The proliferation of online images that sexualise Israeli soldiers and the army, help normalise military violence and occupation
Guns and selfies don’t usually go together. In Israel, however, teenage girls often pose for photos not only with pouty lips and perfectly practiced smiles - but also with a weapon carelessly slung across their shoulders.
It is difficult to find an Israeli in her twenties who served in the army and does not have at least one image with a uniform and gun posted online. The photos could be a selfie taken on the bus, or in a group with friends, or even a snapshot of the shadow of a gun, simply for the aesthetic.
Inundated with pictures like these, it can be easy to forget: guns aren't sexy or cool. They're violent weapons meant to kill people
Often the photos are casual, everyday moments, annotated with captions like, “bored” or “another Saturday on the base” and hashtags like, “#idf #israel #army #soldier #life.” It’s tradition to post a photo being drafted, and another one cutting the army identity card upon being released.
These photos are so pervasive online, they are mundane in the context of Israeli youth culture. Israeli soldiers are required to wear uniforms, often including guns, to and from their base, and are integrated into civilian society.
So Israelis are used to seeing guns on buses, busy streets, coffee shops and parks. For the most part, their ubiquity often renders them meaningless.
The Israeli army’s selfie culture
Instagram accounts like “hotisraeliarmygirls” and “girlsdefense," are just a few specifically dedicated to showcasing sexual images of female army soldiers, where women are shown in uniform and in bikinis. But even a Google search for “Israeli women” will yield mostly images of female soldiers.
Guns aren't sexy or cool, they're violent weapons meant to kill people
The idea that posing seductively with a gun is inherently political is not obvious because the action is normalised. However, even the Israeli army itself forbids certain units from posting pictures of themselves in uniform or expressing political opinions online.
Images of IDF women soldiers via the instagram account @hotisraeliarmygirls
When you're inundated with pictures like these, it can be easy to forget: guns aren't sexy or cool, they're violent weapons meant to kill people. In the photos, the guns are decontextualised, presented as objects completely unrelated to machineries of death. Instead they are fetishised, symbols of power, pride, or simply a meaningless prop.
Guns are sexy?
In recent years, a few incidents involving particularly scandalous images of Israeli female soldiers have become internet sensations, drawing attention to this aspect of the army culture.
In 2012, an image of a girl on the beach wearing a bikini standing provocatively with a gun strapped across her went viral. A similar incident happened in 2013, when four army girls took pictures of themselves wearing only thongs and guns and posted it on Facebook as a prank.
International media also participated in sexualising Israel’s female soldiers with headlines like, “These Israeli Soldier Babes Could Kill You At First Sight” and “Badass Chicks In Israel Don’t Go To the Beach Without Their Assault Rifles”.
In 2007, the men’s magazine Maxim ran an article called “The Women of the Israel Defense Force” which featured female soldiers in their underwear, after encouragement from the Israeli consulate in New York to run the campaign to boost Israel’s image abroad.
In each of these instances, the salaciousness of these photos as the prime focus only distracts from the fact that they are also a product Israeli’s military industrial complex. In turn, we become desensitised to the violence of the military and the gun as a weapon.
The world reacted in shock when a video emerged of soldier Elor Azaria murdering a Palestinian as he lay injured on the ground. But the soldier's complete apathy to violence inflicted on the other is embedded into Israeli youth culture, into the normalisation of the military and guns, appearing in endless Instagram and Facebook feeds as smiling faces.
The apolitical soldier
Artists like Israeli photographer Mayan Toledando and Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra have depicted female Israeli soldiers as their subjects, yet approach the topic from a more subdued angle, focusing on the innocence of these women.
The photographs reflect just how disconnected Israeli society is from their military occupation
In both of these projects, the aim is to humanise the soldier, in turn depoliticising them. In Toledando’s series of images of the Israeli female soldier, her purpose was to show their individuality within the uniformity of the military, to restore these soldiers' own autonomy.
“They are softly glowing in their singularity,” Maayan Goldman writes in a review of the photographs for Vice. “It's their girly, teenage boredom that reflects a passive, sleepy protest against violence.”
Underlying Toledando’s work is this idea that the uniform, the soldier and the army should be humanised, and that this motive doesn’t necessarily have to be political. Likewise, the online photos on social media demand to be seen as apolitical.
The disturbing aspect of the online selfie culture of the army isn’t necessarily that they are asserting a particular form of nationalistic pride or politics, but their claim as apolitical, and the insistence that one can be an individual while being a soldier in uniform with a gun.
Posing seductively with a gun is perhaps the epitome of disconnection from the true purpose of these devices. They are alarming in their ordinariness, in their ubiquity, in their own demand to assert themselves as apolitical.
They are emblems of a culture that rewards a dissociation from violence, and in doing so further propagates it. Ultimately, the photographs reflect just how disconnected Israeli society is from their military occupation.
- Leeron Hoory is a freelance journalist currently based in New York City. Her work has been published in Slate, Quartz, Salon and others.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Female IDF soldiers raise their hands during field training on 4 December 2006 (Flickr)
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.