This photo is published today in Haaretz, accompanying a long article about special t-shirts commissioned by members of IDF units, and approved by their commanders.
The caption reads: “A T-shirt printed at the request of an IDF soldier in the sniper unit reading ‘One shot, two kills’.”
The bulls-eye is over the abdomen of a pregnant female figure in a long dress with a headscarf and face veil.
This is sickening, and it is hard to find words for this.
Anyone who lives here, and who speaks to Israelis, know that this is nothing out of the ordinary. It is quite normal to express hatred of “Arabs”, and to speak swaggeringly, as a kind of ironic joke, about treating Palestinians badly (particularly those Palestinians who are in the West Bank or along the “seam line”).
This is a country where “Death to the Arabs” has become a famous slogan used by supporters of a particular Jerusalem-based football/soccer team — and whose owner ran (unsuccessfully) for the office of mayor of Jerusalem. Though slogan has been singled out for particular criticism by the United Nations treaty body that monitors countries’ compliance with obligations under the Convention against Racism — and Israel is a state party to this treaty — but as far as I know it is still being used at football/soccer games and matches
The article makes very, very difficult reading. It can be read in full here.
It is now becoming quite unbearable. These denials or excuses or counter-accusations are shameful … This situation exists. Everybody here knows about it. Many, many people here have experienced this personally. There is, now, a lot of work to do here, to make this stop. This is no way to live.
Here is a summary of some of the main points made:
“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 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 …
Q: Does the design go to the commanders for approval?
A: The Givati soldier: ‘Usually the shirts undergo a selection process by some officer, but in this case, they were approved at the level of platoon sergeant. We ordered shirts for 30 soldiers and they were really into it, and everyone wanted several items and paid NIS 200 on average’.
Q: What do you think of the slogan that was printed?
A: ‘I didn’t like it so much, but most of the soldiers wanted it’.
Many controversial shirts have been ordered by graduates of snipers courses, which bring together soldiers from various units. In 2006, soldiers from the ‘Carmon Team’ course for elite-unit marksmen printed a shirt with a drawing of a knife-wielding Palestinian in the crosshairs of a gun sight, and the slogan, ‘You’ve got to run fast, run fast, run fast, before it’s all over’. Below is a drawing of Arab women weeping over a grave and the words: ‘And afterward they cry, and afterward they cry’. [The inscriptions are riffs on a popular song.] Another sniper’s shirt also features an Arab man in the crosshairs, and the announcement, ‘Everything is with the best of intentions’.
Q: When are these shirts worn?
A: G. – ‘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’.
Q: Do your superiors approve the shirts before printing?
A: ‘Yes, although one time they rejected some shirt that was too extreme. I don’t remember what was on it’.
A shirt printed up just this week for soldiers of the Lavi battalion, who spent three years in the West Bank, reads: ‘We came, we saw, we destroyed!’ – alongside images of weapons, an angry soldier and a Palestinian village with a ruined mosque in the center.
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’ … 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 [emphasis added]. 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’.
Q: What’s the idea behind ‘Only God forgives’?
A: The soldier: ‘It’s just a saying’.
Q: No one had a problem with the fact that a mosque gets blown up in the picture?
A: ‘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’.
The sketches printed in recent years at the Adiv factory, one of the largest of its kind in the country, are arranged in drawers according to the names of the units placing the orders: Paratroops, Golani, air force, sharpshooters and so on. Each drawer contains hundreds of drawings, filed by year. Many of the prints are cartoons and slogans relating to life in the unit, or inside jokes that outsiders wouldn’t get (and might not care to, either), but a handful reflect particular aggressiveness, violence and vulgarity. Print-shop manager Haim Yisrael, who has worked there since the early 1980s, said Adiv prints around 1,000 different patterns each month, with soldiers accounting for about half. Yisrael recalled that when he started out, there were hardly any orders from the army. ‘The first ones to do it were from the Nahal brigade’, he said. ‘Later on other infantry units started printing up shirts, and nowadays any course with 15 participants prints up shirts’.
From time to time, officers complain. ‘Sometimes the soldiers do things that are inside jokes that only they get, and sometimes they do something foolish that they take to an extreme’, Yisrael explained. ‘There have been a few times when commanding officers called and said, “How can you print things like that for soldiers?” For example, with shirts that trashed the Arabs too much. I told them it’s a private company, and I’m not interested in the content. I can print whatever I like. We’re neutral. There have always been some more extreme and some less so. It’s just that now more people are making shirts.”
Evyatar Ben-Tzedef, a research associate at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism and former editor of the IDF publication Maarachot, said the phenomenon of custom-made T-shirts is a product of ‘the infantry’s insane race to be unique … [The shirts] developed because of the fact that for bonding purposes, each unit created something that was unique to it. These days the content on shirts is sometimes deplorable’, Ben-Tzedef explained. ‘It stems from the fact that profanity is very acceptable and normative in Israel, and that there is a lack of respect for human beings and their environment, which includes racism aimed in every direction’.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office comments on the phenomenon: ‘Military regulations do not apply to civilian clothing, including shirts produced at the end of basic training and various courses. The designs are printed at the soldiers’ private initiative, and on civilian shirts. The examples raised by Haaretz are not in keeping with the values of the IDF spirit, not representative of IDF life, and are in poor taste. Humor of this kind deserves every condemnation and excoriation. The IDF intends to take action for the immediate eradication of this phenomenon. To this end, it is emphasizing to commanding officers that it is appropriate, among other things, to take discretionary and disciplinary measures against those involved in acts of this sort‘.
Shlomo Tzipori, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves and a lawyer specializing in martial law, said the army does bring soldiers up on charges for offenses that occur outside the base and during their free time. According to Tzipori, slogans that constitute an ‘insult to the army or to those in uniform’ are grounds for court-martial, on charges of ‘shameful conduct’ or ‘disciplinary infraction’, which are general clauses in judicial martial law. [n.b., Apparently, insulting the Palestinians is not an infraction…]
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’.
This Haaretz article, and the photo, is published in full here.