A few years ago, the August issue of VICE magazine highlighted a story titled “The Defiant Femininity of Israel’s Female Soldiers” by Mayan Toledano, an Israeli-born, New York-based artist. The series attempted to capture female soldiers in an intimate environment between photographer and subject, recollecting Toledano’s teenage years, which was stripped away as she had to mandatory service in the Israel Defense Force (IDF). The female soldiers were photographed as they walked down the streets, applying lip gloss, buttoning their shirts, and laying down next to their laptops in their beds. In the first series, the female soldiers were described as “their girly, teenage boredom that reflects a passive, sleepy protest against violence.” A few months later, VICE released a second article with more photos from the same series.
Using femininity is dangerously complicit as it describes these women who are ultimately killing machines trained by a fascist state to murder Palestinians, and this terror continues in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem. While the context of the series highlights how these female soldiers have been robbed of their girlhood and womanhood from an early age due to a mandatory military service that is stated by Israel’s law, there is no need to romanticize their war crimes against Palestinians. This article may be old, but Israel has used other tools such as TikTok to reach out to younger audiences and portray themselves as “empowered women.” These kinds of dangerous attempts to glamorize femininity and propaganda take away the major points of the context of what exactly happens in occupied Palestine.
The girlbosses of genocide
To show Toledano’s lost girlhood to mandatory service, she portrays these women as women who were being unseen and misrepresented by outsiders. She was upset that she had to serve instead of being free and losing cultural “feminine” symbols, and having difficulty adapting to the new environment around her. In an interview with HuffPost, she states that she is against the occupation and genocide of Palestinians while also resenting that she had to join the army. She further explains that she has not dealt with Palestinians as they are smaller percentages of female soldiers that, in fact, do. What was more important for her was to show what the uniform represents and to focus on the stories that these women are telling in the series.
Although these articles are meant to be a part of a creative portfolio, it still does not forget the fact that the glamorization of female soldiers under the guise of feminism is not what it is. Israel has tried to change the perspective using strategies such as the Maxim photoshoots in a way to redefine how people should view the state. The photoshoots aimed to present the state as a modern country with nice beaches and pretty women instead of land that is currently dispossessing native Palestinians and demolishing their homes.
A feminist critique of these images would understand that the photoshoots are sexualizing women’s bodies but it still does not erase the fact that the state of Israel uses women to glorify and romanticize occupation. It’s disturbing to look at the photos knowing that these female soldiers are complicit in the violence against Palestinians and downplaying this harms the narrative of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
IDF’s female soldiers marketing themselves as “feminists”
The IDF’s approach to a modern audience is using social media as a propaganda tool. The official account of the IDF on TikTok is something to behold. Videos titled “Just a bunch of empowered women defending their country” and “We’re serving looks since 1948” weaponizes social media by using it to sympathize with audiences for a fascist military that is terrorizing Palestinians.
Much like the photoshoots, these videos show women in uniform, operating tanks, and handling heavy weaponry in a misguided attempt at promoting feminism and empowering women. However, these TikTok videos suggest that despite the message of ‘women can do what men can do too,’ it still weaponized female soldiers for the same cause. The achievement of ‘empowering women’ comes at the front of ethnically cleansing native Palestinians. The denial of their femininity is heavily portrayed in these videos but they are still committing genocide that attributes to masculinity.
Feminism and social media are being used as a diversion tactic by IDF’s female soldiers by platforming them as progressive and modern people that are defending the nation. These performances are comedic and do not serve any purpose other than to spread an image of a state that is currently committing genocide. It is even worrying to watch videos of female soldiers at a military state that markets themselves as empowered women as they murder Palestinian women and children. These attempts are, in fact, Israel’s work to conceal the violence that they are committing in a platform that is dominantly used by the youth. Through TikTok, they attempt to co-opt feminism by using internet slang and trends to connect with the younger audience.
The failed attempt to glamorise feminism
The sad truth about these videos and photoshoots is that it objectifies women. But regardless of sexual harassment and the objectification of female soldiers, it still does not erase the fact that female soldiers are part of the military that brutalizes Palestinians. Whether they brand themselves as ‘empowering feminists,’ state terrorism is not sexy and should not be promoted in that way. The failure to change public perception of the ongoing occupation of Palestine and its residents will be a part of the public and online discourse for a very long time. But the failed attempt to co-opt feminism and to use social media as a propaganda tool to reach younger audiences to market themselves as a modern state will be their downfall.
As of now, IDF is terrorizing residents in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, and the dispossession and displacements of Palestinians are still ongoing. During the attack at Al-Aqsa Mosque, where Palestinian Muslims were attacked as they were observing the end of Ramadan, caught the world’s attention. Since then, many online discourses and resources have been shared to let people know what is happening in Palestine. Even if IDF is attempting to conceal, rebrand or hide the casualties against Palestinians, there is nothing feminist about masquerading violence.
Here are some resources, reading materials, articles, social media accounts, websites and apps that you can follow to learn more about Palestinian history, culture and traditions. Please amplify Palestinian voices and follow these accounts to learn more about what’s happening.
- Reading Materials about Palestine
- More resources (original tweet by Jennifer Jajeh)
- Decolonize Palestine
- Mariam Barghouti — Instagram / Twitter
- Middle East Eye — Instagram / Twitter
- KEY48 — مفتاح٤٨ — Instagram / Twitter
- Mohammed El Kurd — Instagram / Twitter
- Rosemary Ghattas/we.shall.return
- Eye On Palestine
- Palestinian Youth Movement
- Hidden Palestine
- The IMEU — Instagram / Twitter
- LET’S TALK PALESTINE
- As A Palestinian & Ex-Journo, The Coverage Of Gaza By Aussie Media Outlets Has Devastated Me by Jennine Khalik
- All Solidarity with the Palestinian Resistance by Alana Lentin
- What will it take for Palestinians to be heard? by Randa Abdel-Fattah