The strange and amusing tale of six IDF soldiers featured on YouTube dancing to a cheesy pop song while on patrol in Hebron seems to have played itself out, now that an spokesman for the army has said they will not investigate the matter further. But it says a lot about the uniqueness of Israel’s army.
News that disciplinary action might be taken against them rang a bit hollow to me. The IDF can’t have it both ways, trying to put a human face on its soldiers when they are attacked, as they were on the Gaza flotilla, and then becoming indignant when they are revealed as exactly what they are: young men and women, often teenagers, who would rather be living a normal, social-media-filled life, but are thrust into simmering cauldrons like Hebron they did not create and, in many cases, don’t feel much of a connection to. That’s not to question the commitment of Israel’s army, but a majority of the population is secular, and a majority supports ceding places like Hebron in a so-far elusive peace deal.
Hebron isn’t a happy place. A few hundred zealous Jews are surrounded by 150,000 bitter Palestinians with the constant threat of violence lingering. It has to be one of the worst places to be sent to patrol. If the video is what it appears to be, and not an orchestration by actors, it may show a group of soldiers trying to bring a little levity into their tense lives and in the process, put a more human face on the IDF.
The government itself did no less a few years ago when it arranged and promoted a spread in the men’s magazine Maxim of bikini clad former soldiers, in an apparent attempt to boost tourism and dilute Israel’s starkly serious military image. The choreography in the video shows it was well-rehearsed, so the army may want to determine if the people involved were delinquent in their patrol duties, putting lives at risk, or if they were off duty at the time. One Palestinian new agency remarked that the video helped explain why the army doesn’t respond to violence by settlers against Arabs.
Since a second video has now emerged of female soldiers doing karaoke, the IDF may have to create some new regulations. It has a history of protecting the identity of its active duty personnel. When soldiers who served in the 2008 Gaza invasion visited The Jewish Week for an interview a few months ago, it was with the stipulation of anonymity. The social media age presents challenges to that policy.
But at a time when a handful of soldiers are being charged with serious crimes related to the Gaza war, code-named Operation Cast Lead, such as manslaughter and the use of human shields, the IDF’s attention should be on identifying and rooting out people who don’t belong in uniform in the first place before they are put in combat situations.