Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Social media and the Israeli army

By Anna Germaine - February 28, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Israeli army] [social media] [IDF spokesperson]

On February 15, an Instagram photo of a Palestinian child in the crosshairs of an Israeli army sniper rifle went viral.

Soon, it was revealed that the photo was posted on the Instagram account of Mor Ostrovski, a 20 year old Israeli  soldier in a sniper unit in the Golani Brigades. Once the photo was leaked, garnering public attention and outrage, Ostrovski took it down. However, before it was removed it had already received 153 “likes” from other users.

Although an Israeli army spokesperson was quick to point out that Ostrovski had not taken the photo, but rather posted it from another source—which is questionable in and of itself, given that this is a generally uncommon practice with Instagram and the fact that Ostrovski is, in fact, in a sniper unit—a more thorough look through the public Instagram accounts of Israeli soldiers proved that posting photos glorifying violence is common.  

On February 20, Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada leaked several more screen captures of photos from American-born Israeli soldier Oshar Maman’s account, revealing a slough of photos of himself posing naked with his gun, smoking marijuana while in uniform, and perhaps most offensively of all, designing and photographing stars of David with rifles and bullets. His captions include tags reading “#naturalbornkilla” and “#terrorist #or #farmer #noone #cares #still #fucked #him #lol.” A look at his Twitter account reveals a tweet reading, “Just took out an Arab out…Whataa feeling.”

Later in the week, further investigation by both Ali Abunimah and Israeli blogger “Zeatu” revealed more photos from soldiers—once again with captions such as “Oops one less Arab” and “This is how we break into a house.” By this time, it became clear that even though the Israeli army formally tries to deny or cover up its questionable practices, many of its soldiers are proud of their roles in the army, and choose to put this on display—with or without the army’s consent.

Israeli soldiers photographing themselves and their “conquests” while on duty is not new. One former soldier who wishes to remain anonymous confessed to Breaking the Silence, an organization of former IOF soldiers that document soldiers stories from serving in Occupied Palestine, that posing for a picture alongside a shackled Palestinian is common practice. Though soldiers used to hang these photos in the privacy of their homes, in the age of social media and online self-presentation it takes on a significantly more public and interactive nature—as a picture can be publicly posted within minutes for the entire world to see and click “like.”

It became clear that even though the Israeli army formally tries to deny or cover up its questionable practices, many of its soldiers are proud of their roles in the army, and choose to put this on display—with or without the army’s consent

In addition to several Israeli soldiers chronicling their exploits on their personal social media accounts, the Israeli army now has a formidable social media presence of its own. Though the army’s new media venture began as a pet project, they now have a team of 30 soldiers working in an official capacity on a New Media Team alerting the public to news and finessing its public image through social media. Their official Twitter handle, @IDFSpokesperson has more than 200,000 followers and their YouTube account has more than 35 million views. 

Operation Pillar of Defense was first announced over Twitter. Soon, the Israeli army was live-tweeting the operation, including a blood-red photo of Ahmed al-Jabari—the Hamas military commander who was assassinated, escalating the conflict from clashes to a full-on military assault on Gaza—was posted over the word, “Eliminated.” Soon thereafter, @AlQassamBrigades, the name of Hamas’ military wing, responded, creating a social media back and forth that augmented what was happening on the ground.

According to the director of Israel’s New Media Team and official @IDFSpokesperson Sacha Dratwa, the most recent assault on Gaza was the first time that foreign press has asked more about the Israeli army’s use of social media than the bombings in Gaza.

Like the social media accounts of the individual Israeli soldiers, on a normal day even the official @IDFSpokesperson Twitter account and the @IsraeliDefenseForces Instagram account post pictures and commentary dangerously fusing Judaism and Zionism.  Though many posts are distinctly Israeli and meant as army propaganda—such as tweeting Hamas or Hezbollah’s “terrorist” actions—others focus on defending the “Jewish homeland” and expansion into the West Bank. Every Friday, @IDFSpokesperson tweets a special “Shabbat Shalom” message—often a picture of a drone or a fighter jet whizzing over a desert landscape with “Shabbat Shalom from the Israeli Defense Forces” printed over it. 

In the brave new world of social media—a continuous flurry of self-presentation and documentation—it is difficult to tell whether the Israeli army’s social media presence will enhance their propaganda machine that garners the attention of the technology-crazed international community over the violence itself, or, on the contrary, or perhaps, eventually, serve as a public record of its war crimes and an ironic route to justice for Palestinians. 

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