Opinion |

The Farce of Israel Confiscating M16 Shirts From Palestinians

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
A Palestinian boy wearing a T-shirt printed with an M16 rifle is pictured at an Israeli checkpoint in April.
A Palestinian boy wearing a T-shirt printed with an M16 rifle is pictured at an Israeli checkpoint in April.Credit: HAZEM BADER / AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

It is forbidden to live; it is permissible to die, but not to be buried. It is forbidden to gather and to wave a flag. It is forbidden to travel to the sea and to visit the family in Gaza. It is forbidden to arm yourself, and also to dress yourself. All the rage among the occupied: M16 fashion; all the rage among the occupier: forbidden fashion.

Israeli police officers have raided shops and seized M16 shirts. The merchants conceal them, and there’s already a black market for the black T-shirts. Social media is exploding from the volume of complaints by hypocritical Israelis: The supermarket delivery guy showed up at their home in an M16 shirt, how terrifying; two boys roamed the halls of a Jerusalem hospital wearing M16 shirts. “We treat their children and they want to slaughter us. You won’t believe your eyes,” an agitated Israeli man tweeted.

You won’t believe your eyes. Now they can’t even wear whatever they want. M16 fashion, which began with black T-shirts with the silhouette of an M16 rifle printed in silver, made in Turkey, is spreading like wildfire. What a twist: An American rifle, with which the Israeli army has killed thousands of Palestinians over the years, has become a symbol of the struggle against the occupation and an emblem that the occupier has prohibited.

We – the photographer Alex Levac and I – saw our first shirt at a house of mourners at the Balata refugee camp about two months ago. Border Police officers fired 12 bullets – perhaps from an M16 – into the body of a 16-year-old boy, killing him. Since then we haven’t seen a single Palestinian street without young people wearing the black shirts with the image. The fashion has expanded, there are shoes, socks and sweats, soon there will be underwear as well: terror trunks. The new line of terror bras is in development. The occupation forces will have to switch to manhunts of people wearing the bras and underpants. The checkpoints will have purpose-built examination booths, and every Palestinian passing through will have to strip and show their briefs or bras. Border Police officers will get special training in uncovering concealed brand labels; undercover officers disguised as Arabs – mista’arvim – will add M16 shirts to their wardrobes.

The checkpoint examinations will be more meticulous than ever, on either side of the bras and underpants, lest an M16 be hiding within. If they are found to be M16 fashion, the undergarments will be confiscated immediately and destroyed in the incinerator that will be installed at every checkpoint. Their wearers will be placed in administrative detention – incarceration without trial – for three months. It’s part of the war on terror. Devices to detect the emblem will be developed and installed at all the Jordan River border terminals. If that sounds funny, imaginary, over-the-top or grotesque, you don’t understand the occupation. The seizure of M16 shirts from stores is already ludicrous.

Whenever the occupation enters its grotesque stages, hope is sparked. Nothing signals the decay and disintegration of the occupation more than its ridiculous displays, and they are many. But it’s cold comfort. The occupation is still powerful and everlasting. The symbol of the Irgun, the pre-state underground militia led by Menachem Begin – a hand grasping a rifle against a map of Greater Israel – is an iconic Israeli symbol. The opposing pre-state underground militia, the Haganah, like its elite strike force, the Palmach, and their successor, the Israel Defense Forces, made do with a sword. Palestinians are permitted to sell olive-drab T-shirts with IDF emblems in the Old City of Jerusalem – there are enough ignorant and stupid tourists, Jews as well as Christians, who believe the IDF is a source of pride – but they can’t sell M16 fashion. Why? The occupation decided that it’s incitement, the indictments are on their way. Excuse me, incitement to what, exactly? To resist the occupation? That is legitimate.

At the funeral of the popular and national hero Shireen Abu Akleh, they were forbidden to wave their flag. The British occupation, the Mandate, did not prohibit our flag; the Israeli occupation prohibits theirs. It’s permitted to fly Israeli flags at Tapuah Junction, as the settlers do, and along all roads in the West Bank, even though Israel is supposedly not the sovereign there; but at a Palestinian funeral in East Jerusalem, Palestinians are forbidden to fly their flag. So which flags are they permitted to fly? And which shirt may they wear?

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