Guest post: War Machines in your Playground

Dor Aviram is an Israeli filmmaking student at Sapir Academic College.

This is a tank. More precisely, it is a Sherman tank, in case you were wondering. It lies right beside a special soldiers' hostel called "the Armored Corps House". Blocks of homes are located on every side of the tank. This special monument rests in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood in Tel Aviv. Growing up in this neighborhood, I remember myself often being fascinated by the tank and sometimes trying to climb up and play on it. A tank standing in heart of my neighborhood didn’t seem common to me, but neither did it seem unnatural.
Only at the age of 24, when I started studying filmmaking in college and moved from my hometown, could I gain the proper perspective to look back at how natural or unnatural it was for a war machine to be standing in the middle of a neighborhood.

There are endless ways in which the youth in Israel is being indoctrinated the Israeli national ethos, which claims that the Jewish people and Israel as a nation cannot survive  without the means of using armed force. It's not only the schools, youth movements, media and the close surrounding like friends and family that encourage an adolescent to dream of becoming "a war hero", but it is also the physical environment one grows up in.

As part of my studies, I was looking for a subject for a short documentary. I did a little research and found out that there were dozens of tank monuments lying around in Israel: in squares, roundabouts, parks, playgrounds and in the entrance of Kibutzim, just like in my neighborhood. Some of them are well cared for and some are left to rust, sometimes resting exactly where they had been abandoned during war or training. Some of them are Syrian or Egyptian tanks, symbol for winning wars against these countries, while others are old Israeli tanks, a pride of Israeli invention. Most of them stand as memorial monuments for dead soldiers.

I also went to Latrun Museum, the national museum of the Armored Corps. The museum represents an impressive collection of war vehicles and tells the stories of famous battles that took place over the same grounds on which the museum is now settled. I was not surprised to find out that closest to the entrance lie several tanks with a staircase that invites the visitors of the museum to climb the tank and take pictures of themselves playing with its rifle. I wrote to several tank museums in other countries, asking them whether climbing tanks in the museum is allowed. Of course, some of them forbid visitors from climbing the tanks altogether while others allow it, however it seems like in Israel they practically ENCOURAGE kids to play and imagine themselves as tankers.

The urban space is open to endless opportunities of propaganda, visible or hidden. Unlike other countries, Israel is always on the brink of yet another violent conflict. From this perspective, these tanks are bound to become very real for these children hanging around them in a matter of several years, as most Israelis are obliged to join the army at the age of 18. Of course, one can claim that the tank is big and impressive,  and you can adore the brilliance of mankind, developing such a machine the same way one can be inspired by any other mankind achievement like Apollo 11 or the Eiffel Tower. But doesn't this admiration conceal an admiration for war as well? In my opinion, the presence of these tanks in the public realm is a daily ratification of the israeli society accepting the war as part of their culture, memory of the dead as an indisputable part of their tradition.

Freud probably would have put his attention to the very fine erection these tanks symbolize. Well I’m not a psychologist, nor a sociologist, but I can only assume that the presence of war machines in the public realm has a significant influence on the way Israelis perceive war and more acute, the way the perception of war is being indoctrinated to children, as I can tell by my own personal experience.   After all, If it’s part of a playground, how bad could it be?

Pictures by Dor Aviram and Mattan Gal - All rights reserved.
Project producers: May Ben Zeev and myself. I would like to thank Bar Lyner, who most generously hosted us in the far north of Israel. Though the people in the pictures knew they were photographed, we have blurred their faces to protect their privacy.