Terrorist theater: Two footnotes

A reader writes to comment on “Terrorist theater, WSJ edition,” posted earlier this week and taking issue with the photo above. This made me laugh:

I am currently deployed in Kosovo with the South Carolina Army National Guard, and just read your article about the photos of Palestinian children ostensibly “pushing” israeli soldiers shields.

Prior to our deployment to Kosovo, we had to train in Riot Control measures. Repeatedly. We were the guys with the shields and batons, and sometimes we got to be the OPFOR (opposing forces) or rioters.

REAL photos of even training event riots have much more energy in them than either of the two photos you were able to show in your article. The little girl is clearly not encountering a “wall” of Riot Control soldiers. It looks to me like a photo of a “family day” type event where the soldiers are showing family members their riot control gear and a little bit of what they do. Strong evidence in favor of this is the gap between the soldier whose shield she is touching, and the soldier to his right. We use an open formation like that only when we’re trying to move fast and do not expect to make contact with any rioters. In the event that we encountered a small child like that young girl, our forces would probably form a wall by tucking our shields in close to each other. Then we would scare her off by making loud noises.

Also the other soldier in the background of the same picture is not in position to provide any kind of support to the front line. It looks like he is holding a camera, which would fit well with my theory that it’s a demonstration for families.

The other picture, of the boy messing with the shield [see the linked post above], reinforces this belief on my part. Two of the soldiers in the background are clearly smiling, which, believe me, you don’t do when you’re actually dealing with lots of angry people. Even with all the other soldiers on either side of you, you feel very alone and vulnerable in riot formation. One soldier is looking behind him at something, again, not something you do when dealing with a riot. You stay focused on the riot, on the crowd, on the possible rocks and molotov cocktails. And finally, the boy in the second picture is clearly playing at trying to wrest the shield away from the soldier. One thing we’re warned about is people trying to grab the top of the shield and pull it down and out of our grip – this is clearly what the boy is staged at doing.

In sum, my guess is that these are either 1) staged, as suggested, or 2) pictures taken by an actual military unit somewhere in the Middle East, showing off their riot control techniques and gear to the families of the soldiers at a “family day” event. It’s the kind of thing we do in the National Guard here in the USA, but I don’t know if the Israelis do it too.

Another reader draws our attention to this highly educational video on how photos like the one that ran in the WSJ are produced for public consumption.