One of the most sophisticated weapons at the IDF’s disposal is their unique predisposition for psychological warfare.
Israel is, on account of its strategic position, at the forefront of military technology. One arguable weapon deployed by the IDF is its psychological control over a target population. The occupation of Gaza is an occupation driven by the gathering of intelligence, and therefore the IDF’s Shebat, or the Shin Bet, is another lucrative weapon. Prior to the Oslo accord of 1994, the Shin Bet operated an extensive intelligence network inside the occupied territories. Noted to have an archive of millions of interviews, they pioneered many of the interrogation tactics we consider to be barbaric today and they are known to regularly use torture as a means of gathering information. Of strategic importance is their ability to turn Palestinians against their own by using their families and friends as bait, as collateral damage, giving them no choice but to turn in their allegiances and report back to a sworn enemy. The result of this intelligence program was a culture of distrust and fear among the Palestinian population. Imagine for a moment that your land and your people are occupied, controlled, by an aggressor who seems to offer no empathy for your life, your experience, or at worse, the livelihood of your family, even your children. Now imagine that any person you speak to is an agent of that terror. What kind of paranoia would that create in your mind? Would you feel helpless? Would you feel driven? What would you do in that circumstance? If you position yourself, for a moment, not above but within that conflict, you might be capable of an empathetic response, however, you will never understand.
In the post-Oslo Peace Accord World, the Shin Bet was forced to officially “leave” the occupied territories. As a result of their departure and the many years of systemic surveillance over the Palestinian population, a hybridized form of militancy arose, one developed in secret, among small groups, veiled in silence, responsible for the violence associated with the militant wing of Hamas and the actions of the Islamic Jihad Group. From the ashes of a surveillance state arose a new form of resistance, one that took no issue with suicide so long as it took more lives and delivered the kind of terror done unto one population for over a generation. The suicide bombings of buses and public transit offer no greater display of human suffering and indignation. While it is easy to call these acts of terrorism the antithetical voice of human nature, equally we must remember that no suicide bombers existed prior to the occupation. They are, unfortunately, the result of occupation, a response to it. The last resort. A final cry to a world where your death matters more than your life.
In response to the growing militancy and threat evinced by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, the Shin Bet turned to pioneering state of the art surveillance that is the envy of the global establishment. Contrary to the rest of the world, Israel does not fear a total surveillance network. They welcome it in and enjoy the security it brings. This surveilled culture has created new forms of allegiance, new forms of identification, that in many ways appear to be greater than State or political allegiance: this is the reality of digital militarism, or the new face of aggression and identification in the 21st century – a new evolution in the logic of militarism.
The IDF maintains a sophisticated online presence, buffered by Facebook pages, Flickr accounts, Twitter, which is used to notify the Israeli population about a target of strategic importance that has been eliminated. This culture of digital militarism has spread to the general military service population, with many Israeli soldiers keeping Instagram accounts and uploading their tour experience to YouTube. In some cases, flagrant abuse of human rights are documented. It is not uncommon to see images of children within target sights, blindfolded Palestinians being subjected to verbal and psychological abuse and other atrocities. Worse still, even when the IDF deems the actions to be outside lawful rules of engagement, the online horde comes to defend the actions of their soldiers, creating a digital militarism driven by faith and no longer the State. Through these efforts, opponents can be vilified, detractors silenced – an Internet mob mentality that is a distinct mutation of the 21st century. Adi Kunstman and Rebecca Stein note that through this process of ongoing militarization, highly changeable and dynamic, shifting in accordance with changes in the political, technological, and social terms of the Israeli landscape, State and civilian actors enter into a shared domain. New methods, practices and grammars of military occupation emerge.
“New modes of State violence are created.”
— MF Rattray. Sections of this text adapted from and inspired by Adi Kunstman and Rebecca L. Stein’s 2015 book Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age, and Dror Moreh’s 2013 film The Gatekeepers.