The Israeli army is on TikTok. It's as bad as you'd expect
While Gaza suffers the aftershocks of airstrikes that killed 260 Palestinians in May, and subsequent attacks that hit even after a ceasefire had been declared, the Israeli armed forces have been posting TikTok videos glamourising life in Israel's military.
Female soldiers star in many of the videos posted to the army's official TikTok Hebrew account that has almost 100,000 followers. They are featured happily describing their roles in the Israeli war machine, performing on-trend upbeat dances and workout routines, and even playing with cute puppies - all in typical carefree TikTok style.
While these Hebrew language videos are clearly intended to support recruitment and drum up support, the army also has an official English-language Tik Tok account to appeal to international audiences, also with over 90,000 followers.
TikTok videos across these two accounts consistently receive tens of thousands of views and portray female soldiers as both powerful and feminine. Two recent videos posted with the hashtags #women and #empowerment feature women running military drills. One is captioned "no makeup, only camouflage", while the other is captioned "unstoppable women since 1948".
But using women soldiers to normalise, and even glamorise brutal military violence is not new. Israel's military draft requires women to serve in the army, and it has consistently lauded women's participation in the military as a proud marker of gender equality.
The Israeli forces' website boasts of increased numbers of women in combat in recent years and its so-called commitment to gender equality. It states that women have played an "integral role" since the forces' establishment in 1948, and now "serve in positions that were previously only open to men."
Israel's online propaganda efforts often laud the so-called equality of Israeli women over the supposed "oppression" of Palestinian women, framing military service as a form of Israeli women's empowerment and superiority.
A page on the Israeli army's website entitled "The Status of Women in Gaza" is dedicated to describing the perceived mistreatment of Palestinian women, playing into the tired colonialist orientalist trope that the Muslim woman "needs saving".
Meanwhile, Israel's female soldiers are portrayed as the epitome of empowerment, with their beauty and femininity wielded by the Israeli army as tools to project a positive and progressive image that distracts from its crimes against Palestinians.
"It's a strategy that aims to create the appearance of gender equality in Israel and to normalise violence against Palestinians by giving it a soft and feminine face"
The Israeli military's Twitter account posts similar videos and photos of female soldiers praising their military service. The caption for one video posted in honour of International Women's Day 2020 reads "Here's to their risk-taking, barrier-breaking, history-making. Here's to their glass-ceiling-smashing, odds-defying, limits-pushing. Here's to the women of the IDF." It features interviews with female soldiers and outlines the history of women's military service in Israel.
While showcasing female soldiers' strength and ability to "keep up" with male soldiers bolsters Israel's narrative of women's empowerment, emphasising their femininity serves to normalise or gloss over its violence against Palestinians.
On Instagram, a photo series profiles female soldiers describing why they joined the military or their experiences as soldiers. There too, the cute and feminine photos of women in uniform aim to draw the viewer's mind away from images of war or violence.
The Israeli military's propaganda efforts with women obviously pre-date its social media campaigns. In 2007, it partnered with the international men's magazine Maxim to improve its image abroad. The magazine published a photoshoot of Israel's female soldiers, with captions like "They're drop-dead gorgeous and can take apart an Uzi in seconds. Are the women of the Israeli Defense Forces the world's sexiest soldiers?"
Israel was so pleased with the spread that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs held an event to celebrate its publication, complete with an appearance from Gal Gadot, now famous - or infamous - for her role in the film Wonder Woman. And in 2016, VICE ran a photo project that was a series of portraits shot by a former Israeli soldier, which it described as an "intimate series" depicting the soldiers' "defiant femininity".
Today, themes of female beauty are found across the Israeli army's extensive social media presence, with many photos and videos of soldiers boasting girlish or traditionally "feminine" characteristics.
"War crimes are still war crimes when committed by women"
In addition, some women soldiers - many with influencer-size followings - voluntarily spread Israeli propaganda on their personal social media accounts, dancing in military uniforms and boasting of their military service. One recently posted a TikTok video of herself with a banner saying that she "proudly" served in the IDF and asking viewers, "Do I look like I could harm innocent civilians?"
Whether strong and sexy or sweet and feminine, Israel's female soldiers are portrayed as worthy of desire and admiration, rather than meriting international condemnation. Their beauty and femininity are used to distract from Israel's violent crimes. Urging international audiences to look at attractive images of women, Israel hopes we will look away as it occupies Palestinian land and murders Palestinian civilians.
The tactic of feminising violence assumes that a woman killing a Palestinian civilian will somehow be seen as less egregious than the same act committed by a man. After all, it is not the form of violence we are familiar with, or the kind we associate with war crimes.
Yet, war crimes are still war crimes whoever the perpetrator and "empowering" women to commit genocide is just another of Israel's many attempts to whitewash its crimes against Palestinians.
Feminine or not, violence against Palestinians should never be normalised, and we should not look away.
Alainna Liloia is a PhD student in Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Arizona. Her doctoral research is focused on gender and politics in the Arab Gulf states.
Follow her on Twitter: @missalainneous
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.