Are the Youth Innocent or Stupid?

By its very nature, to be young is to be naive, trusting, perhaps even stupid. I don’t remember where the quote comes from, but some comedian or famous person once said that when he was a youth of 18 or so, his father was the stupidest man around. By the time he had reached 21, just two short years later, it was amazing how much his father had learned. In Israel, around the age of 18 or 19, our children enter the army. They are given tremendous responsibility, trusted with security secrets that impact on the lives of millions, and so much more. They are, for all the world to see, the image of Israel. For the good, and for the bad.

Recently, a troop of soldiers was seen dancing on patrol in Hebron. I saw the video – no harm was meant, no humiliation intended. They are young. I can’t say they were stupid to dance that way – though perhaps arranging to have it videotaped might have been dumb but really, they are young and alive and I’m glad they could dance. Another video shows a soldier dancing on one side of the fence and several young Palestinians dancing on the other side. The music calls out to “put your hands up” and so the soldier does. The young children follow and do the same. The soldier claps his hands and moves to the right; the children do the same. I see no harm in this. I see only the joy of youth. I am grateful that the army has not crushed this, happy that the Palestinian children are there playing with the soldier. Maybe they will see him as human; maybe in the future they will resist a call to violence.

Another video on the Internet shows two Palestinian boys running with sticks held as if they are guns. One is wearing an army beret. They run and dodge to the side to hide and point the stick. And then one throws a pretend grenade and the soldier cautions him that he must first yell out “grenade.”

These videos could be viewed as harmless, even a way of bridging differences. Or, they can be misinterpreted as humiliation. Each video, each instance is a case of youth and perhaps poor judgement.

At their age, around the world, other youth are out drinking, having fun, lazing on beaches or partying at bars. Our children are handed guns and told – we are depending on you to defend our homes, our lives, our country. There is no great genetic difference between an Israeli boy of 17 and an American boy of 17. Two years later, genetics have not changed, but all the rest has and so an Israeli of 19 is suddenly trusted with all that we hold dear. It is, in many ways, too much responsibility. Unfair to put this on them and yet we have no choice. Tens of thousands become soldiers each year. I have no idea of the actual numbers, but the army is a massive body that absorbs our children, profoundly changes them, and then returns them to us forever different.

Some leave the army and do stupid things – they go off to foreign lands believing that if they could survive the army, they can survive anything. They dare God to prove them wrong, and sometimes, God does. And sometimes, they don’t wait to get out of the army to do something stupid. By her own confession, Anat Kam took thousands of documents while working in the Central Command office. What she did with those documents is as criminal as the act of taking them. She now claims she did it for the good of Israel, though I doubt many in Israel are dumb enough to believe her. What she did was not innocent – that was lost in her giving it to a journalist. I believe, though, that what she did wasn’t even stupid – she is clearly an intelligent young lady that has/had aspirations of being a journalist and so she cunningly used her position in the army to further her goals. No, she is not innocent or stupid.

During the Gaza War, one of Elie’s soldiers was released for a short period of time. It was only for a short few hours and yet the soldier found time to upload some pictures he had taken from the war. A year after the war, the soldier, now discharged from the army, uploaded the same pictures, but during the war this represented a security breach. It was stupid and to some extent thoughtless. Elie was told to call his soldier and within a short while, the Facebook images were removed. Among the pictures were images of soldiers who were on the front – these images did not belong on the Internet when the nation was at war. Just plain stupid, I told Elie when I heard about this. Just plain stupid.

Now, in the last few days, the stupidity and perhaps the insensitivity of youth comes again to the news. Eden Abergil posed with pictures of bound Palestinian security prisoners. She smiles as in the background, these men sit blindfolded and cuffed. What makes her action appalling is not that they were treated this way – being bound and cuffed – but that she thought it something worthy enough to pose in front of. And worse, something to post to her Facebook account. That was stupid and insensitive.

I have seen many Arabs handcuffed at checkpoints. Some have arrived with false papers, hoping to lie their way into Israel for work. Some attempt to pass the checkpoints for more sinister reasons. If they are handcuffed, there is almost always a reason. No, the condition of the Arabs in the photos does not indicate abuse, nor does it violate any international law or army rules.On August 9, 2001, 15 people were murdered and 130 injured because a young couple carrying explosives in a guitar case wasn’t caught as they crossed through a checkpoint. Almost daily, Arabs are caught with knives. I have no idea what those men did, nor does anyone else who voiced an opinion about the Facebook pictures.

Some of those who are caught are interrogated and released; others are arrested and enter the security system. Yes, they are bound – as is done in almost any military situation; and yes, they are blindfolded as they are taken in secure vehicles to other locations. What Eden did wasn’t connected with what the men did or whether blindfulding them was right or wrong. It is easy to look and feel sorry for them. To look in the face of one stupid girl and spin that into some great wrong of all Israel. That is what one Palestinian leader tried to do. He called this a symbolic humiliation of all that Israel does. And in his case, he can’t even claim youth as the reason for his stupidity.

The law of the checkpoint is very clear and soldiers are trained carefully in how they should behave. The levels of command are there as well. More than once, Elie arrested Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, for violating laws or trying to circumvent them.

But these are not the types of pictures Elie posted to his Facebook account – there are no Palestinians in his pictures. Even now, as his friends post pictures of Elie and he is tagged, I see him again and again with other soldiers, hiking with them, talking with them, posing with them. Sometimes, he has a weapon or is in front of some military vehicle. Never is he in the process of humiliating anyone.

This is where Eden crossed the line from insensitive to just plain stupid. What Eden did was wrong on so many counts and yet, I find it ironic that as Palestinian leaders fall in line to speak of Israeli atrocities – not one is smart enough to realize how they are really portraying their own guilt, their own behavior, their own crimes.

Gilad Shalit has been held for more than four years. One video and one tape have been released to his family. A video was made showing Noam Shalit, old and gray, going to fnally meet the coffin of his son. Other tortures far worse than how these Arabs were treated have been bestowed upon Gilad.

These prisoners in Eden’s pictures are not being physically abused. One Palestinian leader says they are being humiliated though it is not clear whether they even know they are being photographed. All these words are excuses, I supposed because what Eden did was wrong. It was wrong because she took advantage of her position as a soldier to amuse herself and, apparently, whatever Facebook friends she thought would be amused too. Again, lest I be misunderstood – I want it stated clearly – it was wrong to have taken the pictures; wrong to have posted them.

But at the end of the day, these prisoners went home to their familes or were arrested, tried, and if sentenced, will now be held in Israeli prisons where they will be able to meet with their lawyers, see their families, even sleep with their wives. If justice prevailed and they were found guilty of some crime, they will have access to using their time to study for an advanced degree and improve themselves. Daily newspapers and walks in the sun are built into their schedules. All while Gilad Shalit sits in a bunker somewhere without any contact.

Ask Gilad Shalit if he would mind being bound and handcuffed (as I am sure he has been more times than we can count) and have some stupid, naive Arab girl pose in front of him – and then graduate to the school of Israeli standard treatment for prisoners. Ask him if he’d prefer to have his picture on Facebook and then have time with his family, or would he save himself the so-called humiliation and stay embalmed alive in Gaza?

Perhaps this is rationalization; perhaps I should be as enraged as so many others. But more than rage against Eden is needed. A two-pronged approach is required – further education in the ranks is recommended, though I know that Elie was “educated” enough in the army to know better than to take such pictures and certainly not to be stupid enough to post them to the Internet!

As Elie says, “She’s an idiot.” Harsh, but true.

The second approach is where we demand the Arabs meet the standards they so easily and quickly hold us to. They are correct – no one should be humiliated. Hamas has repeatedly humiliated and crushed the dreams of the Shilat family. If those prisoners were “abused” and “humiliated” what then have these very same leaders done to Gilad?

Now is the time for each of those hypocritical Arab leaders who stood up and condemned Eden to equally stand up and condemn the humiliation and abuse of Gilad Shalit. Youth can be naive and stupid. None of these leaders have the right to claim this as their excuse.


  1. I did a lot of stupid things when I was young and naive — many of us do. I’m trying to impart my experiences to my kids so they don’t have to personally experience everything I did wrong!

    As far as the photographs of the Arabs, Elie puts it succinctly — “She’s an idiot.” Your son has a way with words 🙂

  2. The male human brain has certain “maturity connections” that science has proven do not get made until a young man is in his mid-20’s… They are not stupid, they are young. God willing they will live long enough to get there and be fine, less mistake-prone adults. May the Robono Shel ‘Oalm watfch over all of our Israeli soldiers, and all of the Jewish people. And may we be as merciful as H’ whne we see theri mistakes.

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