Jessie Guillen/Sun Contributor

March 20, 2024

LIVSHITS | The Israel-Hamas War is a Feminist Issue

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This past International Women’s Day, it seemed we had forgotten Audre Lorde’s burning flame: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” In a prime portrayal of our failed intersectional feminist activism, despite Kimberlé Crenshaw’s ’81 definition of it and her lecture on campus earlier this semester, Cornellians had been polarized by the Israel-Hamas War and denied the dignity of reproductive freedom and livelihood to all women. 

My Instagram feed — which is likely only a crude reflection of Cornell’s political climate — was filled with the Coalition for Mutual Liberation’s condemnation of Cornellians for Israel’s plans for rape theatre featuring volunteers imitating Hamas’ sexual violence against Israeli women in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. CFI later rejected ties to a proposed Hamas sexual violence demonstration, despite a previous call for volunteers in their WhatsApp group, writing that they “have been exploring ways to honor and bear witness to the suffering of victims and survivors,” on their Instagram. Whether or not CFI was ever serious about holding the “rape theater” event, pro-Israel groups on and off campus have consistently demonstrated no moral qualms about morally reprehensible forms of activism and protest ranging from doxxing to hyperbolic proselytizing.

While I wholeheartedly condemn the (denied) proposal to CFI’s executive board of rape as a spectacle and the organization in and of itself, I further understand that there needs to be more support for the Israeli victims and survivors of rape. Acknowledging this in-between is difficult. An even more challenging distinction to maintain is that I value CFI’s tastefully restrained display of Israeli rape victims last week, but fully oppose the club and its pro-Israel agenda. Yet, I am committed to being a critic of Israel’s government and a voice against the genocide it is committing in Gaza while recognizing that the contention around Hamas’ use of sexual violence — explicitly the rape of Israeli women — is sickening. Opposing sexual violence against Israeli women is not the same as supporting a Zionist organization.

Rape has long been weaponized as a political act, such as in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, where approximately half a million women were raped by the Hutu militia to ethnically cleanse the Tutsi minority, and in Serbian rape camps during the Bosnian War (1992-1995). In both cases, rape was a conscious decision by armed groups to torture, humiliate, instill fear and assert dominance and aggression through acts of brutality. This pattern establishes rape as the crudest form of oppression against women since they are made victims by men asserting power. 

As a woman, it is impossible to dismiss such violence. The rape and subsequent murder of Israeli women is just as harrowing as the bombing of children in Gaza.

In more specific terms, rape is used both as a force of colonization and resistance. But rape is not resistance, ever. It is women bearing the brunt of war. J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace relates this difficult dynamic of gender, race and sexual violence in the context of a bleak post-apartheid South Africa. In it, fictional David Lurie, a white South African English professor, rapes a student, Melanie Isaacs, who is suggested to be mixed race. His daughter Lucy, a post-hippie lesbian who lives on a farm, is gang-raped by three black men. Despite Lurie’s insistence that she press charges against her attackers, she refuses and offers the following explanation: “What if that is the price one has to pay for staying on? Perhaps that is how they look at it; perhaps that is how I should look at it too. They see me as owing something. They see themselves as debt collectors, tax collectors. Why should I be allowed to live here without paying? Perhaps that is what they tell themselves.” Lucy embraces her role as a representation of the shift in power dynamics in post-apartheid South Africa, viewing her attackers as agents seeking retribution for past injustices under apartheid. Her father, once a perpetrator of sexual violence becomes a victim in the aftermath of his daughter’s assault. 

This is paralleled by the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, where women in kibbutzim and Nova music festival, were brutalized as retribution for Israel’s decades-long genocide of Palestinians. But how can we accept the evil, male-inflicted collective rape of Israeli women retribution? While the validity of news surrounding the Israel-Hamas War should be questioned, especially with reporting from increasingly biased newspapers, women’s accounts of assault should never be disregarded. As feminists, we need to support women who were raped and condemn their rapists. 

The silence of many women’s rights groups, including UN Women, about the sexual violence perpetuated by Hamas in its Oct. 7 assault on Israel is thus appalling because it creates a second political layer to rape. UN Women’s apology was both two months late and a mere two paragraphs. “#MeToo Unless You’re A Jew,” however crudely, sheds light on this disparity. The dispute over weaponized rape on Oct. 7 has become a proxy for the broader public relations struggle between Israeli and Palestinian supporters. However, Palestinian liberation and the support of Israeli rape victims can (and should) coexist. 

Together, as intersectional feminists, we can support Palestine as a feminist issue — both due to women at the forefront of Palestinian resistance and their restriction of reproductive freedom as their children’s safety is jeopardized by military forces — and Israeli women who bear the brunt of Hamas’ attack in Israel. To once again borrow from Audre Lorde, “It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians.” The Israel-Hamas War should not drive feminists apart but bring them together in hopes of ending the violent assault on women and Palestinian genocide.

Ilana Livshits is a first year student in the College of Arts & Sciences. Her fortnightly column Live Laugh Livshitsfocuses on politics, social issues and culture at Cornell. She can be reached at [email protected].

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