TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains sexually explicit words and images.
As Israel’s latest assault on Gaza enters its third week, the destructive force unleashed upon the Strip has taken a massive toll, leaving over 650 Palestinians dead, over 4,200 wounded – mostly civilians – and over a hundred thousand homeless. As Gaza is pummeled, the level of anti-Palestinian racist incitement from top Israeli political, religious and cultural figures continues to ring at peak pitch, and has taken on a dangerous misogynistic tone.
Promoting the Rape of Gaza and Its Women
On July 21, Israeli media reported that Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of the West Bank settlement Kiryat Arba, issued a religious edict on the rules of engagement during wartime, which he sent to the country’s Defense Minister. The edict stated that according to Jewish religious law, it is permissible to bomb innocent Palestinian civilians and “to exterminate the enemy.”
While Lior is held in high regard, he is also associated with religious Zionism’s “conservative wing.” By contrast, David Stav, Chief Rabbi of the town of Shoham is considered to be a leader of religious Zionism’s “liberal” stream. In an op-ed published the same day news of Lior’s edict broke, Stav characterized the assault on Gaza as a holy war, which is mandated by the Torah itself and must be merciless.
While these leading religious figures called for wars of extermination, some secular Israelis suggested carrying out attacks of a more perverse nature.
The day after Lior and Stav made headlines, news emerged that the City Council of Or Yehuda, located in Israel’s coastal region, printed out and hung a banner supporting Israeli soldiers. The display included language suggesting the rape of Palestinian women. The text of the banner read: “Israeli soldiers, the residents of Or Yehuda are with you! Pound ‘their mother and come back home safely to your mother.”
This English translation of the Hebrew “Kansu” as “pound” (or its synonym “bang,”) literally means to beat, but also has a colloquial meaning connoting sexual penetration. In the Hebrew original, the double-entendre is inverted: “Kansu B’” has the colloquial meaning of physically attacking someone, but literally means to enter, sexually or otherwise – this sexual connotation can be found on multiple Hebrew-language sex blogs.
The phrase “their mother,” “ima shelahem” in Hebrew, also has the colloquial meaning of “with great intensity.” The idiom developed precisely because, for many people, witnessing their mother being assaulted is more painful than receiving a blow to their own person. In the context of the city’s banner, the language of sexualized violence is borrowed in order to articulate ruthless subjugation of Gaza’s Palestinian population.
Clearly the Or Yehuda City Council’s intent was to show support for the Israeli army with what it considered to be clever wordplay. By choosing the crass expression “Kansu ba-ima shelahem” – meaning “beat them with great intensity” and also “enter their mother” – the council was both encouraging violence toward Palestinians and subtly tapping into rape culture, which is widespread in Israel.
The banner’s appearance in Or Yehuda came just days after a composited image suggesting Gaza’s sexual violation was widely shared by regular Israelis on the popular social networking application, WhatsApp.
In the image, a woman labeled “Gaza,” wears conservative Muslim dress from the waist up and nearly nothing from the waist down, while striking an alluring pose and giving the viewer a come-hither glance. The accompanying Hebrew text reads: “Bibi, finish inside this time! Signed, citizens in favor of a ground assault.” Again, a double-entendre was used to promote war while referencing rape. In Hebrew, the colloquial meaning of “finish” is to ejaculate.
If the Or Yehuda banner only hinted at rape and the WhatsApp image played coyly with it, a leading Israeli academic blatantly floated the idea of using rape against the Palestinians at the very start of the current round of hostilities.
On July 1, just after the bodies of three Israeli teens who had gone missing in the West Bank were found, Bar Ilan University lecturer Dr. Mordechai Kedar spoke on Israeli radio about raping Palestinian women in order to deter “terrorism,” saying that only the knowledge that Israel could dispatch agents to rape a Palestinian militant’s mother or sister, as retribution for his crimes, could deter him from carrying out those actions.
None of these recent rape references should come as much of a surprise after the Israeli army promoted Eyal Qarim to become the second-most powerful chaplain in its ranks, years after he had ruled that raping Palestinians was permissible during wartime. Only after top Israeli blogger Yossi Gurvitz publicly exposed the repugnant ruling in March 2012 did the rabbi walk back his vile verdict.
“Slut-Shaming” Jewish Israeli Women Supporting Palestine
In the last month, Palestinian women have not been the only ones to be threatened with sexual violence from Israel’s public figures. On the same day Kedar gave his odious interview, Rabbi Noam Perel, the global leader of Bnei Akiva, the largest religious Jewish youth group in the world, authored a Facebook post calling for the mass-murder of Palestinians and the taking of their foreskins as trophies. Perel received no censure for his horrific comments.
As in most chauvinistic societies, it is women who bear the brunt of male sexual violence, and Jewish Israeli women have not been spared. Those women who publicly profess support for Palestinians, African asylum-seekers, or any other non-Jewish group in Israel are often “slut-shamed” and persistently targeted by ultra-nationalists with threats of various forms of sexual assault, including gang rape.
Sexual violence against Jewish-Israeli women is not only perpetrated by rowdy right-wing hooligans. Today is the last day Shimon Peres will hold the title of President of Israel. His immediate predecessor Moshe Katsav, currently sits in jail, serving a sentence for rape and other sex crimes. Tomorrow in Jerusalem, Peres will be replaced by Reuven Rivlin. Rivlin won the post largely because his two main rivals, Silvan Shalom and Meir Shitrit, were both credibly accused of committing serious sex crimes during the presidential election campaign. Likewise, Jerusalem’s current chief of police was selected to replace Nisso Shaham, after he was indicted for allegedly committing a series of sex crimes.
As anti-Palestinian incitement in Israeli society reaches truly terrifying levels, it has mixed with misogyny to create a cocktail of hate of unknown potency. Perhaps, as many Zionists claim, all this talk is just bluster and Jewish Israelis are mostly incapable of committing rape as an act of war. It is worth recalling, though, that these same people made identical claims about torture and murder until one month ago, when a group of Jews kidnapped Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdair, forced him to drink fuel, and lit him on fire from the inside out.