Daily Israel Report

IDF's Combat Soldiers to Carry Cameras, Not Just Guns

A new course teaches IDF's ground troops to take photographs as they fight, to aid the information war.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 11/16/2010, 12:04 PM

Flash 90

The IDF is training some of its ground troops to take pictures of the battlefield as they fight, in order to provide Israel with ammunition in the information war.

Soldiers from the IDF's elite Egoz infantry unit are about to participate in a photography course taught by IDF field photographers from the Spokesperson's Unit. The course will teach these soldiers the basics of photography, the IDF's official website reports.

The five-day course is being taught in all combat brigades, to small groups of soldiers that are picked from each unit. “The goal is that in each platoon, there will be a photographer,” explained 1st Sgt. Or Rodansky, one of the field photographers who teach the course.

“While most soldiers in the Egoz combat unit are doing exhausting Krav Maga (hand-to-hand combat) exercises, learning camouflage techniques and navigating morning to night, six of their friends are taking part in something completely different,” the IDF website reports. “These six soldiers, picked from their entire class which completed the combat course, will now sit in a classroom for one week learning about the aperture adjuster, proper composition, shutter and speed. No, there’s no mistake here... these are Egoz combat soldiers learning photography.”

Potentially useful tool
The implementation of the plan will bring authentic footage of operational activities from the soldiers’ points of view, and provide a potentially useful tool for Israel’s efforts in countering the sophisticated Arab propaganda machine that depicts the IDF as a cruel army and Hamas terrorists as angelic victims.

“The sorting process mainly tests the soldier’s basic knowledge of photography – whether or not he understands the subject,” 1st Sgt. Rodansky told the IDF website. “In addition, there are different prerequisites like the soldier’s position in the unit and how much time he has left in his service. It’s always better to choose soldiers who are in the center of the action like those who shoot or those who work closely with the battalion commander and are thus on the field first. Soldiers we won’t take could be snipers or soldiers who have less than a year and eight months left in their service.”

Some of Israel’s senior photographers volunteered to teach photography courses at the Golani Brigade training base. Among them are Yaron Brener, a photographer for Ynet, Elad Gershgoren, who works for various newspapers, as well as Maariv lensmen Eliran Hayat and Yossi Aloni.

“This is the first time I am doing photography not as an amateur,” Sgt. Yoav said. “The course is important because the world needs to know what’s really happening on the battlefield. Footage from the field can help Israel’s image and it’s also very interesting.”

As an example of the importance of video, 1st Sgt. Rodansky mentions that during Operation Cast Lead, combat soldiers took video footage of a school and zoo booby-trapped by Hamas. But the soldiers filmed only the cables surrounding the school and did not videotape the actual bomb. As a result, viewers did not understand what the import of the finding was.

“This only proves how important the course is,” 1st Sgt. Rodansky said. “If 20% of the time soldiers apply 70% of what they’ve learned here and come out with just one good photo, it’s worth the round-the-clock training all year. The influence these photos have is huge.”

Observers have noted that the Palestinian Authority's propaganda machine has been running circles around Israel for a decade. While PA forgeries are notorious -- even gaining the nickname 'Pallywood' -- they have been insidiously effective nonetheless, with Israel always on the defensive and its responses to libel seeming to always come in too late. The mythical killing of a PA child, Muhammad a-Dura, was staged by the PA  to make it seem that Israel had shot him, turning A-Dura into an inspiring martyr for the jihad. Israel only formally announced that the story was a smear 10 years after it occurred.