Palestinian babies and bombed mosques - IDF fashion 2009
20 March 2009
The office at the Adiv fabric-printing shop in south Tel
Aviv handles a constant stream of customers, many of them
soldiers in uniform, who come to order custom clothing
featuring their unit's insignia, usually accompanied by a
slogan and drawing of their choosing. Elsewhere on the
premises, the sketches are turned into plates used for
imprinting the ordered items, mainly T-shirts and baseball
caps, but also hoodies, fleece jackets and pants. A young
Arab man from Jaffa supervises the workers who imprint the
words and pictures, and afterward hands over the finished
Dead babies, mothers weeping on their
children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out
mosques - these are a few examples of the images Israel
Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts
they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty.
The slogans accompanying the drawings are not exactly anemic
either: A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription
"Better use Durex," next to a picture of a dead Palestinian
baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A
sharpshooter's T-shirt from the Givati Brigade's Shaked
battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a
bull's-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in
English, "1 shot, 2 kills." A "graduation" shirt for those
who have completed another snipers course depicts a
Palestinian baby, who grows into a combative boy and then an
armed adult, with the inscription, "No matter how it begins,
we'll put an end to it."
A T-shirt printed at the request of an IDF soldier in the
sniper unit reading 'I shot two kills.'
There are also plenty of shirts with blatant
sexual messages. For example, the Lavi battalion produced a shirt
featuring a drawing of a soldier next to a young woman with bruises,
and the slogan, "Bet you got raped!" A few of the images underscore
actions whose existence the army officially denies - such as
"confirming the kill" (shooting a bullet into an enemy victim's head
from close range, to ensure he is dead), or harming religious sites,
or female or child non-combatants.
In many cases, the content
is submitted for approval to one of the unit's commanders. The
latter, however, do not always have control over what gets printed,
because the artwork is a private initiative of soldiers that they
never hear about. Drawings or slogans previously banned in certain
units have been approved for distribution elsewhere. For example,
shirts declaring, "We won't chill 'til we confirm the kill" were
banned in the past (the IDF claims that the practice doesn't exist),
yet the Haruv battalion printed some last year.
The slogan "Let every Arab mother know that her
son's fate is in my hands!" had previously been banned for use on
another infantry unit's shirt. A Givati soldier said this week,
however, that at the end of last year, his platoon printed up dozens
of shirts, fleece jackets and pants bearing this slogan.
"It has a drawing depicting a soldier as the Angel
of Death, next to a gun and an Arab town," he explains. "The text
was very powerful. The funniest part was that when our soldier came
to get the shirts, the man who printed them was an Arab, and the
soldier felt so bad that he told the girl at the counter to bring
them to him."
Does the design go to the commanders for approval?
The Givati soldier: "Usually the shirts undergo a
selection process by some officer, but in this case, they were
approved at the level of platoon sergeant. We ordered shirts for 30
soldiers and they were really into it, and everyone wanted several
items and paid NIS 200 on average."
What do you think of the slogan that was printed?
"I didn't like it so much, but most of the
soldiers wanted it."
Many controversial shirts have been ordered by
graduates of snipers courses, which bring together soldiers from
various units. In 2006, soldiers from the "Carmon Team" course for
elite-unit marksmen printed a shirt with a drawing of a
knife-wielding Palestinian in the crosshairs of a gun sight, and the
slogan, "You've got to run fast, run fast, run fast, before it's all
over." Below is a drawing of Arab women weeping over a grave and the
words: "And afterward they cry, and afterward they cry." [The
inscriptions are riffs on a popular song.] Another sniper's shirt
also features an Arab man in the crosshairs, and the announcement,
"Everything is with the best of intentions."
G., a soldier in an elite unit who has done a
snipers course, explained that, "it's a type of bonding process, and
also it's well known that anyone who is a sniper is messed up in the
head. Our shirts have a lot of double entendres, for example: 'Bad
people with good aims.' Every group that finishes a course puts out
stuff like that."
When are these shirts worn?
G. "These are shirts for around the house, for
jogging, in the army. Not for going out. Sometimes people will ask
you what it's about."
Of the shirt depicting a bull's-eye on a pregnant
woman, he said: "There are people who think it's not right, and I
think so as well, but it doesn't really mean anything. I mean it's
not like someone is gonna go and shoot a pregnant woman."
What is the idea behind the shirt from July 2007,
which has an image of a child with the slogan "Smaller - harder!"?
"It's a kid, so you've got a little more of a
problem, morally, and also the target is smaller."
Do your superiors approve the shirts before
"Yes, although one time they rejected some shirt
that was too extreme. I don't remember what was on it."
These shirts also seem pretty extreme. Why draw
crosshairs over a child - do you shoot kids?
'We came, we
"As a sniper, you get a lot of extreme situations.
You suddenly see a small boy who picks up a weapon and it's up to
you to decide whether to shoot. These shirts are half-facetious,
bordering on the truth, and they reflect the extreme situations you
might encounter. The one who-honest-to-God sees the target with his
own eyes - that's the sniper."
Have you encountered a situation like that?
"Fortunately, not involving a kid, but involving a
woman - yes. There was someone who wasn't holding a weapon, but she
was near a prohibited area and could have posed a threat."
What did you do?
"I didn't take it" (i.e., shoot).
You don't regret that, I imagine.
"No. Whomever I had to shoot, I shot."
A shirt printed up just this week for soldiers of
the Lavi battalion, who spent three years in the West Bank, reads:
"We came, we saw, we destroyed!" - alongside images of weapons, an
angry soldier and a Palestinian village with a ruined mosque in the
A shirt printed after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza
for Battalion 890 of the Paratroops depicts a King Kong-like soldier
in a city under attack. The slogan is unambiguous: "If you believe
it can be fixed, then believe it can be destroyed!"
Y., a soldier/yeshiva student, designed the shirt.
"You take whoever [in the unit] knows how to draw and then you give
it to the commanders before printing," he explained.
What is the soldier holding in his hand?
Y. "A mosque. Before I drew the shirt I had some
misgivings, because I wanted it to be like King Kong, but not too
monstrous. The one holding the mosque - I wanted him to have a more
normal-looking face, so it wouldn't look like an anti-Semitic
cartoon. Some of the people who saw it told me, 'Is that what you've
got to show for the IDF? That it destroys homes?' I can understand
people who look at this from outside and see it that way, but I was
in Gaza and they kept emphasizing that the object of the operation
was to wreak destruction on the infrastructure, so that the price
the Palestinians and the leadership pay will make them realize that
it isn't worth it for them to go on shooting. So that's the idea of
'we're coming to destroy' in the drawing."
According to Y., most of these shirts are worn
strictly in an army context, not in civilian life. "And within the
army people look at it differently," he added. "I don't think I
would walk down the street in this shirt, because it would draw
fire. Even at my yeshiva I don't think people would like it."
Y. also came up with a design for the shirt his
unit printed at the end of basic training. It shows a clenched fist
shattering the symbol of the Paratroops Corps.
Where does the fist come from?
"It's reminiscent of [Rabbi Meir] Kahane's symbol.
I borrowed it from an emblem for something in Russia, but basically
it's supposed to look like Kahane's symbol, the one from 'Kahane Was
Right' - it's a sort of joke. Our company commander is kind of
Was the shirt printed?
"Yes. It was a company shirt. We printed about 100
This past January, the "Night Predators"
demolitions platoon from Golani's Battalion 13 ordered a T-shirt
showing a Golani devil detonating a charge that destroys a mosque.
An inscription above it says, "Only God forgives."
One of the soldiers in the platoon downplays it:
"It doesn't mean much, it's just a T-shirt from our platoon. It's
not a big deal. A friend of mine drew a picture and we made it into
What's the idea behind "Only God forgives"?
The soldier: "It's just a saying."
No one had a problem with the fact that a mosque
gets blown up in the picture?
"I don't see what you're getting at. I don't like
the way you're going with this. Don't take this somewhere you're not
supposed to, as though we hate Arabs."
After Operation Cast Lead, soldiers from that
battalion printed a T-shirt depicting a vulture sexually penetrating
Hamas' prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, accompanied by a particularly
graphic slogan. S., a soldier in the platoon that ordered the shirt,
said the idea came from a similar shirt, printed after the Second
Lebanon War, that featured Hassan Nasrallah instead of Haniyeh.
"They don't okay things like that at the company
level. It's a shirt we put out just for the platoon," S. explained.
What's the problem with this shirt?
S.: "It bothers some people to see these things,
from a religious standpoint ..."
How did people who saw it respond?
"We don't have that many Orthodox people in the
platoon, so it wasn't a problem. It's just something the guys want
to put out. It's more for wearing around the house, and not within
the companies, because it bothers people. The Orthodox mainly. The
officers tell us it's best not to wear shirts like this on the
The sketches printed in recent years at the Adiv
factory, one of the largest of its kind in the country, are arranged
in drawers according to the names of the units placing the orders:
Paratroops, Golani, air force, sharpshooters and so on. Each drawer
contains hundreds of drawings, filed by year. Many of the prints are
cartoons and slogans relating to life in the unit, or inside jokes
that outsiders wouldn't get (and might not care to, either), but a
handful reflect particular aggressiveness, violence and vulgarity.
Print-shop manager Haim Yisrael, who has worked
there since the early 1980s, said Adiv prints around 1,000 different
patterns each month, with soldiers accounting for about half.
Yisrael recalled that when he started out, there were hardly any
orders from the army.
"The first ones to do it were from the Nahal
brigade," he said. "Later on other infantry units started printing
up shirts, and nowadays any course with 15 participants prints up
From time to time, officers complain. "Sometimes
the soldiers do things that are inside jokes that only they get, and
sometimes they do something foolish that they take to an extreme,"
Yisrael explained. "There have been a few times when commanding
officers called and said, 'How can you print things like that for
soldiers?' For example, with shirts that trashed the Arabs too much.
I told them it's a private company, and I'm not interested in the
content. I can print whatever I like. We're neutral. There have
always been some more extreme and some less so. It's just that now
more people are making shirts."
Race to be
Evyatar Ben-Tzedef, a research associate at the
International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism and former
editor of the IDF publication Maarachot, said the phenomenon of
custom-made T-shirts is a product of "the infantry's insane race to
be unique. I, for example, had only one shirt that I received after
the Yom Kippur War. It said on it, 'The School for Officers,' and
that was it. What happened since then is a product of the decision
to assign every unit an emblem and a beret. After all, there used to
be very few berets: black, red or green. This changed in the 1990s.
[The shirts] developed because of the fact that for bonding
purposes, each unit created something that was unique to it.
"These days the content on shirts is sometimes
deplorable," Ben-Tzedef explained. "It stems from the fact that
profanity is very acceptable and normative in Israel, and that there
is a lack of respect for human beings and their environment, which
includes racism aimed in every direction."
Yossi Kaufman, who moderates the army and defense
forum on the Web site Fresh, served in the Armored Corps from 1996
to 1999. "I also drew shirts, and I remember the first one," he
said. "It had a small emblem on the front and some inside joke,
like, 'When we die, we'll go to heaven, because we've already been
Kaufman has also been exposed to T-shirts of the
sort described here. "I know there are shirts like these," he says.
"I've heard and also seen a little. These are not shirts that
soldiers can wear in civilian life, because they would get stoned,
nor at a battalion get-together, because the battalion commander
would be pissed off. They wear them on very rare occasions. There's
all sorts of black humor stuff, mainly from snipers, such as, 'Don't
bother running because you'll die tired' - with a drawing of a
Palestinian boy, not a terrorist. There's a Golani or Givati shirt
of a soldier raping a girl, and underneath it says, 'No virgins, no
terror attacks.' I laughed, but it was pretty awful. When I was
asked once to draw things like that, I said it wasn't appropriate."
The IDF Spokesman's Office comments on the
phenomenon: "Military regulations do not apply to civilian clothing,
including shirts produced at the end of basic training and various
courses. The designs are printed at the soldiers' private
initiative, and on civilian shirts. The examples raised by Haaretz
are not in keeping with the values of the IDF spirit, not
representative of IDF life, and are in poor taste. Humor of this
kind deserves every condemnation and excoriation. The IDF intends to
take action for the immediate eradication of this phenomenon. To
this end, it is emphasizing to commanding officers that it is
appropriate, among other things, to take discretionary and
disciplinary measures against those involved in acts of this sort."
Shlomo Tzipori, a lieutenant colonel in the
reserves and a lawyer specializing in martial law, said the army
does bring soldiers up on charges for offenses that occur outside
the base and during their free time. According to Tzipori, slogans
that constitute an "insult to the army or to those in uniform" are
grounds for court-martial, on charges of "shameful conduct" or
"disciplinary infraction," which are general clauses in judicial
Sociologist Dr. Orna Sasson-Levy, of Bar-Ilan
University, author of "Identities in Uniform: Masculinities and
Femininities in the Israeli Military," said that the phenomenon is
"part of a radicalization process the entire country is undergoing,
and the soldiers are at its forefront. I think that ever since the
second intifada there has been a continual shift to the right. The
pullout from Gaza and its outcome - the calm that never arrived -
led to a further shift rightward.
"This tendency is most strikingly evident among
soldiers who encounter various situations in the territories on a
daily basis. There is less meticulousness than in the past, and
increasing callousness. There is a perception that the Palestinian
is not a person, a human being entitled to basic rights, and
therefore anything may be done to him."
Could the printing of clothing be viewed also as a
means of venting aggression?
Sasson-Levy: "No. I think it strengthens and
stimulates aggression and legitimizes it. What disturbs me is that a
shirt is something that has permanence. The soldiers later wear it
in civilian life; their girlfriends wear it afterward. It is not a
statement, but rather something physical that remains, that is out
there in the world. Beyond that, I think the link made between
sexist views and nationalist views, as in the 'Screw Haniyeh' shirt,
is interesting. National chauvinism and gender chauvinism combine
and strengthen one another. It establishes a masculinity shaped by
violent aggression toward women and Arabs; a masculinity that
considers it legitimate to speak in a crude and violent manner
toward women and Arabs."
Col. (res.) Ron Levy began his military service in
the Sayeret Matkal elite commando force before the Six-Day War. He
was the IDF's chief psychologist, and headed the army's mental
health department in the 1980s.
Levy: "I'm familiar with things of this sort going
back 40, 50 years, and each time they take a different form.
Psychologically speaking, this is one of the ways in which soldiers
project their anger, frustration and violence. It is a certain
expression of things, which I call 'below the belt.'"
Do you think this a good way to vent anger?
Levy: "It's safe. But there
are also things here that deviate from the norm, and you could say
that whoever is creating these things has reached some level of
normality. He gives expression to the fact that what is considered
abnormal today might no longer be so tomorrow."