Imagine a reality where for a day, Snookie from Jersey Shore becomes the single most visible representative of American military and foreign agenda around the world. A world where whatever she says, is taken as representative of an organization that she is not even remotely a part of. As frightening as that thought may be, this is exactly what happened last month in Israel when a clueless 20-year old ex-IDF soldier posted disturbing photos taken during her army service, on her Facebook page. She smiles and poses in front of a blindfolded and cuffed Palestinian detainee. Her friends comment and ‘like’ the photos. Unbeknownst to her, all this content is publically accessible because of Facebook’s December ’09 changes in privacy defaults. The content is immediately picked up by a local Israeli blog, and within a day, through a world encompassing media avalanche, reaches the New York Times, Guardian, BBC and hundreds of front pages around the world.
Within a fortnight, Eden Abergil becomes an Israeli public figure, stamped on news articles slashing one of Israeli IDF core principles, its moral values, and Israeli society as a whole. All because a single, insignificant girl’s actions; a girl who has no connection whatsoever to the army anymore. Domestic and international news agencies turn against her. The IDF condemns her actions and releases her from reserve service. Yet Eden still does not really grasp why here photos are perceived as problematic. In a recent interview, when asked if she understands the world’s anger about the photos, Eden answers: “of course I understand! The whole world is against us. Its not a secret that the world hates us (Israelis)”. It was her army service, the photos were her souvenir which she posted on her supposedly private Facebook page, and had “private” conversations with her friends. She did not physically harm the prisoners. On the contrary, she claims that she fed and gave them water. “I don’t understand what all the fuss is about!” – she exclaims.
But the powerful fact still holds. With a tiny click of the mouse, by uploading these photos, Eden provided the world with ammunition against one of the most powerful armies in the world: a way to attack the IDF’s *prized* moral values. Compulsory service means that every Israeli is connected to the army – siblings, parents and friends. It is an integral part of Israeli society, making it difficult for one to criticize its actions. When you criticize the IDF, you’re criticizing your brother who might be serving, your father who is in reserves, and your friend’s family, whose son was killed in one of the many dangerous oprations in Gaza. The story of Eden Abergil hit one of Israel’s most sensitive spots – the IDF’s moral values. During the Lebanon and Gaza wars, as well as the Flotilla attacks, Israeli “hasbara” consistently uses the IDF values as its main defense reasoning. IDF soldier’s intent is to target militants and terrorists NOT civilians. IDF soldiers act to protect Israeli civilians, they react when attacked. Their values are aligned with what the western world would expect a truly valiant army.
The repercussions of Eden Abergil’s actions are a country’s worst nightmare, and a byproduct of the difficulties Facebook users have grasping issues of privacy on Facebook. When looking at Eden’s photos it is hard not to jump to conclusions and judge the IDF as a whole. “Finally the true face of the IDF has been revealed” – “see how they ruthlessly treat Palestinian prisoners”. But as we all know, the truth tends to be much more complex and multi-faceted. Yes, there are countless cases of detainee mistreatment by IDF soldiers. Hundreds of Palestinians are held without any legal justification. However in Eden’s case, there was none of that.
From blogs to mainstream media, Israelis disgusted by the sheer stupidity of this girl’s actions, horrified by the fact that within a day, Eden Abergil turned from being a nobody retired soldier chatting about shopping, parties and boys with her friends, to a world-wide symbol of “vicious Israeli occupation”; the face of the IDF, affecting people’s perception of Israel around the world.
The harm that Eden’s photos did to the image of the IDF will take a long time to heal, if ever. However, the damage done to her personal image will never be erased. Eden is mocked and publically slandered by media outlets as well as Isarelis across the country. The following youtube skit marks her as an “Arsit” (a.k.a. ‘white trash’) while numerous Internet memes have unfolded with her photo and name plastered all across. Eden will always be rememberd as that stupid girl who posted abnoxious photos on her Facebook account. She will have a hard time finding a job, and will always be the poster case for “people doing stupid things online”. Her micro-celebrity status will most likely drive her insane or to the extreme edge of society. When the waters settle, she will be forgotten.
But never forgiven.