By Ramzy Baroud
The humiliation of Palestinian women by Israeli soldiers in the occupied city of Hebron in July was not the first such episode. Sadly, it will also not be the last. Indeed, an Israeli military unit stripping five women in front of their children, parading them naked around their family home and then stealing their jewelry was not a random act. It deserves deep reflection.
Palestinians rightly understood the event — investigated at length by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, which released its findings in a report published on Sept. 5 — as an intentional Israeli policy.
Several attacks carried out by Palestinians in Jericho and Jerusalem have already been linked to the call for revenge made by Palestinian groups, including women’s collectives. We are expecting the resistance “not to stand idly by in the face of this heinous incident,” a spokesperson for a women’s group in Gaza said last week.
The B’Tselem investigation was damning. “Dozens of masked soldiers, with dogs,” raided the ‘Ajlouni family in southern Hebron, the group said. They then “handcuffed three family members,” including a minor, “separated men from women and children, and began an extensive search of them and their home.” The most humiliating episode followed, as “masked female soldiers” threatened a mother with a dog and forced her to strip naked in front of her children. The degrading treatment was repeated against four other women, as they were forced to move, naked, from room to room. Other soldiers, meanwhile, were busy stealing the family’s jewelry, according to the report.
Western media outlets ignored the investigation, although they did enthusiastically report on the retaliatory attacks on Israeli occupation soldiers carried out by Palestinian youths in Jericho and Jerusalem, providing little or no context to what they perceived to be “Palestinian terrorism.” But the Hebron women and the ‘Ajlouni family are the actual victims of terrorism — Israeli terrorism.
Though the Hebron incident was a repeat of numerous violations of Palestinian rights and dignity spanning many years, there is still much we can learn from it. Humiliating Palestinians is an actual Israeli policy and cannot be attributed to “a few bad apples” in the otherwise “most moral army in the world.” This assertion can easily be demonstrated by a quick comparison of the behavior of Zionist militias during the Nakba of 1947-48 with later episodes and, eventually, to the recent events in Hebron.
Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s “Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” provides illuminating, although difficult-to-read, passages on the rape of Palestinian women during those horrific years. And the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported last year that sensitive references were purposely removed from declassified Israeli military documents concerning the events that led to the Nakba. These included Aharon Zisling — the country’s first minister of agriculture — saying that “I can forgive instances of rape, but I will not forgive other acts.”
Such callousness was entirely consistent with the violent behavior and attitude exhibited by the militias — later to form the Israeli army — and their leaders, including David Ben-Gurion, who later became the first prime minister of Israel. In the document, Israel’s founding father called for the “wiping out” of some Palestinian villages. This, too, was removed from the version that was released.
Most Israelis are unaware of this sordid past, simply because the subject is banned in schools. The so-called Independence Day Law — also known as the Nakba Law of 2009 — outlaws “any mention of the Nakba or reference to the establishment of the state of Israel as a day of mourning,” according to the legal group Adalah.
Though Israel has succeeded in deceiving its own people regarding their collective past, the historical processes that produced such violence remain in place. This means that Israel continues to reproduce that same violence in different forms, even though every generation is largely unaware of how their behavior is a continuation of the same legacy of previous generations.
It also means that the soldiers who humiliated the Palestinian women in Hebron are likely unaware of the mass violence that accompanied the Nakba; they might not even be aware of the term “Nakba.” Their behavior, however, is indicative of the culture of violence in Israel, the rooted racism and the persistent desire to humiliate Palestinians.
This was equally true during the First Intifada, the uprising of 1987 to 1993. Back then, sexual violence went hand in hand with Israeli violence against the Palestinian population. The sexual abuse of Palestinian women during the Intifada, especially in Israeli prisons, was commonplace. The Israeli military used this tactic to extract confessions or to discourage female activists and their families from pursuing the path of resistance.
All of this falls into the realm of the “politics of humiliation,” a centralized political strategy that is used to establish control and dominance over occupied nations.
The Israelis have excelled in this field. We know this because of the numerous reports by Palestinians themselves and also because of the testimony of Israelis. This was amply demonstrated in the reports provided by the Breaking the Silence group, made up of Israelis who either left the military or refused to join. Many of these refuseniks who have spoken out publicly have cited the dehumanization and degradation of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli soldiers as one of the reasons they walked out.
All of this illustrates that such events are neither marginal nor isolated and are not only carried out by mentally fatigued soldiers who violate army rules. The exact opposite is true. In fact, the sexual degradation of Palestinian women is just one aspect of the protracted and ongoing politics of humiliation in occupied Palestine.
When Palestinians resist, they do so to reclaim their land, along with their basic freedoms and human rights, and also to redeem their collective honor, which is trampled daily by the Israeli army.
Resistance in Palestine is not a mere strategy to recover a stolen homeland. It offers, in the words of Frantz Fanon, a sense of freedom from despair and inaction and is a collective act of restoration of self-respect. This explains why Palestinians continue to resist, even if their resistance is often derided as ineffectual and futile, and why they will continue to resist for many years to come.