How Palestinians Are Countering Israel’s Politics Of Humiliation – OpEd


When Zionist militias, using advanced Western arms, conquered historic Palestine in 1947-48, they expressed their victory through the deliberate humiliation of Palestinians. Knowing how the dishonor of females brings, according to Arab culture, a sense of dishonor to the whole community, much of that humiliation targeted women in particular. That strategy remains in use to this day.

When scores of Palestinian women were released following prisoner exchanges between the Palestinian resistance and Israel last month, there was very little room to hide the facts.

Unlike the Palestinian community of 75 years ago, today’s generation no longer internalizes Israel’s intentional humiliation of women and men alike as if it is an act of collective dishonor. This has allowed many newly released female prisoners to speak openly, often on live TV, about the kind of humiliation they were exposed to while in Israeli military detention.

The Israeli army, however, continues to act with the same old mindset, perceiving the humiliation of Palestinians as an expression of dominance, power and supremacy.

Over the years, Israel has perfected the politics of humiliation — a notion that is predicated on the psychological power of shaming whole collectives to emphasize the asymmetrical relationship between two groups of people: in this case, the occupier and the occupied.

This is precisely why, in the early days of the latest Israeli war on Gaza, Israel detained all Palestinian workers from the Strip who happened to be working inside Israel as cheap laborers at the time of the Oct. 7 operation. The dehumanization they experienced at the hands of Israeli soldiers demonstrated a growing trend among Israelis to degrade Palestinians for no reason whatsoever.

One of the worst documented episodes took place on Oct. 12, when a group of Israeli soldiers and settlers assaulted three Palestinian activists in the West Bank. Israeli newspapers Haaretz and The Times of Israel described how the three were assaulted, stripped naked, bound, photographed, tortured and urinated on.

Those images were still fresh in the minds of Palestinians when new evidence emerged from northern Gaza. Photos and videos published in the Israeli media showed men stripped down to their underwear being placed in large numbers on the streets of Gaza, while surrounded by well-equipped and supposedly menacing Israeli soldiers. The men were handcuffed, tied together, forced to hunch down and then, eventually, thrown into military trucks to be taken to an unknown location. Some of the men were eventually released to tell horror stories, which often had bloody endings.

But why is Israel doing this?

Throughout its history — from violent birth to equally violent existence — Israel has deliberately humiliated Palestinians as an expression of its disproportionately great military power over a hapless, confined and mostly refugee population.

This tactic was used more during certain periods of history, when Palestinians felt empowered, as a way to break their collective spirit. The First Intifada, from 1987 to 1993, was rife with this kind of humiliation. Children and men between the ages of 15 and 55 would be habitually dragged into schoolyards, stripped naked, forced to kneel down for endless hours, beaten and insulted through loudspeakers by Israeli soldiers. Those insults would cover everything that Palestinians hold dear: their religions, their God, their mothers, their holy places and more.

Then, boys and men would be forced to perform certain acts, such as spitting in each other’s faces, shouting profanities or slapping themselves or each other. Those who refused would be immediately overpowered, beaten and arrested.

These methods continue to be applied in Israeli prisons, especially during hunger strikes, but also during interrogations. In the latter case, men would be threatened with the rape of their wives or sisters, while women would be threatened with sexual violence.

These episodes are often met with collective Palestinian defiance, which directly feeds into Palestinian popular resistance.

The image of the Palestinian fighter, dressed in military fatigues and brandishing an automatic rifle while proudly walking the streets of Nablus, Jenin or Gaza, in itself does not serve a military purpose. It is, however, a direct response to the psychological impact of the kind of humiliation inflicted upon Palestinian society by the Israeli occupation army.

But what is the function of a Palestinian military parade? To answer this question, we must examine the sequence of events. When Israelis arrest Palestinian activists, they attempt to create the perfect scenario of a humiliated and defeated community: the terror felt by the people when nightly raids begin, the beating of the family of the detained and the shouts of insults, along with other well-choreographed horror scenes.

Hours later, Palestinian youths emerge onto the streets of their neighborhoods, proudly parading with their guns, amid the ululation of women and the excited looks of children. This is precisely how Palestinians respond to humiliation.

Palestinian armed resistance has grown much stronger in recent years, with Gaza currently serving as a case in point. As the Israeli military fails to reoccupy Gaza and subdue its population, utilizing the politics of humiliation on a mass scale is simply impossible. On the contrary, it is the Israelis who feel humiliated — and not only because of what took place on Oct. 7, but also due to everything that has taken place since then.

Unable to operate freely in the heart of Gaza, Khan Yunis, Rafah or any other major population center in the Strip, the Israeli army is forced to humiliate Palestinians in whatever little margins they can control; Beit Lahia, for example.

Frustrated by their military’s failure to deliver on its promises of subduing Gazans, many ordinary Israelis have taken to social media to taunt Palestinians in their own way. Israeli women, often along with their own children, would dress up in ways that convey a racist representation of Arab women crying over the bodies of their dead children. This social media mockery seems to have appealed to the imagination of certain sections of Israeli society, which still insist on their sense of superiority, even while they are paying the price of their own violence and political arrogance.

This time around, however, Israel’s politics of humiliation is proving ineffective because the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis is on its way to being fundamentally altered.

A person is only humiliated if they internalize that humiliation as a sense of shame and disempowerment. But Palestinians are today experiencing no such feelings. On the contrary, their ongoing “sumud” (steadfastness) and unity have generated a sense of collective pride unequaled in history.

Ramzy Baroud

Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on

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