MENA: The Bigger Picture Behind Eden Abergil's Facebook Photos

Ex-Israeli soldier Eden Abergil's Facebook photo album entitled “IDF- The best days of my life” has caused outrage since it was revealed on Monday that the album contained photos of the soldier posing mockingly with handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian detainees.

The photo album was available for public viewing until Abergil changed her Facebook privacy settings after the scandal arose. The story, which has made news worldwide, has been met by angry reactions on local and international blogs and on Twitter.

The album not only contained photos of the detainees, with the soldier posing alongside them, but was also annotated with mocking commentary. Jordanian-Palestinian blogger Haitham Sabbah, at the Sabbah Report provides a translation for some of the comments:

On Thursday Abergil responded to the controversy by saying she did not understand what was wrong with the photos. She said:

“There’s no violence or intention to humiliate anyone in the pictures. I just had my picture taken with them in the background. I did it out of excitement, to remember the experience. It wasn’t a political statement or any kind of statement. It was about remembering my experiences in the army and that’s it.”

Since the publicity around the photographs, the IDF has denounced Abergil's actions, insisting that she does not represent the IDF and pointing out that she was discharged last year. Some, such as Zeinobia at Egyptian Chronicles suggest that this is merely as an image-saving exercise. One commenter on Zenobia‘s post however points out that despite what many bloggers think, Abergil has been equally as criticised from within Israel as she has been elsewhere:

Regardless of IDF's public statements and actions to be taken against Eden Abergil, the majority of Israeli people comments and opinions posted in their news media criticized her and called her various names ranging from ‘idiot’ to @%#*& and demanded for her punishment.

While Abergil has been singled out, Sabbah on the other hand states that these pictures are just part of a wider phenomenon, an opines that this is the norm for the IDF:

All of these pictures really speak for themselves and what to expect from Israel Army, and worse. ‬Pictures of this kind reflect the norms accepted among Israeli soldiers at checkpoint, and the treatment meted out to innocent Palestinians. This sick girl is no better than all Israeli soldiers serving the occupation of Palestine. In fact these “best times of my life” pictures are only humble memories when compared to the bloody memories that other Israeli terrorist soldiers carry with them

Progressive Jewish blog Mondoweiss posts a similar view, as detailed in the post Eden Abergil, The Product of a Blindfolded Society, where a militarized society is blamed for such actions, suggesting while Abergil's behaviour is reprehensible, it is also commonplace and is something she may later regret:

Is there anything shocking about the Facebook photos showing the Israeli female soldier Eden Abergil posing in mocking positions next to bound and blindfolded Palestinian men? …
…You don't have to go to the West Bank or into an Israeli prison to recognize that Abergil is a typical product of Israel’s comprehensively militarized society. Just watch the documentary,“To See When I’m Smiling.”In the film, which tells the soul-crushing stories of four young women conscripted into the Israeli Army, one of the characters recounts posing for a photo beside a dead Palestinian man who had an erection. She was smiling from ear to ear in the photo. However, at the end of the film, when she is compelled to look at the picture for the first time in two years, she does not recognize the monster who bears her image. Her contorted facial expression seems to ask, “Who was I?”

And Dimi Reider, who works from within Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, at Dimi's notes makes the point that:

Abergil is no better or worse than thousands of other Israeli soldiers… Abergil by no means should be scapegoated for all excesses of the IDF

The Black Iris of Jordan, expresses some confusion as to why the photos have caused such a stir, as they are by no means unique, in this post, stating:

What is perhaps…interesting about this controversy is that the international media is deeming it a controversy at all. In the context of this conflict, and with all the well documented barbaric acts of the Israeli occupational force, why is a girl take a picture next to bound prisoners all that important? I’m essentially re-framing the very idiotic question Abergil posted in her own defense, but merely contextually. A simple Google search will yield unending results of Israeli acts on Palestinian lives, images that are simply haunting. And yet, this is what gets the media machine talking? It would definitely be interesting to analyze simply why this is so appealing to mass media? Is it the Facebook element? The digital, viral element? Is it a “caught red-handed” moment?

Indeed, the internet is rife with similar photos, which can not only be found through Google but are also being posted on Facebook, as can be seen here highlighted on Israeli blogger Eyal Niv’s blog [HB], in Palestinian Pundit‘s post entitled Rotten Apples, huh?, and in the Facebook group The norm Avi Benayahu denies, – named in reference to the Israeli military spokesman who described the release of photographs of soldiers next to detainees as exceptional,- set up by Israeli activist group Breaking the Silence in response to the controversy.

Nevertheless, most of the attention has been on Abergil herself, with the creation of a Fake Eden Abergil on Twitter, a sarcastic Twibbon, an “Eden Aberjil Sucks” Facebook page , and a meme sweeping the internet that includes mock ups of the photos from Abergil's album, many of which, such as the following, can be viewed on Ido Kenan’s blog Room 404:

Abergil has reacted to the meme by starting a debate with one of the contributors: extracts of the argument in which she does not do herself any favours can be seen on Dimi's notes here. While the statements Abergil makes in this argument are abhorrent ( “There are no laws in war!” “I hate Arabs and wish them the worst” “It would be fun for me to kill them” ), Dimi offers us the following comments on the matter:

I really don’t think Abergil is a monster. She speaks and acts like someone from a conflict area, who had well-grounded fears of Palestinian political violence nourished and grown into a full-fledged paranoia by a society built around the idea of existential fear. Comments similar to hers are posted in their hundreds on Israeli news sites every day; and frankly, some of the pro-Palestinian comments I’ve been trashing from this blog over the past couple of days are no better; the worrying thing is not Abergil’s uniqueness but her complete commonality, the fact that mind-numbing fear is taking hold of more and more young Israelis, grinding on whatever little intolerance we have left for abuses of state power against minority.

As for Abergil, like I said earlier, life is long and there’s hope she’ll feel differently in years to come; I’d strongly suggest you watch “To see if I’m smiling” before you wish her ill.

Meanwhile, at The Young Diplomat, Israeli blogger Ilan Ben Zion supports this notion that maybe Eden Abergil is just a young, inmpressionable, and yes, insensitive and senseless child in the post O Aberjil Saint of Silly:

What is surprising (aside from the fact that there is one group, 1,500 or so strong in support of the woman) is that no one, not even the Israeli Army, has simply dismissed her immoral actions as those of an immature dolt whose scope of foresight is limited to what she can put up on her Facebook page for the amusement of friends. She is undoubtedly and undeniably a complete ignoramus. Her statements on Facebook annunciate a primitive, brutish outlook (“I would gladly kill Arabs– even slaughter them”) typical of football hooligans and stultified post-lobotomy patients. Any conscience she was meant to possess must have been tossed out with her frontal lobes…

He writes a scathing piece before finishing:

Ms. Abergil, I hope you've learned a lesson: don't post incriminating pictures on Facebook that make you– and more importantly your whole country– look bad, and take a minute to weigh the consequences of your actions. Everyone else out there, I wish I could say she is a wholly isolated incident, but she is not. Nevertheless, know that Eden Abergil is not representative of Israel, the IDF, or Israelis. She is, in fact, the Israeli patron saint of bad taste, myopia, and tactlessness.

A commenter on Dimi's notespost, regarding the photos, states simply:

Ceux qui rient dans ces circonstances ont perdu conscience de ce qu’ils font.

Those who laugh under such circumstances have lost any conscience about what they do.

But maybe, after looking at the opinions above, it turns out that she never had a developed conscience about the reality of what she was doing in the first place? In any case, one thing is certain: We have not heard the end of the Eden Abergil story. While her actions are deplorable, let's hope that the focus moves away from the individual and onto the larger issues that it involves.

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