The Orientalism of Israeli Troops Dancing

Israeli troops dance to Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok.”:

Some comments on the semiotics. The piece begins with the Muslim call to prayer in al-Khalil, a Palestinian city in the Palestinian West Bank, which Israelis call Hebron. Some 30,000 Palestinians are being kept in an urban prison for the sake of 600 far-right armed Jewish colonists who have squatted on Palestinian property in the city. Al-Khalil (“Hebron”), like the 2.5 million Palestinian residents of the West Bank, has been militarily occupied by Israel since 1967. Israeli squatters have stolen private Palestinian land and control 42% of the West Bank, according to B’Tselem. It is illegal in international law for Occupying powers to transfer their own populations into occupied territories or for them to usurp property from the occupied.

The video depicts Hebron as mired in tradition and virtually empty, which mirrors the Israeli Orientalist view of Palestinians more generally. The soldiers are depicted as playful, fun-loving and hyper-modern, gyrating to the music of the most recent blonde valley-girl top 40 phenomenon.

In fact, militarily occupying other people is a sign of backward, 19th-century-style imperialist ideology. The 600 Israeli colonists these troops are supporting include people far more fundamentalist and mired in tradition than most Palestinians.


Israeli settlers, Al-Khalil/Hebron

And struggling for local independence versus globalizing oppression, whether it is BP destroying the Gulf of Mexico, coal companies causing global warming and destroying human habitat, or neo-imperial schemes to steal local resources on the part of global bullies, is actually the avant-garde of the 21st century.


Palestinian youth dancing to Shakira at the Cosmos dance club in the West Bank Courtesy McClatchy

Here is a video of the more usual activities of the Israeli army in al-Khalil: “On Feb. 25, 2010, Palestinian and international activists held a march in Hebron/Al Khalil to demand the opening of Shuhada Street, open to Israelis but closed to Palestinians for the last ten years. Marchers attempted to walk onto Shuhada Street, once a primary street for Palestinian business and markets, but Israeli military prevented them from entering. The man detained in this clip was released late that evening.”

And here is a B’tselem video of what life is like for al-Khalil residents trapped among aggressive Israeli squatters determined to drive them out:

23 Responses

  1. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, you, Dr. Cole, are correct. Their are no arabs in ‘Hebron’ … the happy-go-lucky, westernized IDF frolics to western, urbane rap and so on ala Edward Said’s orientalist nightmare.

    I don’t agree with this, but let’s assume it’s right. I’m Jewish admire some, but not all, of Israeli culture, but does this mean that I cannot laugh at a Palestinian comedian? cannot take my wife to her arab oncologist(who is the best of the best I might add)? or cannot admire the intellect of a prominent, female, Palestinian spokesperson?

    Professor Cole, sometimes a bunch of teenagers of any nationality goof off, blow off steam, act like idiots without any political, ideological, or religious goal or insult. Sometimes, a cigar is just that….

    • I wish these soldiers took heir uniforms off and threw away their machine guns and went dancing with the Palestinians. it wouldn’t be funny but they both would be very happy.
      This is not comedy. I am not Palestinian and I am not Muslim and love this song, still I am not laughing. I would not be laughing either if the Palestinians are physically and psychologically tormenting Jewish people with machine guns in hand. I would not be laughing if they are ridiculing and changing a religious Jewish holly prayer into even a belly dancing music AND DANCING outside their homes. That is not a sign of modern behavior no matter how modern the music is. Telling kids that carry machine guns that this behavior is Ok and laughing with them would do much harm for both.
      It is not until someone like you recognizes that distributing hate, arrogance and ignorance in this and other repugnant ways, peace could never be achieved. It is really sad.

    • I thought the point was that 30,000 Palestinians were incarcerated for the benefit of 600 Jewish settlers. I must have been smoking the wrong pipe. But, wait!!! I don’t smoke???

      • Don’t pick up the habbit but ” as the American government seaks to end the four decade of Jewish settlment enterprise, the American treasury helps sustain the settlement through tax breaks donation to support them.”
        A New York Times examinanation of public records- identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than 200$ millions in tax diductable gifts fir Jewish settlements in west bank and east Jerusalem.
        link to nytimes.com

        Evident from professor Cole last video that the money is well spent on education of Jewish settler how to say the really bad words in Arabic to the Palestinians. The palestinians have to hookah to smock the bad words away!

    • @ David Oberlander
      This is not a cigar. This is not teenagers and some “steam”.
      Its Israeli ‘Hasbara’ (propaganda) in action. And yes, it’s that simple.

  2. David Oberlander, “Professor Cole, sometimes a bunch of teenagers of any nationality goof off, blow off steam, act like idiots without any political, ideological, or religious goal or insult. ” Yes, sometimes! But then, they wouldn’t be wearing bullet-proof vests and helmets, carrying high-end killing weapons and serving an occupying army/ideology that has become expert at settlement/expulsion/killing.

  3. oh, come on juan. the critics who have grumbled about the video look silly. the edward said shtick does not apply here. it was a harmless bit of fun by some young soldiers who likely would prefer to be anywhere but hebron. enjoy the moment.

    • “enjoy the moment.” – yes, and Palestinians SURE enjoy it. If the occupation soldiers are NOT happy with being war criminals, they could refuse. Some of them do refuse, and they are NOT dancing on the street cleansed from the inhabitants – they sit in military jail or work to end such happy dancing

  4. “They can’t handle modernity”. “They” being Arabs, Muslims.

    And by implication “they’re” for the dustbin of history.

    That charge – it’s more than a charge, it’s a justification – gets trotted out all the time.

    Gets trotted out by people who are, apparently, in thrall to a 3,500-year-old world view. The world view of a group of Bronze Age nomads and their Realtor in the Sky (as Gore Vidal once put it).

    And who’s got a problem with “modernity”?

  5. They did it in the context of a military patrol, in full armour, heavily armed. Do you really see it as that neutral? A cigar is sometimes just a cigar, and sometimes it’s the one that Bill Clinton gave Monica Lewisky.

  6. I watch the media fairly closely and the interesting thing that I’ve been observing the last 5 days is a concerted media campaign on the part of Israel and General Patraeus in an attempt to legitimize their positions. This video would fit into that realm.

    It’s cool, hip smart, emotionally positive and a distraction of what’s really happening on the ground.

  7. Washington Post Milbank article about Obama-Netenyahu press appearance says it all.

    Here is an excerpt that is particularly relevant:

    Obama didn’t even mention Israel’s settlements until a reporter inquired — and then he declined to say that Israel should extend a moratorium on settlements that expires in September. Avoiding any criticism of Israel, he instead directed Palestinians not to look for “excuses for incitement” or “opportunities to embarrass Israel.”

    Netanyahu celebrated victory. “To paraphrase Mark Twain,” he said, “the reports about the demise of the special U.S.-Israel relationship aren’t just premature, they’re just flat wrong.”

    So in Obama’s view, the Israeli treatment of, say, the Hebron Palestinians could not possibly be a rationale for incitement or justify the embarrassment of Israel. And that’s exactly Netenyahu’s understanding of Obama’s view.

    Obama’s message to the Palestinians is that their suffering is acceptable to the United States, and they have no freedom of action to escape their suffering. Him and Netty just don’t give a s–t.

    On the other hand Barry gave Netty the go-ahead to get incited anytime Israel feels like it. Of course, Israel would never embarrass the Palestinians. Not when its so easy to bomb, bulldoze, imprison and starve them.

    The next time us liberals go looking for a candidate, lets make sure a spinal x-ray is part of the vetting process.

  8. Somehow I associate to that disturbing dancing scene in Reservoir Dogs. This wasn’t as explicit, but it’s still dancing to show off your power over a helpless victim:
    link to youtube.com

  9. Dear Professor Cole

    Thank you for the videos of the behaviour of the squatters in Hebron. In UK the provocative behaviour of the squatter lady would have had her arrested and charged with harrassment and conduct likely to lead to a breach of the peace.

    I picked this quote up from Stephen Walt’s blog and find it apropriate

    You can’t be afraid of words that speak the truth. I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms or euphemistic language. And American english is loaded with euphemisms. Because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent a kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it. And it gets worse with every generation.

    Nick Kristof’s piece in NYTimes this morning and last week understates the level of misbehaviour of the squatters, observed by the Israeli Army who do not intervene, but starts to break through the wall of incomprehension in the US of the situation in Palestine.

    If Education is a process of diminishing deception then Kristof’s pieces are a valuable start in showing US citizens what is being done in their name. Analysis of the comments on his Facebook site reveals the division into those stating unconditional support for Israel Right or Wrong, those who are seeking further information, and those who understand and know the reality of what is happening.

    By provding a window on the reality of the behaviour of the squatters you are providing President Obama a valuable service by illustrating a justification for his pressure on the government in Jerusalem.

  10. This is the mark of vicious colonialism. I am sure the British danced over the imprisoned in India, many times.

  11. Happen to know one of the soldiers… yes it is kids goofing off, and not realizing that anything an Israel does will be placed under a microscope on the world stage. I chastised the soldier because he forgot at that moment that he was an occupier and behaved in a manner that may have brought a smile to a few of the occupied, but others would not smile : they will not dance in the street until the soldiers leave. What you (and the Palestinians) don’t know about these soldiers is that these are from a leftie unit in the army and are trying to make the best of a bad situation. They are cognizant that their government is asking them to perpetuate the settler injustice, but they are patriots and will do the best they can. Muhammed Ali is a great example of someone who went to jail rather than serve, but he is a rare example in any country, and that is the honorable choice. As much as I chastised the soldier, it is pretty ridiculous when they skip down the street holding hands. Too bad it has to be interpreted as more than that.

  12. Without taking away from other interpretations of this video, I see an act where soldiers are asserting their humanity (dancing to mindless, sexual music) against the oppression which comes from being an oppressor. I’m explicitly not claiming an equivalency between the oppression of Palestinians and the damage done to Israeli society and its young people by their own occupation. I believe that military service of any sort involves its own kind of dehumanization, and to see a video which essentially transforms a military patrol into a music video is in my eyes an assertion of a self other than the soldier. Also the casual attitude expressed in the video towards the performance of military duties, towards the Palestinians, towards the whole situation, perhaps speaks to a desensitization from being enmeshed in the occupying machine of Israeli government and the military.

  13. I have heard from Art Gish and many other CPT members that have lived with Palestinians as witnesses for peace that the settlers adults and children are brutal. Finally cameras are entering the picture. Proof has been getting out for years now. Have heard about Palestinian children being spit on by settlers, screamed at, rocks thrown at them.

    Have talked with witnesses who have been beat to a pulp by Israeli settlers. Most are vicious and cruel and have no conscience

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