“Army Girl,” interview with Shani Boianjiu in Marie Claire’s September 2012 issue.
In the September issue of Marie Claire magazine Shani Boianjiu, the IDF fiction author made semi-famous by the New Yorker, follows up her ethnic typecasting in her June essay by portraying Palestinians as “thieves.” As Boianjiu details her assignments, the ex-military guard turned writer veers into the biggest nuisance to her work, “Arabs”:
[R]eally the biggest problem were kids from Arab towns stealing from the base. One time a few soldier were practice shooting and when they went to check their targets, they left their vests full equipped with helmets and magazines and flashlights. When they got back, they saw their vests running up a hill. The thieves were ballsy.
To Boianjiu, Palestinians function as the background noise of her military service and in her forthcoming novel, The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, a coming of age tale about bored female soldiers. “I think the main thing I learned was how to deal with my boredom—how to entertain myself when I was alone or doing routine things,” said the author to Marie Claire. “It also made me less afraid of things, because when you are promised danger or big consequences and at the end nothing happens you become more indifferent.”
Boianjiu is not an ideologue. It is apathy towards her military days that clouds any details of the occupation. “I had guard duty, too, which was boring,” said Boianjiu. Marie Claire‘s interviewer, Roberta Bernstein, steers clear of the subject, instead inquires “how strict is the army about makeup and clothing?” and “Did you ever feel that women were treated like second-class citizens?”
On sex, dating and trouble making, Bernstein asks, “The female characters in your book fool around and flirt with the ale soldier. Was there a lot of sex going on?” Boianjiu’s reply she gives an anecdote that takes place in Gaza:
One time, we were taken out of boot camp to help with the Gaza pullout [In 2005, when the army forced Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip and some West Bank settlements to resettle], and we were on a makeshift base—just a bunch of tents in this sandy place. There were tons of soldiers and then this stupid white string around the girls’ sleeping tents. Someone would always check it, too, to make sure no one crossed it.
Similar to the interview, Boianjiu’s literature omits the larger context of violence endured by Palestinians who are present in the same setting. In her New Yorker essay, her lack of care to detail becomes historical revisionism, in effect repeating IDF propaganda over a death of a Palestinian family on a beach in Gaza. When mentioning the Palestinian deaths, Boianjiu’s story says a “dormant shell that Palestinian militants had left by the sea” killed the family. However, Annie Robbins and Adam Horowitz noted it was Israeli fire that caused the tragedy.
As well in her essay Boianjiu callously described a protester against the occupation as “more like a bank customer asking for an increase of his credit limit than like a demonstrator.” She continues by painting the man as manipulative, trying to cajole the soldier-protagonist into firing at the demonstration in order to garnish more press–all while wearing a hopelessly dated Guns N’ Roses tee-shirt. “‘Please,’ the man said. ‘We need to be in the newspaper. Page 5, even.’”
Boianjiu’s misrepresentations of Palestinians are made all the more alarming by her account of military service in Marie Claire. For the author, what makes the occupation a disruption to normal life is “everyone had to carry around an M16 rifle at all times, even to the bathroom, so you had to get another girl to watch it while you showered. If you were in there for more than three minutes, people started yelling.”
Three pages after Boianjiu’s interview, Marie Claire cover another Israeli women, Orit Gadiesh, a chairman of Bain & Company who previously worked for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, finding him an “extraordinary” leader:
He was smart, thoughtful; he actually cared about the people he worked with. I don’t know how people describe him now, but he was way beyond Mr. PowerPoint. He was negotiating with the banks, and what he did was extraordinary. He did turn the company around.
Like Boianjiu, Gadiesh also served in the IDF and comments on her military service as a training ground for her future work. “I saw people like the minister of defense and the chief of staff making important decisions without perfect information, which served me well later. I don’t think you need to have perfect information to get people to change, which is what Bain is all about.”