Although the Israeli “anti-terrorism day camps” for civilians are not new, an article in Haaretz last week about their growing popularity amongst tourists from around the globe has created significant buzz and, in some cases, righteous outrage. “Anti-terror Fantasy Camps Are Popping Up Throughout Israel and the West Bank – and Tourists Are Eating It Up”, reads the Haaretz headline. Another headline explains that “Tourists in Israel can now pretend to kill a Palestinian for only $115.” That’s the bargain price, for a two-hour program, jam packed with a knife-wielding terrorist, and a suicide bombing in a Jerusalem market. Longer sessions, featuring multiple “terror” scenarios, cost up to $600. The half-dozen such “fantasy camps” in Israel, and in illegal West Bank settlements, are apparently quite popular with American families visiting Israel for a son’s bar mitzvah. There are also month-long summer camps for young boys, which cater primarily to American Jews, offering all kosher meals and a daily minyan. Israelis, of course, don’t need to “play soldier,” as they are conscripted in the army, women for two years, and men for three.
The lure of these camps, however, is not so much about killing a Palestinian, as it is about “killing like an Israeli.” The focus at all times is on how Israelis do it. Caliber 3 Israeli Counter Terror and Security Academy, which first opened in 2003 in the illegal Gush Etzion settlement, is fully staffed by IDF combat veterans, including members of “elite units.” They are the experts, and they remind the campers of it at every opportunity they get.
The home page of Cherev Gidon, who runs camps in Israel, as well as in six U.S. locations, has a banner that reads “Learn to Shoot Israeli Style” and boasts: “We specialize in Israeli tactical shooting techniques, developed over the course of several decades of counter-terrorism warfare, and uniquely designed to address the threats we face today. All of our firearms instructors are highly qualified veterans of Israel Defense Force combat units. Many have served in Special Forces units and all have hands-on experience fighting terror.” To better get into the persona, all participants in the intermediate and advanced levels are required to wear the genuine IDF uniform. The command, “esh” for “fire,” is yelled out in Hebrew, as it would be in the Israeli army.
In its appeal to American citizens, Cherev Gidon asks: “ Many Americans own and carry firearms, but how many actually have the skills to identify, engage, and neutralize a violent threat in a real-time scenario?” Then he offers the Israeli expertise these Americans lack: “The Second Amendment protects your right to own a gun. Cherev Gidon can give you the skills to use it.”
In each case, the weapons are real. You can bring your own, or use the ones provided by the camp. Every attempt is made to make these camps feel like a “little Israel” in the U.S. The meals are all kosher, the camp runs Sunday through Friday, closing on Saturday, and the instructors are all fluent in Hebrew and English.
Just as Israel has long claimed to be “the only democracy in the Middle East,” so the Israeli Army has long presented itself as “the most moral army in the world.” Indeed, one of the promotional videos shows Zeus, an attack dog, biting the “terrorist,” then releasing him once the knife-wielding attacker drops the knife. The line, caricature-like in its predictability, is that “Even the dogs in the IDF value human life.” The implicit contrast is with the terrorists—the Palestinians who do not value human life, and are only ever shown as attackers. They are less moral than Israeli dogs.
In addition to its unique “shooting style,” the Israeli army has solid expertise in propaganda, from pinkwashing to, more recently, greenwashing. Thus over the past few years, it has sent multiple LGBTQ delegations to the U.S., to show how “tolerant” the Israeli army is. It is now also boasting of being “vegan friendly,” as it offers vegetarian soldiers apparently delicious vegan meals, as well as wool-free berets and leather-free boots. Sponsored by Israel21C, the marketing company behind Brand Israel, the buzz around this “green” trend is circulating in “progressive spaces,” with NPR, for example, writing a feature story about it, concluding with the incongruous quote by the vegan soldier who initiated the campaign to serve vegan meals, that: “We are fighting terror organizations. I believe that the vegan reform in the IDF is paving the way for an even more moral army.”
Savvy critics understand that bombs dropped from a fighter plane, even one piloted by a trans soldier, do not inquire about the sexuality of the people about to be annihilated, and that a bullet shot by a vegan soldier is just as lethal as one shot by a carnivore. Nevertheless, the propaganda around the “morality” of the IDF seems to work on most, because of the complete erasure, or dehumanization, of the Palestinians. And the popularity of these camps is proof of the success of this propaganda, which never pauses to consider the value of the Palestinian life about to be taken by a vegan lesbian soldier who shoots “Israeli style”.
Yet offensive as they are, these camps are not the worst of what the IDF has to offer. The exchange of expertise at the official level, training American police and private security, rather than civilians, is far more dangerous. And there are many such training camps in the U.S. Instinctive Shooting International, founded by an Israeli in 1999, trains U.S.-based private security in Israeli-style shooting. The website now says the company is American-owned, which shows the seamlessness between the U.S. and Israel around these matters. Cherev Gidon, which offers training to civilians, also has special courses for Law Enforcement officers and private security.
There are also exchange programs at the national level between the U.S. and Israel, which bring together police, border patrol, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation from the U.S., with police, border agents, and soldiers from Israel. Facilitated by Zionist organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the training of the police forces of U.S. cities by Israeli experts is also not new, I wrote about this almost ten years ago, in the pamphlet “Khaki and Blue: a Killer Combination,” where I first analyzed the militarization of the U.S. police. But it seems to be growing, and growing more deadly, as it brings together the worst practices of the Netanyahu and Trump regimes. These exchanges are now the focus of a Jewish Voice for Peace campaign, aptly named “Deadly Exchange,” which seeks to expose the alliances between the Israeli military and the police forces of various US cities.
Interestingly, while the image of police forces in various U.S. cities has been significantly tarnished by the multiple racist murders American cops engage in, somehow the same racial profiling, violence and “instinctive killings” by Israeli soldiers do not cause outrage. Instead, for many, they are admirable. And the fact that the Israeli army has always engaged in egregious violations of international law and the human rights of the Palestinians, as it enforces an illegal occupation and apartheid, engages in massacres, demolishes Palestinian homes, destroys entire villages, and maintains a genocidal siege on two million people, doesn’t seem to trouble its many fans. The glorification of the Israeli military has been so successful, that today, people around the world aspire to “shoot Israeli style.”
Ultimately, these training camps are not just about “killing a Palestinian.” They’re about killing like an Israeli soldier. Instinctively. Without a nanosecond of reflection, analysis of the situation, an attempt at de-escalation. And with zero accountability. Successful training to “shoot Israeli style” means every encounter with a soldier, a police officer, or a security officer, must be a lethal encounter for the civilian.
Is the desire to join these camps, then, a desire to kill with total impunity, like Israelis do?