Monday, March 23, 2009

The Shirts' Disturbing Tale

Ha'aretz continues its look into the growing controversy over the IDF's recent behavior in Gaza, this time with a disturbing article that uncovers the subculture of soldiers having t-shirts custom made for their units. What seems to tie together many of these shirts (like the one in the photo above, which has a pregnant woman in the cross hairs of a sniper's rifle scope) is their joking, nonchalant approach to violence aimed at civilians. The shirts are not officially sanctioned by the IDF, which in a statement released to the press described them as  "not in accordance with IDF values and are simply tasteless. This type of humor is unbecoming and should be condemned."

What I found particularly disturbing in the article (beyond the content of the shirts themselves) was the analysis of this phenomenon by a Tel Aviv University sociologist and the IDF former head psychologist. From the article:
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."

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...."

....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.'"

Do you think this a good way to vent anger?

Levy: "It's safe. But there are also things here that deviate from the norm, and you could say that whoever is creating these things has reached some level of normality. He gives expression to the fact that what is considered abnormal today might no longer be so tomorrow.
(Photo: A t-shirt from an IDF sniper unit. From Ha'aretz) 

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