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Eden Abergil is, quite rightly, confounded. She cannot “understand what’s wrong” about her posting pictures of herself, a former Israeli soldier, posing with blindfolded Palestinian prisoners and uploading them on her Facebook page.
As a member of the Israeli armed force not only was she expected to resort to violence, but to hate the very idea of Palestine. The outrage her social networking has sparked off is merely a facile reaction. Why does a military spokesperson describe her behaviour as “disgraceful” when far worse happens on the ground? The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson, captain Arye Shalicar said: “It was just something very foolish and stupid – and I hoped there wouldn’t be any media interest.”
She used the media or at least a medium that is open to media and public scrutiny. Below one of her pictures, a comment by her friend states, “You look sexiest here.” Eden replies: “Yeah I know … I wonder if he’s got Facebook! I have to tag him in the picture!”
Is this insensitive? Is it spunk? Is it just plain juvenile fun? This is what we do not seem to understand. It is not her posing in those pictures that counts or even her putting them up. It is the reason for her doing so and the response it would elicit that is of concern. It is about the nature of accessibility to what has until now been a pretty much closed area. Brutality and war crimes were meant to be under wraps or, at worst, leaked out in tantalising bits and pieces so that the enemy was warned.
Now, the warning often precedes the act and creates more than a fear psychosis a cult of worshippers at the altar of the mighty. Even those who might find such animalistic attitude despicable can be co-opted by this sort of sado-masochism. The army and the police force had always been institutions; individuals were not people who were promoted, unless they had something of consequence to say in policy-making decisions concerning their nation’s defence policies. This has altered drastically due to the availability of material that anyone can flaunt. No rules are to be followed. Abergil, a small player, has become a legitimate representative of Israel.
I am surprised at the naiveté of the human rights group, The Public Committee against Torture in Israel. Its executive director, Ishai Menuchin, said: “These cruel pictures reflect Israel’s ongoing objectification of Palestinians and complete disregard of their humanity and of their human rights, and especially their right to privacy.”
Such statements buffer the need for such exposure rather than see it as demeaning and a devious method of tormenting those who are not imprisoned. They convey the fate that awaits those who do not stay within their limits. These pictures do not reveal any more or less of what has been going on in Israel. When there is a blockade, people suffer and it is news. When an aid ship is fired at, then the world does get to know. There has never been a question of privacy, for when someone is arrested and tortured he ceases to have an identity. He is just a body that stands for a wayward system that is to be despised.
Today when there is talk of privacy, it is more about an Israeli soldier’s right to change her Facebook settings and make sure that only her friends have access to the photographs. However, they have already been downloaded; every mainstream newspaper has splashed it. So, who is culpable? A woman on a high or the media?
Will this awaken the world to atrocities or merely add edginess to voyeurism? There is no visible physical suffering in these images. The men are blindfolded. They cannot see their own humiliation or their privacy being tampered with. The blindfolds also make them fairly unrecognisable. And this is the scary part – they cease to be real people. When she jests whether one of them has a Facebook account, it merely shows that contemporary wars, even those fought with arms, rely more on image-building. They are the new politics – the YouTube videos, the social networking groups, the studio battles that make or mar you.
The hypocrisy of the Israeli reaction is just another makeover before the cameras begin to roll.
FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org