IDF Raps Soldiers for Images of Dead Palestinian Babies on T-shirts

In wake of Haaretz expose, Brig. Gen. Shermeister says soldiers' civilian clothes should match IDF values.

Uri Blau
Uri Blau

The IDF's chief education officer Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister issued a letter to a number of military units Tuesday, commenting on T-shirts printed by soldiers, as exposed by Haaretz two weeks ago. Haaretz found that dead babies, mothers weeping on their children's grave, a child in the crosshairs of a sniper's rifle and blown-up mosques are just a few of the images with which IDF soldiers decided to mark their graduation from a training course or tour of duty.

Shermeister's letter described some of the shirts depicted in the Haaretz story, and included pictures published in the feature. The chief education officer called on commanders to "increase vigilance and rule out any such phenomena, which stem from group culture and might affect it."

The Haaretz inquiry brought several examples of such prints: An infantry snipers' T-shirt with the writing "better use Durex" running alongside a dead Palestinian child, a weeping mother and a teddy bear; another sniper course shirt showing an aim taken at the belly of a pregnant woman, with the slogan "One shot, two kills;" a T-shirt depicting a Palestinian baby becoming an angry youth and then an armed man, with the slogan "no matter how it starts, we'll end it;" a shirt from the Haruv battalion with the picture of a Samurai and the caption "we won't chill before we verify the kill," and many more.

Some of the captions and images emphasize actions the army vigorously denies, such as coups de grace or deliberate attacks on women, children and religious sites.

Commenting on the inquiry at the time, the IDF spokesperson's office said that "military orders do not refer to civilian clothing, including shirts printed at the end of various training courses. The shirts are printed at the personal initiative of the soldiers, and are not army property," the statement read.

However, Shermeister's letter, titled "The boundaries of humor," appears to indicate that the chief education officer disagrees. "Some would say the printing of the shirts is a local matter, done at the personal initiative and often at the private expense of the soldiers with the aim of bonding through humor," he writes. "[However,] printing shirts for IDF soldiers, even if not initiated by the commander, is not a private action. It is an action carried out in the context of military service and should match the values of the IDF."

"We are not exempt from this duty even when dealing with writings on civilian shirts, organized independently by the soldiers. Even humor, which is an important instrument of coping with the stress and exhaustion of military service, has its boundaries. We do not teach hatred for our enemy, and we must not mock or belittle the lives of a pregnant woman or a small child," Shermeister said.