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What Israeli soldiers' display of Palestinian women's lingerie reveals about the Zionist psyche

Israeli soldiers' brazen intrusion into displaced or murdered Palestinians' romantic and sexual lives is a terrifying indication of the occupiers' capacity to violate with impunity
Displaced Palestinian women carrying their belongings lift a makeshift white flag as they walk past Israeli forces while fleeing the Hamad City area in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on 5 March (AFP)
Displaced Palestinian women carrying their belongings lift a makeshift white flag as they walk past Israeli forces while fleeing the Hamad City area in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, on 5 March (AFP)

Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth features a case study of a European police inspector employed to interrogate and torture Algerians for information on anti-colonial resistance.

The inspector decides to consult a psychiatrist as the brutality he enacts behind the tightly shut doors of the interrogation rooms starts to flood uncontrollably into his domestic life. He complains to Fanon about his increasingly frequent assaults on his own wife and three children, once going so far as to tie his wife to a chair like his Algerian victims.

Although the inspector is well aware that his nightmares and violent behaviour are a direct result of his profession, he says that he has no intention of leaving the police force. Instead, he asks Fanon to help him continue torturing Algerians without feeling or revealing the destructive psychological impacts at home. 

I cannot help but think of this case study from colonised Algeria when viewing the depraved images and videos that members of the Israeli forces are proudly sharing on social media today.

In particular, the trend of male soldiers documenting themselves looting, rummaging through, and fantasising about Palestinian women's lingerie is suggestive of the destructive impacts of the genocide of Palestinians on the psyches of the Israelis perpetrating it.

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In one of the countless perverse videos, an Israeli soldier films himself invading a Palestinian woman's bedroom, where bullet holes pierce the wall, a broken bed is upturned, and abandoned belongings scatter the floor. As he searches the woman's closet and displays her lingerie, the soldier contemptuously remarks in Hebrew: "I have always said the Arabs are the biggest whores out there."

This comment, along with the soldier's intrusive actions, are symptomatic of a psyche that has been severely damaged by his participation in settler-colonial violence. He resorts to misogyny and anti-Arab racism to justify the atrocities of the occupation. Although he does not name them, the soldier's crimes cry out from the chaos of the woman's bedroom and suggest an attempt to do what Fanon's patient, the European police inspector, complained he could not: torture without remorse.

Sexual violations and misogyny

In a similarly invasive Instagram video, British-born Israeli soldier Levi Simon blithely films himself raiding an emptied home in Gaza, never divulging the fate of the Palestinians who lived there. He boldly reaches into a chest of drawers and grabs fistfuls of women's underwear, claiming: "At every single house in Gaza, this is what I see. Two or three drawers stuffed with the most exotic lingerie that you can imagine."

This impunity has allowed Israel to commit mass sexual violence against Palestinians for more than 75 years

Simon attaches a questionnaire to the post, which asks, "WHAT DYA THINK" (sic), with four possible responses: "Kinky terrorism", "Wtf", "Halal", or "Haram". Sneering, he ends the video with the words: "These naughty, naughty Gazans."

As Simon urges followers to join him in misogynist and Islamophobic revelry, we must not gloss over his own admission that he deliberately rifles through Palestinians' most intimate belongings in "every single house in Gaza".

Indeed, his sense of entitlement to intrude on displaced or murdered Palestinians' romantic and sexual lives is a terrifying indication of the occupiers' capacity to violate with impunity.

This impunity has allowed Israel to commit mass sexual violence against Palestinians for more than 75 years. As Palestinian feminist scholars and Zionist officials themselves have documented, Zionist militias systematically raped and tortured many Palestinians whose villages they razed in the 1948 Nakba.

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Amnesty International's 2022 report on the Israeli system of apartheid found that Israeli authorities have abused and sexually harassed Palestinians in detention for decades. More recently, the UN disclosed reports of Palestinian women and girls being "subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault", including rape, at the hands of Israeli prison guards.

Earlier this week, Unrwa announced an upcoming report detailing Israeli forces' torture and abuse of more than 1,000 Palestinians of all genders in Gaza. After watching several videos of soldiers gleefully digging through Palestinian women's underwear, one cannot help but agonise over the violations taking place behind the scenes. This agony looms over the disturbing photo posted by 25-year-old Israeli solider Benjamin, a French citizen, to his dating profile. Legs spread wide, gun in hand, he smirks at a range of Palestinian women's lingerie hanging on a wall.

This exhibition of genocidal spoils curated by the occupiers raises a host of haunting questions: where are the people who once wore those garments now? Did Israeli soldiers force them from their homes at gunpoint or even kill them before posing for their photoshoots? Did any of them tear the lingerie from women's bodies, and if so, what horrors could these Palestinians have been subjected to?

To what end does the Zionist soldier in pursuit of a romantic partner openly mock Palestinians' capacity for profoundly loving, sexual relationships? Why does the Zionist soldier offer his own partner necklaces and shoes looted from dead and displaced Palestinians, and what do such gestures reveal about settler-colonialism's mutilation of romance?

'Twin strategies'

Returning to Fanon's case study for a moment, what strikes me is the European inspector's shame. He longs to shed his feelings of guilt over his actions. He wishes to confine his fury to interrogation cells and stop raging at his family. He admits to carrying out torture during his private consultation with Fanon.

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Still, his testimony is not that of a man who would have publicised his actions as Israeli soldiers are doing.

What, then, are we to make of the fact that Israelis are brazenly documenting their own participation in the genocide of Palestinians? How do we account for the chilling pleasure they display in the images and videos, particularly when degrading Palestinian women?

What might that pleasure reveal about the sexual fantasies they desire to enact, or have already performed, on colonised Palestinians' bodies?

We cannot respond to such questions if we dismiss the examples above as isolated outbursts of soldiers' misogyny and anti-Palestinian racism.

In other words, we cannot only call into question individual psyches while overlooking the institution of Zionism, which has always targeted Palestinians' bodies and sexuality. Invading the land and ravaging Palestinians themselves are twin strategies in the settler-colonial assault on Palestinian indigeneity.

With International Women's Day in mind, we must also recognise how Israeli sexual violence against Palestinians is enabled by a colonial brand of feminism rife in the West.

For years, colonial feminists have selectively co-opted the discourse of women's and human rights from social justice movements while materially supporting the Zionist regime under which sexual violence against Palestinians proliferates without consequence.

Figures like Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris, who have ignored multiple reports on the systemic rape and abuse of Palestinians, were all too eager to pathologise Palestinian men based on one much-discredited piece in The New York Times alleging a "pattern of sexual violence" against Israeli women on 7 October.

Where was their outrage three years ago when Israeli soldiers raided a women's centre in occupied Jerusalem and arbitrarily arrested Palestinian women during an event celebrating International Women's Day?

Where was their outrage six years ago when Ahed al-Tamimi’s lawyer provided evidence that the 16-year-old Palestinian activist had been sexually harassed by her Israeli interrogator? Where was their outrage during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza when Israeli public discourse actively encouraged gender and sexual violence against Palestinians?

I am certain their silence will be deafening when Unrwa releases its latest findings on the US-funded Israeli torture of Palestinian detainees.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Shereen Hindawi-Wyatt is a PhD candidate specialising in de-/anti-colonial literatures. She is a member of the Palestinian Feminist Collective.
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