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We Should Be Proud of the IDF Soldiers Who Took Lewd Pictures of Themselves

The Israeli army has always relied on its creativity. It could do with shedding even more prejudices, bad ideas, and pants.

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Israeli female soldiers of the 33rd Caracal Battalion take part in a graduation march in the northern part of the southern Israeli Negev desert, on March 13, 2013. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)
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On my third night as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, the scowling sergeant hurried us new recruits, still more civilians than soldiers, into a large, air-conditioned lecture hall. We’d been through three days of alternating between trotting on the dusty hills outside Ramallah and standing at attention at the large courtyard of our base, an old military HQ that once served the Jordanian army. It was July. We were sweaty and filthy and weary. A cushioned seat and the soft hum of the AC gave more than just physical comfort; sitting down for the first time in days, we felt ourselves redeemed. It was then that they gave us the lecture about moreshet krav.

The literal translation neatly captures the term’s metaphysical aspirations—the phrase means “the heritage of battle.” For nearly two hours, a rotating cast of officers took the small stage and told us stories about brave men and women. We heard of the young officer who, trapped in a malfunctioning tank, single-handedly fought off a throng of Syrian tanks. We heard about the soldier who lost his eyesight to an explosion and continued to fight, relying only on his hearing. We already knew all these stories—every Israeli child does—but hearing them told by our commanding officers drove home a larger point: The first official message the army wanted to deliver to its newest soldiers had to do not with discipline or structure or hierarchy but with the spirit of the individual. We were expected to march back to our tents that night and fall asleep reflecting on the fact that the army we had just joined valued, above all else, creativity and daring, the same qualities that led the blinded soldier to fight it by ear and drove the tank commander to fool the Syrians into thinking he had at his disposal not just one broken tank but a whole armored division ready to attack. This was our esprit de corps.

I thought about that evening, almost two decades past now, when I read the news this week of a photograph taken by four female IDF soldiers. In the photograph, the young women are in various stages of undress, smiling at the camera. Somehow—precisely how isn’t yet clear—the photograph made its way onto the Internet and soon became an international sensation, meriting publication everywhere from London’s Daily Mail to the Huffington Post.

Besides showing the racy photograph, most stories quoted the IDF’s official response. “The photograph is a violation of the army’s values and the behavior expected from its soldiers,” it read. “Steps were taken to ensure similar instances do not recur.” Ordinary Israelis, as could be expected, were far more impassioned and took to Facebook and other social networking platforms to express their opinions. Some argued that the snapshot made a mockery of the IDF. Others said it was good for the world to see a human face—or, in this case, derrière—of an army known primarily for its forcefulness. Scolders and supporters alike, however, seemed to support the army’s basic assertion that by posing in their underwear, the four soldiers acted in defiance of the IDF’s spirit.

They did the opposite.

Of course, the soldiers’ decision to disrobe was not a military act but a bit of fooling around. And yet it is oddly more of an embodiment of the IDF’s true spirit than anything the Israeli army has seen in a long while. Since its inception, the IDF enjoyed a reputation of unparalleled excellence, afforded it not because of its size—there are far larger armies in the world—or its armaments, but because of its capacity for imagination.

This may sound like a silly statement, especially considering the fact that for more than two decades now the IDF’s chief routine undertaking involves the policing of the Palestinian population—an endeavor that, from an operational standpoint, is repetitive and exhausting. But think about the army in its prime, and you’re likely imagining something along the lines of Operation Thunderbolt. To rescue the hostages in Entebbe, the IDF, within the course of one week, built an exact replica of the Ugandan airport, worked out a way to refuel its planes in Kenya, retrieved a car identical to that of Idi Amin, and mastered a daring rescue that involved flying 100 soldiers more than 2,500 miles. The raid is often praised for its precision and its nearly flawless execution, as if the IDF was a machine whose cogwheels were neatly aligned. But plenty of other fighting forces possess the capacity for effective operations. What they lack, and what the IDF had in spades, is the ability to dream up something so audacious. Rescuing the hostages from the hijacked Sabena flight while disguised as airport technicians in white overalls; infiltrating Lebanon to target PLO officials while dressed as women—this is cinematic stuff, bursts of creativity possible only in a system that valued it above all else.

To some, thinking of an operation designed to take lives—even the lives of terrorists—may be jarring, but warfare is a human endeavor and like all other human endeavors provides its practitioners with the joy that comes with overcoming hurdles and inventing new approaches to old problems. This joy was the IDF’s engine of survival. It was there in the days of the Palmach, the pre-state paramilitary group whose members are etched in Israel’s collective unconscious as a host of lovable rakes who approached their combat duties with the same childlike enthusiasm they reserved for telling tall tales, swiping chickens from nearby farms, pulling practical jokes, and seducing young women. It was there a decade or two later, when officers like Ariel Sharon led de facto independent units that often set their own agendas and chose their own missions. It was there in 1967, and it led to a brilliant military campaign. And it was there in 1973, turning around a near-certain defeat into a victory so luminous that the IDF only stopped when it had reached the outskirts of Cairo and Damascus.

That old spirit hasn’t been on display so much lately. It may be the radically different nature of the army’s assignments—rescuing hostages is one thing, going from house to house to make arrests is another. It may also be the increasingly polarized nature of Israeli society, or any other number of factors. But the bottom line is that, when I read about the army these days, it is mostly in trite (to say nothing of troubling) contexts.

Which is why those four scantily clad ladies gave me a jolt of optimism. In their smiles, though pixilated, and in their decision to shed their uniform for a moment and choose to be normal and young and carefree and a little bit careless, they suggested that maybe there was still hope. Generations of IDF soldiers thought and acted in unorthodox ways, carrying Israel through grim times. By posing as they did, the young women showed that they possess the potential to do the same. They’re not risk averse. They’re driven by the same wild, hormonal, adolescent energy that had given Israel its greatest soldiers. I imagine them, a few more months into their service, posing tough questions to their commanders, maybe even becoming officers themselves and insisting on change. It’s time for a new generation to shed their prejudices and help rescue Israel. And if to do that shirts and pants should occasionally be shed as well, so be it.

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Natan79 says:

Good article!

john says:

Lol this is really stupid. Taking off your pants does not contribute to creativity, imagination, daring or an esprit d’corps. It just means you took your pants off.

oogabooga says:

nice piece Liel!

Rabbi Justin Goldstein says:

this is nonsense. it is an example of immaturity, a lack of responsibility and a lack of taste. my reaction was and remains that this is a clear example of the dangers of giving 18 year old children weapons. there was nothing creative, subversive or productive about this. it is no different than the foolish young people who video themselves snorting condoms and the other ridiculous behavior we can see on facebook, twitter and youtube.

    graylens says:

    these are good kids under stress having harmless fun. If their young bodies, hardly revealed, offend you that is your serious problem. Stop being self righteous

      Rabbi Justin Goldstein says:

      who’s offended? i think they should have harmless fun as much as they possibly can! let them get “mastul,” let them be naked and prance around all they want! let them relax and unwind and let go in any number of ways, but to presume those pics wouldn’t make it to the internet is naive, and once they’re out there they then reflect on the IDF as a whole. If they can’t be responsible in their bunks, it is only safe to presume there is a higher chance of their inability to be responsible in combat.

Afrayedknot says:

This just seems like a long-winded excuse to make Liel feel better about himself for oggling hot Israeli soldiers.

Althelion says:

I agree with your premise that historically the Israeli army has benefited greatly from the creativity of it’s commanders and soldiers. However, the controversy in question is really about young ladies being silly by trying to be provocative – nothing more; nothing less. Even though the IDF disciplined the female soldiers (perhaps spankings – “50 Shades of the IDF”), I think that Israel benefited on a public relations level. Cute, scantly-clad, young IDF ladies striking poses is a great way to show that Israel’s army is mostly made up of fun-loving, immature, young people – not the insensitive oppressors they are usually made out to be.

graylens says:

everyone should just chill out. These were just some kids playing around,flashing their assets, very cute by the way. As far as racey, I’ve seen raceier at the town pool with 40+ yr old moms, and nowhere as charming. These kids were being a little cheeky having some fun.

reader says:

Idiotic article.

CiporaJuliannaKohn says:

One comment: very beautiful girls.

These young women did nothing more or different than most others their
age, and did not deserve “discipline” for behaving in an 18-25 year old
manner. Their actions show (besides their backsides) moments of
fun-loving abandon – probably much needed comic relief given the rigors of IDF duty. Good article, and good for them!

SoFlaJ says:

Doesn’t anyone remember that photo of the US solider in his pink heart boxers shooting at the enemy? Why is this SUCH a big deal? Oh, yeah it isn’t.

    Michael Stein says:

    Except when he did it, he just woke up from a nap to find his base under attack and didn’t have time to change into his uniform. These girls purposefully exposed themselves.

Yomi Jones says:

If service in the IDF wasn’t mandatory they could use the pics as a very effective recruiting tool. Basically any man (or lesbian for that matter) would jump at the opportunity to jump into those briefs.

accha says:

Excellent points Liel – though I think you’re ascribing more creativity and intelligence to the ladies than they may deserve, I appreciate that blowing off steam and pranks, etc etc is part of the job, and part of the routine of the best. I agree. And, yes, these soldiers get a pass from me (pun…um…not intended) for doing their service.

Binyamin the Prophet says:

While Leibowitz prattles on about the heroism of the Israeli army, we have this recent Facebook post from a young women soldier:

“I would gladly kill Arabs – even slaughter them.”

She posted pictures of herself holding bound and blindfolded Palestinians at gunpoint, with the caption “best time of my life.” A friend commented that she looked sexy.
http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/i-would-gladly-kill-arabs-even-slaughter-them-1.309031

Isn’t being part of an army that is kicking the shit out of Palestinians just plain sexy fun?

This IDF, so progressive and fun-loving. Never mind they’ve killed 77 Arab children since the end of Cast Lead.
http://www.btselem.org/statistics/fatalities/after-cast-lead/by-date-of-event/wb-gaza/palestinian-minors-killed-by-israeli-security-forces

Those Arab kids will not get the chance to engage in a little naughtiness. But no matter.

    Berel Dov Lerner says:

    Wow. Haaretz managed to find an Israeli girl wrote something stupid on Facebook. So what? Judging from the comments I read everywhere on the Internet from You Tube to the Washington Post, America must be a seething caldron of classical antisemitism.

      Binyamin the Prophet says:

      Berel, she’s not an outlier, and you know it.

        Berel Dov Lerner says:

        If I were to accept Betselem’s statistics, that would mean that, on the average, about 3 Palestinian minors were killed every two months. Take into account that the great majority of minors get killed in “collateral damage” of airstrikes and you will discover that it is quite rare for minors to be killed by ground troops – and I have no reason to believe that they are ever deliberately targeted (over the years, there may, of course, have been situations in which armed 17 year-old boys took part in the fighting and died in battle). Every death is a great tragedy, but it is simply ridiculous to pretend that the tens of thousands of soldiers serving in the IDF are hell-bent on killing Palestinian children and are doing such a “poor” job of it. Today’s average Israeli combat soldier completes his stint of duty without even shooting his gun outside the firing range, much less injuring or killing anyone, much less hitting a minor.

        I wonder what has so completely distorted your understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict. If you are a Palestinian Arab, I can understand you completely. You may have suffered some personal loss in the conflict and have thus honestly earned the “right” to be blinded by hate. That’s just human nature. The problem is that you adopt the pseudonym (I don’t feel the need to hide behind them) “Binyamin the Prophet”, implying that you are Jewish. As a Jew, you have not earned the “right” to be blinded by hatred towards your own people.

    Fredric M. London says:

    And how many Israelis were injured or killed by the firebombs and rocks these ‘poor’ terrorist children threw? Anybody who defends themselves is just, unless it is Jews, then they are murderers. Go to Israel and you will see who is kicking the shit out of whom, like orthodox Jews, at the Kotel, being attacked by barbarian thugs.

    Fredric M. London says:

    And if those kids lived and attempted to engage in a little naughtiness, their sharia parents would behead them in public.

Binyamin the Prophet says:
Fredric M. London says:

I am very proud of them, and would love to tell them personally.

Carlos Decourcy Lascoutx says:

…if they went into battle that way there’d be no more wars. better keep those
WMD’s secret(Women’s Meagre Dress).

Kuya Mike says:

who cares…

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We Should Be Proud of the IDF Soldiers Who Took Lewd Pictures of Themselves

The Israeli army has always relied on its creativity. It could do with shedding even more prejudices, bad ideas, and pants.

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