Thursday, August 17, 2006

Down the rabbit hole of the Israeli soldier

The digital age is altering our perception and experience of reality in profound ways yet to be studied. In 1996, professor Kevin Robins wrote his influential article about the virtual unconscious in the post photography age. In that article he warns us softly that we've done so much to achieve freedom and shift the control back to the individual that we might just be loosing the balance, reaching a degree of control on things that alters them and alters us back. Digital photography is already taken for granted, the image can be controlled to the pixel level, reconstructed, molded, you name it. It is such a high level of control that you can barely trust it to reflect reality anymore. Even Reuters or "60 minutes" fall for these things.

Robbins's main claim is that in a photo you can reveal more than the eye saw, but a digital image/simulation reveals your subconscious. Towards the end of the article he expresses an ethical concern: what happens to a soldier that doesn't get his hands dirty anymore? A soldier that presses a button and the whole of Baghdad disappears? A soldier who shoots from a war plane after years of training on video games and flight simulators? Does he have the sense of killing a person or is he so detached from the human face through technology mediation? Will humanity turn into a cold blooded high tech murder scene? Robbins speaks of it briefly, almost tip toes around it at the end of his article. He thinks soldiers might suffer now from new kinds of virtual post-traumas caused by the perception gap between the simulation and the real, and says some of the first gulf war soldiers already show some new symptoms of that sort.

You've made it through the intro, sorry if it was too academic, I had to present the issue. I want to talk about the subconscious of the Israeli soldier, in light of that. Around 15 years ago, during the first Intifada uprising, it was my generation's time in the army. They had to invent everything the army uses today. From there things took a turn and we became what we are today. Before that we were a bit innocent in our fighting, it was war as we knew it, with tanks in the desert. One of the concepts invented was at first top secret but today known to all: the elite units called "Shimshon" and "Duvdevan", people who learned perfect Arabic and disguised themselves as Gaza citizens, taking a great personal risk. Many of them killed terrorists from a short range under this cover.

Many of those fine young men, who found themselves in these new challenging army duties, although having weekly shrink meetings, couldn't really stand the psychological pressure. An intelligent young man convinces himself he protects his country this way but part of him just doesn't like him wondering around at nights and shooting people in the head, even if they're terrorists. I remember the first generation of "Shimshon". A large part of those men changed their attitudes towards human life; it became a cheap thing you can bet on. So they bet on their own lives. They used to play "Russian roulette" with their guns and some of them shot themselves. Some of their friends who lived to tell could never get back to normal life; some are in mental conditions till this very day. I have 3 friends who served in those times and their way to cope with it was to become spiritual/ pacifist in quite extreme ways.

During this second Lebanon war I kept thinking of the pilots of the war planes, Israel's best sons, hand picked. They rattle there up in the skies hitting their targets like in the flight simulator, like in the video games. And than they come back home, watch the news and see the pictures of the dead, civilians, sometimes children, who were caught in the fire. What happens in their virtual subconscious? How do they connect between their buttons and this frozen blooded body? Do they feel that horrible life draining feeling of "I took someone's life"? Is the virtuality of it making it easier or worse to bare?

Sorry fore those heavy questions, people, that's my way of dealing with the aftermath.


Blogger Lilu said...

well, I'd say the whole "Israel's best sons" image is beginning to crack...

After the 13 year old girl case and the pilot who was arrested with a prostitute and cocaine, I think we can see some hints of what their job is doing to them.

3:15 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

News articles in the US are saying that the current war in Iraq is producing an unusually high number of soldiers with post traumatic stress. There may be technology that allows a jet pilot to drop a bomb without seeing the victims, but the occupation (or ground invasion in the case of Lebanon) following the bombing is really screwing up the troops. There have been a handful of incidents in the last couple years of US soldiers coming home from Iraq with minds and hearts so twisted that they killed their families upon return.

I don't know what Israel does for its veterans (somehow I find that I must believe that you do better than we do... is this wishful thinking?), but there are great numbers of US veterans of past wars who are now homeless, mentally ill, and addicted to drugs and alcohol. We just saw the first Iraq Occupation veteran at the Bread & Roses Catholic Worker (an intentional community I'm part of -we offer hospitality and advocacy to the homeless), and I'm very afraid that there will be many, many more to come.

I simply don't understand how we can send boys (young - they're really just boys!) off to war, and then be unwilling to take care of them when they return...

5:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You better think about where you can move to away from the Middle East.

G_d has forsaken your people. In every other war Israel has been in since 1948 G_d has blessed your people with miracles to help you win, but not this war.


I believe it's because of the tolerance that has been seen in your nation for homosexuality, BSDM, and other immoral behavior.

Chronicles 24:20
New International Version (NIV)

20 Then the Spirit of G_d came upon Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, "This is what G_d says: 'Why do you disobey the LORD's commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has forsaken you.'

5:42 AM  
Blogger Carmel said...

people! and here i thought *I* was over reacting. people are not killing their families here and not homeless, it's a different structure of society than in the US and i think it saves our asses but those traumas don't make those boys killers, there are other post traumatic effects that you get to live with. and lilu, pilots are still hand picked amongst the best, there will always be a couple of incidents.

and that guy with the forsaken God, come-on... relax, God is still around and we're gonna be ok. no Jesus tearing up the sky around here, i promise :-) I'm curious though why you don't write the "o" in "God". i know the Hebrew writing is changed because it is believed the Hebrew alphabet reflects the true essence of things therefore a holly language but English is a man made secular language, there should't be any abbreviations required.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we can ask similar questions about all of us, not merely those who fight in the wars. At least here in the US, cable news coverage of fighting and killing is surrounded by trivial and distracting images and stories. Many of the cable stations have a "runner" at the bottom of the TV screen, which gives summaries of everything from sports scores to the weather to news headlines to what some fucking celebrity is doing next. That has the effect, I would think, of "leveling out" the significance of the information being conveyed. Images of rubble with dead bodies still visible is Paris Hilton is highs in the 80s. A story about innocent people bombed and burned is sandwiched between a commercial about pills to make your penis hard and the following story, this one about what Bush gengerly climbing on a Harley Davidson motorcycle the way a toddler does a tricycle. I recall how my local newspaper juxtaposed on its front page a story about the butchering of Nick Berg in Iraq with a full-color picture detailing the football team's latest win. And it's easy, depressingly easy, to multiply these examples.

Perhaps the difference between the "virtual unconsious" of a soldier and the "virtual unconscious" of those who are at home is merely one of degree, not type.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Carmel said...

Sinai guy - i agree! the question of virtual/mediated witnessing through media is one of the most interesting in the field of media research these days and i did think of that but i didn't wanna impose too much on the original post. besides, this is a temporary war journal, we have to stay focused :-)

4:08 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

"people are not killing their families here and not homeless, it's a different structure of society than in the US"

It may seem silly, but you have no idea how relieved I am to hear this. I guess I just want to know that there are still places in the world where people take care of one another. People all over the US are waving "Support the Troops" signs, and using this slogan either to suppress dissent (in the case of the prowar folks), or using it to condemn the war (anti-war folks). Few, if any, are actually using the slogan as an imperative - the moment soldiers get home, society forgets about them. I feel ashamed of my country, and then feel shame for being ashamed of my country. When are we going to start taking care of one another?

I read this today in the local newspaper (from the AP):

"Before dawn today, several hundred Israeli soldiers crossed back over the border into Israel. Some smiled, sang and rejoiced, while others just looked relieved to be out. One soldier sat down and cried, his head buried in his arms, after reaching Israel again."

I'll be praying for him.

10:52 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Sorry for ranting on your blog, folks. Maybe this isn't an appropriate place for it. I think I'm just looking for an affirmation, someone to tell me I'm not crazy. I want to know that American indifference is abnormal. So I show up spouting off on a blog for kind-hearted Israeli women... :)

12:58 AM  
Blogger Carmel said...

you're normal, phil. for what it's wortyh, coming from a country of nut cases... :-)

1:05 AM  
Anonymous myrna said...

Phil is sweet and Carmel, you have a sense of humor. Lovely comments on the side beneath the wonderful 'heavy' writing of the original posts.

Hey Phil, what are you looking for? If you really want to make a difference or change in this big wide world, just start helping others, one at a time and every time you REACT, think how you could do it differently, more positive. I promise you will start feeling a difference.

Did anyone watch the movie, The Secret(can watch from the internet at

Carmel and all the great writers of this blog and everyone who reads this blog...a real gift, this movie.

2:27 AM  
Blogger Lilu said...

Phil, the thing in Israel is that so far, the majority of civilians have served in the IDF. We were all part of it somehow, and we've all been touched by combat in some form or another - if it wasn't us that were there, it is our family and friends. When we hear about it on the news, most of us relate very deeply, much more than the average American who hasn't served in the army. The IDF and the military experience is one of the basic elements of Israeli society. We live it, all the time, so yeah - our society is very sensitive to veterans.. and I imagine this will continue until that far off day when we have peace with all our neighbours and no longer have the neccesity to maintain such an army that civilians are required by law to serve. A graduate of my school did a final project about the influence of the IDF on everyday Israeli life - you can see the pictures on

As for post traumatic stress - I would again like to point out an Israeli organisation, founded by IDF reserve soldiers, that is dealing with just that. They are called Breaking the Silence and their web site is This is their way of dealing with what they went through - a pretty healthy way in my opinion.

By the way have you realized there are no serial killers in Israel? don't think there's even been one.

3:20 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Thank you Lilu, that helps me to understand.

7:44 AM  
Blogger HCB said...

I also am out of place on this blog. But I got caught up in the discussions at BeirutLive and came to think fondly of Carmel and Lilu. So - I came here to say, more directly, how good it is to see women like you involved in this tragedy. The shame is there is so much hate and so many naysayers saying ugly things. That's why it's good there are compassionate women involved - men tend to release their frustrations violently and an automatic weapon is a perfect outlet. Women have as much violence in them but, I think, are able to control themselves longer. And it's going to be a long time between now and sunup.

Another observation, Lilu - in addition to no serial killers. I have not read anything about Israel's children committing suicide or killing each other in suicide attacks on their schools and school mates. When hate, hopelessness and insanity reach the children to that degree, the problem is spiraling completely out of control. Which, of course, is the unfathomable tragedy of young suicide bombers in Israel. The children of one country are bound and determined to kill themselves and the children of another country. And our only explanation is that they are born and bred to be murderers steeped in hate. While the only apparent solution is killing them before they kill you. There must be a different way. There simply must.

I hope you all are blessed in your undertaking.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Carmel said...

HCb great seeing you here, i remember talking to you on beirut live, are you lebanese?
you're welcome to browse backwards, i dunno how much forward there will be, i promised this will be a temporary blog and i do hope the war is indeed over and we won't be back updating it that much.

6:22 PM  
Blogger HCB said...

Thanks very much, Carmel. No, I'm American. Florida.

And that's why I really am out of place here. You all have such complicated issues in such a fragile environment it makes my head hurt. It gives me a much better appreciation for what was happening in this country from about 1850 through the mid-20th century. It also gives me a better appreciation for the homily that "Freedome isn't free." There's a lot of blood and tears shed on the way. And then it's "you have to keep working for freedom to work."

One of the biggest problems I see in this current tragedy is how America wants to inject itself in birthing a "new MidEast." Were I a mideasterner, that would be arrogance of the highest order. What America should be doing - but never will - is simply to lend its good offices to the parties to the dispute in the hopes of mediating. And, America should step up with money and technical aid without strings. The answer to "why should we do that" is that it's a lot cheaper than bombs and reconstruction. And, of course, an awful lot of the wealth here is directly traceable to oil. Without oil we would have no transportation or electrical power system. Or plastics. And so forth. We consume a very large part of the natural resources of that area and should not feel queasy about doing more than simply paying some sheiks hundreds of billions of dollars so they can have their obscenely expensive lifestyle.

But there's not a thing I can do other than talk. And that makes my head hurt worse.

Godspeed and my very best hopes to all of you. I mean that sincerely.


7:06 PM  
Blogger Carmel said...

i wish every country would mind its own business, trouble starts only when they start imposing thier interests upon each other.

it doesn't mean we can't ask for help and i guess that without U.S help we'd be no where today, but than again if every one minded their own business maybe much less help was needed in the first place :-)

9:00 PM  
Anonymous myrna said...

Carmel, I will be so sorry if you and all the beautiful people(writers and visitors) go away and stop talking on your blog.

Is there anything I can do to get you to stay?

We can set up something larger with our discussions. Maybe the words on this blog will spread like the butterfly effect.

And Howard, would like to connect sometime. You have much compassion.

Warm wishes,

10:45 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

I'd like to reiterate what Myrna said. I must (rather sheepishly) admit that I've never traveled outside of the US, except for one brief trip to a nearby Canadian city. I'm a terribly busy person, and I make almost no money, so my travel options have been rather limited. The thing I really, really appreciate about this blog is the very personal tone of it.

A lot of the other ME blogs out there are pretty political in nature, and have been great at educating me about ME politics, but this one allows for a more personal, cultural exchange of thoughts. I get to learn about, for instance, why it is that Israel takes better care of its veterans than the US. I'm interested to hear perspectives on why the news quality is better in other places in comparison with the US, and why people in Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine seem to be better informed about US political process than most Americans. I also have a bazillion questions about how people of varying faiths live together in Jerusalem, about interfaith dialogue and practices in Israel, and about the opinions of everyday people on how to move towards a just peace. I'm also terribly curious about the Kibbutz's (What does the decision making process look like? Do people live together in one household, or several houses on one piece of land? What are the common communal activities? What does daily life look like? Do people in Kibbutz's pray together? How have the Kibbutz's affected Israeli culture and politics? etc,etc,etc) I'm pretty hungry for information, though I certainly understand that it is not incumbent on you all to educate this particularly ignorant bumpkin. :) Maybe I'm getting a little stir-crazy from my lack of travel, and just want to be a little less provincial.

I also have a great passion for dialogue between people from conflicting cultures. I really, really do believe that we have far more power to work towards peace and justice than our politicians do. A Palestinian man came to Olympia about nine months ago to talk about non-violent resistance to the separation wall in the West Bank. He said something that really moved me: that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is not between Israelis and Palestinians, but between the Israeli government and the Palestinian government and factions. He said that Palestinian people and Israeli people can live in peace, and even be good friends. In the conflict, the people are the ones who suffer, though.

I wish we could come to a similar understanding of Iraqi people here in the US (maybe the distance makes this much more difficult). The level of racism here is getting terribly frightening, and I want to fight it. I can see no better way than to foster direct dialogue between people.

I've been learning SO MUCH from your blog. Is there a good forum to continue pursuing this, or could we create one?

Sorry for ranting on your blog. Again.

11:24 PM  
Blogger HCB said...

Phil - a good blog is called "Israel from the Inside"

Scroll to the bottom of the first page and click on "Life In Israel". Lots of articles. Including "A timeless kibbutz experience: Kibbutz Baram - An Apple of a Time"

But - of course - read the first page. Pretty amazing stuff.

Best regards,

11:50 PM  
Blogger Carmel said...

i don't know about that, Myrna, personally, my hands are full and i have 3 Hebrew blogs, i don't really know if i can maintain a new one when not in war. I'll probably leave it standing till the next war or something, who knows, maybe we are at the beginning of some gog & magog chain of events. but i hope not. i need to get back to doing my PhD. there are so many other israelis blogging out there anyway...

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Myrna said...

Hey Carmel,

I understand about all your other word, saw it in all your essays and articles on google. Can you email me at


7:46 PM  

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