The IDF Belly Dance: This Is What Occupation Does to the Occupied and the Occcupier

From Ha’aretz:

A video uploaded to YouTube shows an Israel Defense Forces soldier wriggling in a belly dance beside a bound and handcuffed Palestinian woman, to the cheers of his comrades who were documenting the incident.

The IDF’s internal investigation department ordered an immediate probe into the matter…

As the article notes, it’s only the latest incident of an IDF “Abu Ghraib-style” scandal – but don’t think for a second that all is well now that the IDF is “investigating the matter.” I’m in agreement with blogger Mitchell Plitnick, who points out that these incidents are just the outward manifestation of something much more fundamental and much more troubling:

In my work I’ve come to meet and get to know many soldiers, from several countries (most, of course, either Israeli or American), both active ones and veterans. I know that most soldiers do not behave this way. But it is clear, from every war, conflict, police action and occupation that there are always some soldiers who do.

Israelis are no different, but there is something that is different about this dynamic. It is that these soldiers are the products of a militarized society which has been holding millions of people under military occupation, with no rights of citizenship, for over 43 years. That has a long term effect on both occupier and occupied.

These soldiers are young men and women, who are the second or even third generation of occupiers. They have been raised in a culture that, as is natural for an occupying power, both dominates the Palestinians and also fears them. That fear is not limited to terrorists, but extends to the very existence of the Palestinians, and their legacy of dispossession.

10 thoughts on “The IDF Belly Dance: This Is What Occupation Does to the Occupied and the Occcupier

  1. Cotton Fite

    Terribly sad. When will we learn that dehumanizing treatment of others dehumanizes both victim and perpetrator? I am sure many Israeli soldiers treat Palestinians respectfully, but the systemic corrosion of a military occupation exacts a terrible price. A good Jewish friend (no radical, he) returned recently from Israel and described his horror at realizing what a militarized society it had become. He admitted to experiencing a painful comparison with the early days of Nazi Germany.

  2. Shlomo

    Indeed very sad and troubling. This not what the IDF is about or should be, but if one soldier’s clip went out on the web, I dread thinking how many soldiers act or feel the same as that one.

  3. Shirin

    I just don’t buy the “occupier as co-victim” notion. It is not the occupation that turns these people into brutes, it is their own inclination to become brutes, and when they have the opportunity that occupation affords them, they choose the way o the brute.

      1. Shirin

        We all have the inclination to be brutes.

        I disagree strongly. If we all had the inclination to be brutes, then there would not be so many people who refuse to be brutes no matter what the circumstances.

        Our institutions can encourage that inclination or discourage it.

        And who creates the institutions.

        The bottom line is that some people, like the despicable Avi Yakobov, who not only dances around, but rubs himself up against a captive woman in the video, have it in them to behave like this, and others, when faced with the same circumstances, do not. It is not the circumstances, or the institutions, that turn people into despicable brutes, it is something within them.

    1. Matt Planchak

      I have to agree with Ross.

      It would be nice to think that people who commit heinous acts do so because of their inherent wickedness. It would be nice to think that ‘those people’ (guards at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Auschwitz, etc.) carried out atrocities because they were evil people.

      Unfortunately, modern psychology has repeatedly shown that the truth is not that tidy, and much, much scarier. Among others, the Milgram experiment was just reproduced last year with very similar results. It turns out that, given the right set of circumstances, almost anyone is capable of humiliating and torturing other individuals.

      1. Shirin

        Matt, I am sure you had no ill intentions when you made your comment, but please do not try to strengthen you argument by putting words into my mouth that make mine sound absurd. I never used the terms “wickedness” or “evil”, nor did I imply either.

        And I still strongly object to the portrayal of those who commit heinous acts as co-victims with those upon whom they prey. Mr Avi Yakobov had a choice in the matter, the young woman whom he intentionally tormented and humiliated did not. That makes him the perpetrator, her the victim. It does not make them co-victims.

        And I do think those who blame the occupation for the ills of Israeli society and the horrific behaviour of so many of its members have cause and effect reversed. There had to be something about them mentality of Israeli society to begin with that made it quite acceptable to occupy, systematically depopulate and colonize, and attempt to illegally annex land outside its country’s borders that was clearly populated and in use. It was the mentality that made the occupation and all its horrors possible, not the occupation that caused the mentality that made the occupation possible.

  4. Israel Gershon

    Right Matt, so why don’t we all just understand that with all the cameras and phones out there, that there will always be such examples of disgusting behavior to view wherever people exercise control over others. As Jews we would hope that all of our people would live up to our Jewish standards. But WE are human too. There are Jewish prostitutes, drug addicts, and child molesters as well in Israel. At least this soldier doesn’t have a street named after him or posters glorifying his disgusting behavior.

    We need peace, but until that can be established, we must have security. The IDF I know, will address this issue seriously and the Country as well.

  5. Matt Planchak


    Likewise, no one but you used the term ‘co-victim’ to describe the occupier. My language wasn’t chosen to construct a straw-man or to be hyperbolic; I was alluding to the conventional wisdom that these things happen because there are evil people in the world.

    Regardless, to address your point directly, replace evil/wicked with brutish and I still stand by what I wrote.

    It’s been shown that the people who ‘refuse to be brutes no matter what the circumstances’ are in fact a small minority. Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo proved it in the 60s and 70s. Hannah Arendt noticed it during the Eichmann trial. When choosing guards at Guantanimo for ‘enhanced interrogation,’ the Army has to weed out those with masochistic tendencies: it’s the people who don’t naturally derive pleasure from harming others that are the most effective at torture.

    Just to be clear, I’m not trying to excuse or justify any of these actions, or suggesting it should be tolerated. I’m just saying that it’s not so cut and dry. In the US, we’ve seen the corrosive effects of our occupation of Iraq, despite our buffers. Those that live with/under occupation are constantly subject to a pathology that dehumanizes both the occupier and the occupied.

    I would like to think I would be one of the few people to resist; I know you would too. But until we are in that situation, we can never know for sure. And to me, that’s the most disturbing part of all, and why the situation needs to end: because regardless of what we tell ourselves, that could be any of us dancing in that video.

  6. debbie schlossberg

    Shirin- Can I be equally sure that you had no “ill intentions” when you categorically implied that Jewish Israelis are particularly prone to “brutal’ behaviour?”


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