Last week, StandWithUS and I-LEAD brought two Israel Defense Forces soldiers to campus with the goal of humanizing the IDF because they felt that the “media presented a skewed portrait of them.” How did the soldiers attempt to do this? By dehumanizing the Palestinian narrative — its culture, politics and people. The discourse used during the event didn’t simply cater to a specific audience; it was grossly offensive and inaccurate.
From the beginning of their presentation, the soldiers, Lital and Ari, repeatedly used the term “terrorist” to refer to the Palestinian civilian population as a whole. I kept a tally of how many times the soldiers referred to Palestinians as terrorists. Five minutes into the event, my count reached 21.
Lital, a female IDF soldier, attempted to gain sympathy points with the crowd by discussing the fear she feels partying in Tel Aviv. According to Lital, clubbing in Tel Aviv is risky business because Palestinians could strike at any time with their homemade rockets.
While Lital is entitled to her feelings, the facts on the ground tell a much different story. It’s not Lital or her friends that must fear Palestinians; it’s the 1.7 million people in the Gaza Strip that must fear Israel. Not one rocket that has ever landed in Tel Aviv has caused a civilian death. And the recent escalation of violence in November was the first time a rocket from Gaza even remotely approached the urban hotspot. Because the audience was looking only to praise the IDF for ridding Israel from “terrorists,” of course they were unable to recognize the plight of the Palestinian civilian. While Lital chooses her wardrobe for a night out, Palestinian children drown in sewage ponds due to faulty or non-existent sewage networks that cannot be maintained due to the Israeli blockade. When was the last time an Israeli died from drowning in sewage? While the soldiers asked the audience to feel sympathy for their plight, Israeli air strikes wiped out three generations of a Palestinian family.
The soldiers’ claims about Hamas were also totally false and baseless, further reflecting both their ignorance and prejudice. They cited Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, as justification for continued occupation and obstacles to peace, specifically referencing the recent conflict in November.
What they didn’t acknowledge was Israel’s role in the strategic assassination of Ahmad Jabari, a chief negotiating partner for a finalized truce with Israel. A video of sheer propaganda was shown regarding Hamas and its leaders in Gaza. Produced by the Middle East Media Research Institute, an organization founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer, it has often been criticized for its faulty translations and is known for its cherry-picking of extreme viewpoints to represent the general nature of Arab media. Additionally, why was there no mention of the open-air prison in which the population of Gaza lives? To portray Hamas against Israel as a conflict fought on a level playing field is far from accurate. Unfortunately, the students sitting in that room will never see the implications of the blockade on the Gaza strip: the poverty, hunger, dire living conditions and failing infrastructure. The only social services the people of Gaza will ever know come from Hamas, the democratically elected governing party.
When I asked about the implications of Palestine — now an observing member state in the United Nations — taking Israel to the International Criminal Court to prosecute crimes committed against Palestinians, Lital’s exact words were, “I don’t want to comment on that.” Ari followed suit, as they both assured there was no validity in such a claim against the most “moral” army in the world, disregarding their own words earlier in the evening as they relayed stories of Palestinian terrorists. Early on in her presentation, Lital told a story of a Palestinian “terrorist” who was nine months pregnant, in an ambulance and in dire need of a hospital as she was trying to cross a checkpoint. Explosives were discovered in the ambulance. Lital used this to characterize the general nature of Palestinians and ended the story. After raising the question regarding the ICC and hearing the responses of Lital and Ari, I asked about the fate of that woman in the ambulance — did she make it to the hospital? No, she didn’t make it to the hospital because Lital and her fellow IDF soldiers at the checkpoint were forced to shoot out the tires, and the ambulance subsequently exploded. She didn’t comment further, and the event ended.
If the purpose of the event was to humanize the IDF, that feat wasn’t accomplished. Rather, an entire population was dehumanized in order to justify crimes against an unarmed, civilian, indigenous population. Praised for their support of a two-state solution, Ari and Lital are blind to the implications this will have for institutionalizing racial segregation and the persistence of conflict in the region. While young girls in Tel Aviv fear spending their leisure time at clubs, young Palestinian children cannot walk to school without being chased by IDF soldiers. Palestinians are denied water rights; their houses are demolished — they cannot even move within their own lands.
Events like these held on our campus make us all, as University students, complacent in Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. They rationalize the status quo, which endangers any hope of a peaceful future for the Israeli and Palestinian people. I made all of the comments during and after the event last week, but, per usual, the voice of a Palestinian was silenced.
Samia Ayyash is an LSA junior.