormed houses, bombed bridges, destroyed school buildings, cut electrical lines, and blockaded land crossings and sea lanes so that not even emergency relief NGOs can reach the people being maimed and killed by the bombardment. They show no signs of letting up: this death and destruction is only the beginning.

The official reaction from most of the rest of the world — which is the dignified term that the press uses to describe the ranting power-trips of a tiny, parasitic minority sitting in comfortable government offices far away from the millions of people upon whose lives and livelihoods they constantly render their sanctimonious opinions and summary judgments — has been to call for moderation. We will be told that both sides in this conflict have made moral and strategic blunders, that the best thing to do is to take a soft touch and to try to convince the belligerent states and quasi-states involved to tone things down and come to the bargaining table in some sort of diplomatic negotiation process. The problem is that there are not two sides in this war; like any other war, there are three sides — or, more properly, millions of tiny, individual sides — because in any war there are not only two states fighting each other, but also everybody else, the millions of people caught in between. Besides the belligerent states and quasi-states facing off against each other, in any war there are also the millions of people held hostage by one or both of the belligerent powers and coldly shoved into the crossfire by the usurpers who style themselves their leaders, and by the rival usurpers who are the enemies of their self-styled leaders; millions of people who have nothing at all to do with any casus belli or with any of the political maneuvers that led up to the onslaught; millions of people who were just trying to live their lives, and, for doing nothing worse than existing in the wrong place at the wrong time, will be hurt or maimed or bereaved or killed themselves — all in the name of the ranting power-trips of a tiny, parasitic minority who sit in comfortable government offices or heavily-fortified bunkers far away from the millions of people upon whose lives and livelihoods they constantly render their sanctimonious opinions and summary judgments. Of course news coverage never discusses this other side — that is, our side — those of us who do not sit in the halls of power and do not have our fingers on the triggers. Government diplomats care nothing about the interests our side and nobody ever consults us or considers whether we have legitimate interests worth respecting. Instead this is presented as a fight between Israel and Gaza — all of them, apparently, all at once — because it’s necessary to talk about it that way in order to obscure the question of who is really dying, and how many, and where, and for what. I should like to say something more about this, but what more can I really say? I say it again, and again, and again, and it doesn’t make a bit of difference but it remains no less true. There is a point at which no more commentary is possible; there is only copy-and-paste. Thus:

The murder of civilians by Palestinian . . . terrorists is criminal, and those who committed the murders can be stopped from committing further crimes through the use of violence, if necessary. But the right to use force against someone does not mean the right to use any amount of force necessary against anyone at all in the process of stopping her. It’s true that if you really are willing to do everything in retaliation for the kidnapping of a soldier, or attacks on your forces, or attacks on civilians, then this is included. Any atrocity at all is included in doing everything, and that is precisely why the willingness to do everything in retaliation for an attack, no matter what the cost to innocent third parties, is a moral crime of the first order. Destroying the lives and livelihoods of scores of innocent people in the process of trying to stop the murder of one or two other innocents is criminal.

— GT 2006-07-13: Proportionality

And doing so to hundreds of civilians in the name of reducing military casualties in an invasion, or in the name of teaching a lesson to unrelated third parties — as if these hundreds of civilians were just so many Post-It notes, on which the Harrow of the State can write its little messages for the edification of rival state powers — is nothing less than an atrocity.

See also:

You would not tell with such high zest

Sheldon Richman recently posted to on the Bush gang’s palavering and depraved indifference to the life of Lebanese civilians. It’s a good post; you should read it. Along the way, he said this:

Translation: The killing and maining of Lebanese and Israelis shouldn’t stop until Israel is ready for it to stop.

That is moral depravity, if anything is.

In the comments section, E. Simon replied:

So would your omission of the implication, that the cessation of hostilities not be constrained according to whether or not Nasrallah and his supporters are allowed to kill and maim Israelis, be an example of intellectual depravity?

Given that he’s so awfully concerned about innocent people being killed and maimed, I asked E. Simon the following, linking to my post on Proportionality:

And just how many unrelated third parties do you think the IDF can legitimately kill or maim in the process of retaliating against Nasrallah and his supporters?

Here’s the answer, such as it is:

That being said, I think your question is a good one, because ideally, I would like to see NO unrelated third parties hurt. Therefore, there is no good way to answer it since it would suggest legitimizing the ascription of a military debit or financial value to the loss of a life whose inherent worth is — otherwise — incalculable. And yet, the use of Israel’s military will prevent Hizbullah from intentionally causing the loss of similarly incalculably valuable Israeli lives. But Israel is not responsible for Lebanon’s failures in necessitating that most unfortunate decision.

There are costs, no doubt. But the costs of not thusly, and appropriately disincentivizing against murder are much riskier, given the total analysis.

Now, I’d like to note that this is a complete evasion of the question. (The fact that you wave your hands at the higher mysteries and heart-rending impossibility of answering a question does not mean that you haven’t evaded it; it just means that you’ve offered a poetical apology for the evasion.) As I note further down in the thread:

I’ve accused you of dodging the issue because if you do not have an answer to that question, then you can have absolutely no moral basis for endorsing the war. If you don’t even have a ballpark estimate of what a tolerable civilian body count is, then you have no idea whether or not the killing and maiming of innocents has gone beyond the limits of proportional self-defense. And if you don’t know that then you don’t know whether or not the war is legitimate self-defense or a massacre. If you treat the question as some higher mystery beyond your ken, then you have thereby admitted that you have no idea whatever whether justice demands that the IDF continue or that it relent.

If, however, you profess not to be able to answer the question, but then turn around and continue supporting the war, particularly with polysyllabic hand-waving at pacifying abstractions such as collateral damage and appropriately disincentivizing, then what I have to conclude is that you are quite satisfied with the level of killing, burning, bombing, and maiming being inflicted on innocents, but that you’d rather not say so because it would sound too brutal coming from your lips.

You can follow the argument on its merits through the rest of the thread; as far as that goes, I’m willing to just say We Report, You Decide for now. But I do want to make a remark about a matter of style, rather than substance here. That may seem petty, or underhanded, and in any case irrelevant. But it’s not: the style in which people say the things about war that E. Simon wants to say here is itself a very important part of what allows them to utter the substantial position that they end up uttering. Let’s look at that again:

That being said, I think your question is a good one, because ideally, I would like to see NO unrelated third parties hurt. Therefore, there is no good way to answer it since it would suggest legitimizing the ascription of a military debit or financial value to the loss of a life whose inherent worth is — otherwise — incalculable. And yet, the use of Israel’s military will prevent Hizbullah from intentionally causing the loss of similarly incalculably valuable Israeli lives. But Israel is not responsible for Lebanon’s failures in necessitating that most unfortunate decision.

There are costs, no doubt. But the costs of not thusly, and appropriately disincentivizing against murder are much riskier, given the total analysis.

My short response would be to offer some suggestions about where E. Simon can take his total analysis. Fortunately, George Orwell already made the remarks I’d like to make about this passage, and much more eloquently than I could:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as keeping out of politics. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer….

— George Orwell, Politics and the English Language (1946)

War survives because people don’t talk about war, but rather about something else, using an inflated jargon that they have mostly nicked from military communication (both internally, and through their press flacks). That jargon, and the style that goes with it, is more or less deliberately calculated to obscure and degrade thought, because to think and to speak, really and seriously, about what war does to people, would be to destroy any hope of moral and political legitimacy for any kind of modern campaign.

I’m told, incidentally, that my mentioning this, and my using harsh words in my own remarks, shows a lack of civility, open-mindedness, and maturity. But if civility and maturity mean whitewashing the killing and maiming of real people with real lives (with or without incalculable value being sentimentally ascribed to them) into costs to be assessed along with the risks involved in not setting up the appropriate incentives, as you do the total analysis over the dispensability of other people’s lives and livelihoods, then civility and maturity and open-mindedness can go straight to hell, and take the civil warmakers and war apologists right along with them.

Further reading: