An Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldier angered folks on both sides of the West Bank Barrier when he posted a photo of a young Palestinian boy in the crosshairs of his rifle on Instagram. The photo, posted by 20-year-old sniper Mor Ostrovski, spread across the web over the weekend, and by the time it was garnering international headlines on Monday, the IDF condemned the photo. "The picture in question does not coincide with IDF's values or code of ethics," an IDF spokesman told the press. Israel stopped short of disciplining Ostrovsky, however.
Advocates for the Palestinian cause obviously didn't approve of whatever values the Instagramming soldier was exhibiting. "The image is simply tasteless and dehumanizing. It embodies the idea that Palestinian children are targets," wrote Palestinian activist Ali Abuminah who was one of the first to blog about the photo. "This is what occupation looks like. This is what military control over a civilian population looks like."
This is not an isolated incident. For peace advocates, this misplaced social media post stands for a lot more, a decade worth of abuse and intimidation from the IDF. Many papers were quick to flag a case involving some photos uploaded to Facebook a week ago showing an IDF soldier posing bound and blindfolded next to four Palestinian soldiers who were also bound and blindfolded. The IDF threw him in a military prison for two weeks.
Looking even further back reveals the 2003 photo of a Palestinian boy as seen through the crosshairs of an Israeli rifle. "There, too, an Israeli soldier aimed a weapon at a boy and took a picture with his camera as a memento, a gesture of an endless feeling of power that is connected to control over another people," Breaking the Silence, a group of IDF veterans committed to revealing the truth about what happens in the field, said on Facebook. "The devices and the applications have changed; the ways in which pictures are shared has changed. The feeling of excessive power and the clear contempt for human life and human dignity have remained."
As isolated incidents, these photos just seem like young foolish soldiers doing dumb things on social media. However, the trend of IDF forces giving the public a glimpse into what happens behind the lines suggests that these kinds of things will continue to happen. We learned during the conflict in Gaza last November that young IDF soldiers love posting pictures of themselves in uniform on Instagram, and around the same time, we got a peek into the IDF's sometimes grizzly Twitter and Tumblr accounts during wartime. Of course, the same thing has happened in the United States with more widely publicized cases of American soldiers doing everything from sexually abusing soldiers to urinating on corpses.
In a weird way, there's a bright side. Consider the idea that these kinds of things are already happening all the time in warzones. Without foolish soldiers unwisely uploading photos to Instagram and Facebook, maybe the world would never learn about soldiers misbehaving. That's being pretty optimistic about everything, though. Whether you're an Israeli sniper or a Palestinian activist or an American solider, it's never okay to put a young boy in your sights, and it's definitely not okay to upload that photo to Instragram bragging about it.