Ending Zionism is a feminist issue

24 July 2014

140724-women-palestine.jpg

Israel denies Palestinian women their basic right to freedom of movement.

(Issam Rimawi / APA images)

As Israel’s assault on the besieged Palestinian population in Gaza approaches its third week, we continue to hear about the “disproportionate number” of women and children victims. This expression begs the question: what is a proportionate number of women and children killed in a genocide?

As Jadaliyya’s Maya Mikdashi asks in her op-ed titled “Can Palestinian men be victims?”, if a significant majority of the killed were adult men, would Israel’s crimes be lesser?

A different analysis of gendered violence is necessary: one that recognizes that no “proportions” are acceptable because all deaths should be mourned, while providing the tools for a differential understanding of the manifestations of violence.

Rape calls

The feminist network INCITE! Women and Trans People of Color Against Violence has always understood that state violence is both racialized and gendered.

Zionism is a prime example of that; it is a racist ideology grounded in the privileging of one ethno-religious group over all others.

When a state views a population — its dispossessed, disenfranchised and occupied indigenous population — as a ”demographic threat,” that view is fundamentally both racist and gendered.

Racist population control relies specifically on violence against women. So it is not surprising that Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli military intelligence officer turned academic, would matter-of-factly suggest this week that “raping the wives and mothers of Palestinian combatants” would deter attacks by Hamas militants.

Similarly, Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked did not attempt to present the murder of Palestinian children and their mothers as unfortunate, disproportionate “collateral damage” — she openly called for it by asserting that Palestinian women must be killed too, because they give birth to “little snakes.”

This comment reflects an Israeli infrastructure designed to sustain high rates of miscarriages by blocking basic resources such as water and medical supplies, forcing women in labor to wait at military checkpoints on their way to a hospital, and generally creating inhumane and unlivable conditions for Palestinians.

This latest murderous attack on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip has not only taken the lives of hundreds of Palestinians, but it has also increased miscarriages, pre-term labor and stillbirths.

Ethiopian-Israeli women, most of them Jewish, have also been subject to mandatory contraceptive injections without their consent.

Ending Zionism is a feminist and a reproductive justice issue.

Liberating women?

Of course, gendered violence as a tool for settler-colonialism is not a new strategy; settler-colonialism, patriarchy and official hypocrisy usually go hand in hand.

Nineteenth-century France claimed to be liberating Algerian women even as it torched entire villages and towns. The proverbial colonial white man would have us believe that he was acting on the selfless impulse to save brown women from brown men, even as the colonial power he served impoverished entire countries.

Algerian women were certainly no better off as result of French colonialism; in fact, their circumstances deteriorated significantly.

The George W. Bush administration gave itself a pat on the back for supposedly liberating women in Afghanistan from the Taliban. Yet we see throughout history, and not just in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Algeria or Palestine, that wars have never liberated women and gender nonconforming people of color.

New brand of hypocrisy

Today, Israel has developed a new brand of this hypocrisy, as it claims that it is more civilized than the Palestinian people because it is supposedly a more “gay-friendly” country. This is pinkwashing, Israel’s attempt to distract from its ongoing human rights violations by pointing to its supposedly better gay rights record.

But that record, once again, is racist.

Any Jewish citizen of Israel can and must serve in the Israeli occupation forces, but these are the murderous forces engaging in the genocide of the Palestinian people.

Does it make for a more moral army if some of its killer soldiers are openly gay? Stop to think of who the purveyor of the greater violence is. Who is denying Palestinian women, children, gays, lesbians, trans people and straight men their most basic rights — freedom of movement, safety, shelter, food, a home, life? One has to acknowledge that the guilty party is “civilized” Israel, not Palestinian heteropatriarchy.

War — militarism — is a hyper-masculinist activity that glorifies and rewards all violence, including gendered violence, and a soldier trained in violence cannot put that violence aside when he or she gets home.

All of Israeli society is trained in violence. And violence is not a pair of combat boots one can leave at the door; violence becomes second nature (unless it was first nature, in which case it is further aggravated) and the entire community that engages in warfare is a more violent community — not just at the war front.

Joint struggle

This is what we are witnessing today, as we have observed it again and again every time Israel escalates its assault on the Palestinian people.

As for Palestinians, there are no battlefronts, no “war zones.” All of historic Palestine is the battlefront as mobs of Israelis take to the streets in violent rampages.

This realization has always been at the very core of INCITE’s analysis. We understand that in situations of settler-colonialism, indigenous women, trans people and gender non-conforming people bear the brunt of a nexus of racism and sexism. We are engaging in a joint struggle, from India to the Arab world to South West Asia, to Africa and the Americas, for the dignity and full sovereignty of indigenous people.

This is why INCITE! endorsed, in 2010, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and remains committed to the grassroots struggle against state-sponsored violence against the entire Palestinian people.

Nada Elia served on the Steering Collective of INCITE! Women and Trans People of Color Against Violence when it endorsed boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and is currently serving on the organizing collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI).

Comments

hello
i quite like this perspective of looking at the israel-palestine conflict.i am an independent art curator working on a project on Lamentation in the context of war.do you think you can collaborate with me in the exhibitions and performance i am planning? may be you can send an artist to participate in the programe. if you feel interested please mail me , i will give the details.

amit

I appreciated your article. Finally someone has articulated what I've been observing.

Thank you, Nada, for this article. Much appreciated.

Zionism is just another form of nationalism. Nationalism serves a positive function for an oppressed people, but once a nationalism is successful, its people tend to become oppressors themselves. Israel is only one example of this, no better or worse than many others -- but extremely disappointing to Jews who expected better of them.

This seems to be a popular view in leftist circles that essentially normalizes Zionism by comparing it to other forms of nationalism -- including, for example, Palestinian nationalism.

Zionism is a form of settler-colonialism, it is not simply another form of nationalist exclusivism. It is based on the explicit erasure of an already existing population. It is comparable to only a handful of other nationalisms, such as 19th century US nationalism which was predicated on the expansion of the settler colony and the erasure of the indigenous population -- which some argue continues to exist in the United States as well.

The line that Zionism is just another form of nationalism essentially whitewashes this key aspect of Zionist racism and downplays the particularity of the Palestinian struggle against it (and indigenous struggles in general). Palestine solidarity circles should avoid this equivocation and reductionism.

Settler-colonism is a feminist and progressive issue.

Thank you for clarifying this important point. The Zionism "just another nationalism" viewpoint does seem to circulate widely among leftist circles that are critical of Zionism/Israel and it does undermine Palestinian nationalism and solidarity. It also reminds me of the way the EU has attempted to characterize itself as post-nationalist, and blame nationalism for all past violence as it pushes through neoliberal reforms and undermines local state democratic processes. I have also heard some claim that US nationalism is not "true" nationalism. Israel is enabled by the US/EU, these unmarked supposedly post-national entities. If the critique of Zionism is only that it's nationalist--then it can be characterized as an "ethnic conflict" not a settler-colony, genocide, and crime, and the transnational dynamics can be ignored. Anyways, thanks for making that point because I think it really does sort of subtly discourage those who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause from solidarity.

I don't see why Zionism as nationalism undermines Palestinian nationalism. Both are valid, Palestinian probably more so because Palestinians have been living in the land for centuries. The diaspora Jewish claim is thousands of years old, which hardly makes it relevant now. I certainly agree that many 19th and early 20th century Zionists were racist especially in their claim that Palestine was an "empty" land, and many pre-Holocaust settlers were racist in their dealings with the Palestinians they were buying land from or working with (or not working with). But the Holocaust dramatically changed the lives of surviving European Jews. Of course this doesn't justify Jews taking homes and land away from Palestinians, and it certainly doesn't justify the occupation of and settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, or reoccupation of Gaza. Most surviving Jews in Europe had no homes to go back to, and the feeling that Jews needed a homeland of their own was strong. The creation of the state of Israel could have been done in a way to satisfy the needs of Jews and Palestinians, but it wasn't, and we're living with after effects, which aren't pleasant for anyone.

You are absolutely wrong! Zionism in no way or form can even be compared to nationalism. You'll see when the truth finally comes out ;)

Settler-colonism is a feminist and progressive issue.

Hello Nadia, we are a feminist pro-gender equality network and are proposing to translate your article into French. Would you agree? Our network is Genre en Action http://www.genreenaction.net

Mordechai Kedar's quote was taken TOTALLY out of context. What service are you doing for your readership? This is not Israeli mainstream thought in any event - did ALL Arabs applaud the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center?

In a statement provided to Haaretz, Bar-Ilan University said that Kedar was not advocating using rape to fight terrorism.

The professor “wanted to illustrate that there is no means of deterring suicide bombers, and using hyperbole, he gave the rape of women as an example,” the statement said. “In order to remove all doubt: Dr. Kedar’s words do not, God forbid, contain a recommendation to commit such despicable acts. The intention was to describe the culture of death of the terror organizations. Dr. Kedar was describing the bitter reality of the Middle East and the inability of a modern and liberal law-abiding country to fight against the terror of suicide bombers.”

The very fact that Mr. Kedar made a statement using the analogy of "raping mothers and sisters" demonstrates to me that woman are vulnerable in war and peace. I haven't heard anyone say "let us rape their men" when we come upon them. Threatening rape is one more tool used to scare and oppress woman and girls. Yes, I would agree that rape is part of the culture of death.

Lol, Trans People? Those who believe that masculinity should be respected because it's gender and thus see no submission and domination encoded in femeninity and masculinity? As long as GENDER exists there'll always be rape! How about taking down gender, first?

Has anyone noticed the gender of the Israeli soldiers....? Women serve as well and are just as complicit as the men. Oppressors are oppressors whether they are male or female and the oppressed are the oppressed.

Feminists do not care about whats going on in gaza, they are more worried about women wearing the burka in saudi arabia, infact most feminists i know of support israel because they apparently do not opress women by making them wear a burqa, killing is not opression but wearing burka is.