"We heard a strange noise and ran to the window immediately to see what was going on," Naoul recounts. "We were surprised to see a group of soldiers dancing in different positions in the broad plaza of Jabel Rahma Street. It was around 4:30 am. We were amazed. The soldiers were singing out loud a song we never heard before and dancing with their rifles in their hands."
Naoul says she realized from the very beginning that the soldiers were shooting a video clip. She says the photographer was standing on a fence near her house and shooting a video of the dancing soldiers. "I was angry, but I just looked out my window and was silent. I don't talk to them."
Rima has already encountered Israel Defense Forces soldiers dancing or singing on the streets of Hebron in the past. "Sometimes, when the muezzin announces a prayer, they imitate him or repeat his calls. This is another symbol of their contempt, but we have gotten used to that too," she says.
"In the past we were afraid of them, but today the soldiers are part of the neighborhood's landscape. We have gotten used to them. They have lost any sense of shame and so they allow themselves to dance in the middle of the street."
But both the mother and daughter admit that the soldiers sometimes manage to make the local population happy. "For example, when the small children play football, the soldiers join them and they play together. That's actually nice. For us they are already part of the neighborhood."
Another neighbor adds, "It’s not the first time I see them like this. We have already heard them singing and dancing on the street. Once, we stood next to them and applauded."
Above the old cemetery
The soldier's clip was the talk of the town in Hebron on Tuesday. Soldiers, settlers and Palestinians were all talking about the "military dance".
The clip, which was aired Tuesday on almost every TV channel in Israel and across the world, was shot by soldiers of the Nahal unit near the Tel Rumedia site in Hebron, above the old cemetery.
After its publication, the unit's soldiers posted it on their Facebook pages under the name "Rock the Casbah".
"Well done on the clip," one of their friends wrote. "Shaul the mannnnn," another responded. A third friend wrote, "You cracked me up. This is awesome."
On YouTube, where the clip can be watched across the globe, not all responses are supportive. They start with "what a great clip, I couldn't stop laughing," and end with "Are you completely retarded? So much contempt and disrespect."
It appears some Nahal fighters are also finding it difficult to smile after watching their dancing friends. "We have been talking about the clip quite a lot, and many of us think it isn't nice. It shows us in a negative light," one of the regiment's troops in Hebron said Tuesday. "I think it's embarrassing," another soldier added.
But there were also those who defended the soldiers. "Why isn't it nice? It's a terrific clip. Everyone loved it and it didn't harm anyone. I don't understand what the commanders want from them."
Noam Arnon, one of the leaders of the Jewish settlement in Hebron, says he couldn't stop laughing when he watched the clip. "I can guarantee that they did not learn this dance at the Cave of the Patriarchs," he says, smiling. "And yet it amused me. I hope the army isn't viewing it too seriously."
But what started as a joke could mean trouble for the soldiers, just before their release from the army. Two of the six dancers who serve as company commanders have been summoned by their commanders, who are considering putting them on trial. However, IDF sources estimated Tuesday that the soldiers would not be punished at the end of the day.
'Moshe Dayan used to steal oranges'
Should the dancing soldiers be punished? Minister Yossi Peled, a former Northern Command chief, believes there is no reason for a fuss over nothing. "It was an act of mischief by 18 year olds. We've all done foolish things when we were that age. Each generation had its tricks. In my time, I remember soldiers used to walk into an orchard and pick oranges.
"I hope this is not turned into a drama, because there is no drama here. True, they should be put in their place, but nothing more. The army should explain to them that today, with the internet and YouTube, people can see them. I don't think it has any effect on Israeli 'hasbara'. There is no drama here and I suggest we keep things in proportion."
Other IDF officials agree that this was nothing more than youthful frivolity. "Our pranks were more serious and difficult," a retired officer recalls. "Once a group of fighters put their commander's car on a ramp, which was as high as an electricity pole. The commander woke up in the morning and found his vehicle in the sky. Even (late Chief of Staff) Moshe Dayan was once caught 'taking' oranges from an orchard. When the orchard owner asked him what he was doing, he replied, 'I'm stealing oranges.'"
"Soldiers stationed in Hebron are experience a great amount of tension 24 hours a day," says Yedioth Ahronoth's military commentator Eitan Haber. "This tension is caused both by settlers and by the Palestinian residents. I think they were just alleviating some of the tension. They were no doing anything which would harm the unit or the army. Nonetheless, it's good that it ended this way. Has they been fired on in the middle of the dance and had not been able to respond, I would have said they were being irresponsible. But the way it ended I would just applaud and not send them to detention."
Advertiser Eilon Zarmon says the incident should not be taken too seriously. "These types of clips have two aspects," he explains. "The first weakens the macho, manly, deterring, threatening and serious image of the army. The second gives that empty macho image a more human, accessible and friendly image.
"When examining the image of an army, one must examine its role. The role of every army is to defend, deter and occupy. The clips filmed by the Nahal soldiers in Hebron include things which will crack this tough image, but I personally think that these clips, if they are unique, can add a touch of humor to the IDF strength. If the uniqueness of this phenomenon remains, it could only add a positive shade to the IDF's image, rather than hurt it."
The six fighters seen in the clip refused to talk to the media on Tuesday, but their friends clarified that the video's goal was purely humoristic, adding that the soldiers just wanted to document an amusing scene from the area they served in before being released from the army.
The IDF Spokesperson's Office said in response that "the matter is being looked into by the regiment commander."
Zvi Zinger, Noam Barkan, Ronny Shaked and Moshe Ronen contributed to this report
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