Exposing brutality: Sexual violence against Gazan women 

Exposing brutality: Sexual violence against Gazan women 

Written by Zainab Amanullah

Photo: Gaza Strip by Yousef Hammash/ Norwegian Refugee Council

Zainab Amanullah, gaza, mothers

As a man-made famine starves millions of innocent Gazan civilians and Israel’s indiscriminate bombing renders the city unliveable, the soldiers of the so-called “most moral army in the world” spend their time taking selfies with female lingerie and posting them online. 

Earlier this year a picture of an IDF soldier surfaced, holding a gun in one hand and placing a piece of underwear over the face of a fellow soldier as they lay in a recently raided house. I remember, while feeling obvious disgust, wondering what hatred had compelled him to demean a woman like this. Isn’t it enough to make her homeless through sheer force? I kept thinking, is this necessary?

As the monstrous genocide enters its eighth month, I am reflecting on the many incidents like this we have been forced to move past. As the atrocities accumulate, and the paper to note down the crimes against Gazan people runs out, one has kept me awake multiple nights: the sexual violence against the women of Gaza.

Since October 7th, hundreds of Palestinian women, including human rights defenders, journalists and humanitarian workers, have been jailed. For months, reports of Gazan women and girls being sexually assaulted in detention centres have been making the rounds. Concerns have been raised about their inhumane treatment, including being denied food, medicine and menstruation pads. They have been caged in the rain and the cold, stripped naked and searched by male IDF soldiers. They are forced into degrading circumstances and then photographed, the images then shared online. They are threatened with rape and sexual violence. Oh, to be a Palestinian woman in Israel right now, for this is the stark reality of surviving here.

Imagine that first you are bombed indiscriminately, then you are rendered homeless in your own land. After that you are arrested without any crime listed, next you are degraded, demeaned and dehumanised. The world can’t reach you to corroborate your nightmare. The proclaimed protectors of humanity cannot enter your besieged home. Their reports don’t mention your suffering. They hide behind “can’t confirm.” And as the pain this causes lies so close to shame, we bury it deep inside, placing a headstone of silence over it.

These tactics are part of the colonial policy aimed at gaining control and dominance over occupied land. I kept pondering over this deeply rooted racist misogyny and the persistent culture of shaming. Is it to divert Gazans from the path of resistance? To make them abandon their dream of freedom? Why else. 

Pramila Patten, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, along with her team, spent two weeks in Israel, but they were denied access to Gaza. However her visit to Ramallah confirmed “sexual violence in the context of detention, such as invasive body searches; beatings, including in the genital areas; and threats of rape against women and female family members. Sexual harassment and threats of rape during house raids and at checkpoints were also reported.” But of course, these reported instances didn’t come close enough to warrant a global outcry. These were insufficient to declare a “right to self-defence”.  

These are not one-time instances. There is a long, enduring history of women’s bodies being brutalised by a colonial regime to advance its agenda of ethnic cleansing and stifle resistance. When the “land before honour” slogan was coined, it called for a collective conscious change of seeing women as a liability to the movement. It aimed to change the thought process that follows when society shames the victims of sexual violence. It sought to make sure the militarised sexual brutality would never dampen the desire for liberation. It was created to celebrate the sheer bravery of Gazan women who stood defiantly in front of the military colonial regime, despite its vulgar attempt to further weaponise their objectification. 

I still can’t fathom the brutal mindset that can drive someone to demean a woman. However, it is clear that sexual degradation is a deliberate policy, an additional crime in its protracted oppression of Palestinian people. When slogans are chanted for freedom, not just for deliverance from the oppressors who have colonised a native land, they should also call for regaining the right to exist with self-respect. To avenge the mothers whose honour has been trampled on, for the sisters whose personal space has been invaded, for the women who go through slut-shaming and catcalling at the checkpoints, are threatened with rape during forced military searches and are terrorised with degrading pictures of themselves being made public. It is a call for the right to exist with respect and dignity in one’s own homeland.


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