Ha’aretz recently disclosed the racist “civilian” t-shirt design that Israel soldiers make after completing field duty or training. “Civilian” is quoted because that is the excuse the IDF spokespeople gave for condemning but allowing such things — because, as one soldier says in the article, “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.” Really.
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.”
…. 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.”
In light of much recent coverage on the criminal conduct of Israeli soldiers during the Gaza war — from “permissive rules of engagement” that encouraged civilian casualties, vandalism and property destruction, to disclosures that troops were told to think of the Gaza as a “holy war” — what’s to make of all this? A pitch of nationalist fervor overtook Israel after the 1967 war, leading in the following decade to the beginnings of the nationalist-messianic settler movement after the’ 73 war that has supported Israel’s West Bank settlement policy ever since at its most base level. The settlements are strategic — grabbing good land, securing water, denying the space for a viable Palestinian state –but within the ideology that legitimizes the dispossession of others and the seizure of their land through of a Zionist reading of history comes a similar mode of thinking that permits the kind of political imagination that likes these t-shirts.
Of course racism from the military is not new, in history or today — think only of the Americans in Iraq, the popularity of the word “Hajji” to describe any and all Iraqis that soldiers kill, detain, torture, or protect. But another point: Israel’s closest, most formidable enemies are Hezbollah and Hamas, two Islamist militias who tap into popular anger and senses of dispossession (whether among Palestinians in Gaza or Shias in Lebanon) and religiosity to build effective fighters. If different embodiments of political Islam in this case, then, accounts for the makeup of two prominent “terrrorist” militias that fight Israel, how does Zionist ideology account for the conduct and structure of the IDF?