Racist and sexist Israeli military shirts show the mindset that led to war crimes in Gaza
There is another report in today's Ha'aretz that I do want to comment on. Uri Blau's article "'No virgins, no terror attacks'" describes the practice of Israeli soldiers getting custom clothing printed with their unit's insignia along with graphics and text. Below are some examples of shirts that were printed, along with some of the images. These images only appeared on Ha'aretz's Hebrew-language website:
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."
After Operation Cast Lead, soldiers from that battalion printed a T-shirt depicting a vulture sexually penetrating Hamas' prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh.
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), or harming religious sites, or female or child non-combatants.
"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 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."
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!"
These shirts have to get the approval from IDF commanders and are a military tradition, although the explicit nature of these shirts seem new. Bar-Ilan University Sociologist Dr. Orna Sasson-Levy is quoted as saying the shirts are "part of a radicalization process the entire country is undergoing, and the soldiers are at its forefront." Israeli anti-militarism activist Sergeiy Sandler, who works for the important organization New Profile, emailed this article out saying the shirts are "a long-standing tradition in Israeli military units; you see those shirts, although usually with less outrageous designs, on the streets all over the place. A picture's worth a thousand words, isn't it?"
I don't imagine these types of shirts are unique to Israel. I bet there are similar ones created by US soldiers in Iraq. But the shirts do point to an environment where mass war crimes can be carried out. They reflect a mindset where Palestinian life is disdained, when it's even acknowledged. One of the soldiers says it best in their testimony describing the killing of a mother and her two children: "the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to ... I don't know how to describe it .... The lives of Palestinians, let's say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way."