Hamas and the Military Logic of Sexual Violence
never come back
Hamas broke through a fortified border, had unchallenged freedom of movement inside Israel for a shockingly long time, and attacked….a dance music festival and some kibbutzim. Not airfields, not fuel depots, not power stations, not army motor pools to deny mobility to the enemy. They went after soft targets first, and focused especially on women and children. Eyewitness reports and footage of female hostages are telling us that Hamas engaged in sustained sexual violence, and took care to make it known. A subhed in Tablet: “Scenes of young women raped next to the dead bodies of their friends.”
And I think we know what this means.
But first, look at the proposed explanations offered in the news:
It seems that Hamas, also, is trying to force Israel into negotiations. In 2018, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar sent a note in Hebrew to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, suggesting he take a “calculated risk” by agreeing a long-term truce. While Netanyahu agreed to some easing of pressure on Gaza, he was unwilling to accept Hamas’s long-term demands, including a large-scale prisoner swap, lifting the siege by opening the international border crossing, and establishing a port and airport in Gaza. After 16 years of siege and several catastrophic rounds of war, in which thousands of Gaza residents have been killed, Hamas may be hoping to break the deadlock.
That’s not it. Here’s another try:
Hamas could well be trying to torpedo the Saudi deal and even try undo the existing Abraham Accords. Indeed, a Hamas spokesperson said that the attack was “a message” to Arab countries, calling on them to cut on ties with Israel….
To be clear: Saying it makes strategic sense for Hamas to engage in atrocities is not to justify their killing civilians. There is a difference between explanation and justification: The reasoning behind Hamas’s attack may be explicable even as it is morally indefensible.
So the much-repeated claim is that Hamas in engaging in diplomatic maneuvering, sending messages to nation-states. They used mass rape at a dance festival to gain leverage in negotiations over a possible new port.
That’s absolutely not it, and I strongly suspect that the presence of widespread and carefully displayed attacks on 1.) families with children and 2.) the sexually traumatized bodies of women represent an extremely deliberate and calculated adoption, explicitly planned for months or years, of the familiar tools of ethnic cleansing.
Hamas is dirtying the memory of the Jewish spaces bordering on the Gaza Strip. They’re marking southern Israel in the memory of future families, and especially women of childbearing age, with the deliberately cultivated images of murdered children and the mass rape of young women, so that young women regard the place with dread and don’t return to have children there. They’re making a dead zone, and they intend to make a dead zone.
Mass rape by armies is not a mystery; it has been studied carefully.
Group X, as a group and deliberately, rapes women from Group Y in Neighborhood Z so women from Group Y never feel that they can safely return to Neighborhood Z, in a tribal memory passed down to later generations. Now the space belongs to Group X.
Hamas is making sites of trauma. To empty them, and to keep them empty.
Their military objective is to use the witnessed mass rape of women, the documented hunting and torture of families, and the videotaped murder of children in front of their parents to keep Jews out of southern Israel in the future. Their military target is site-specific Jewish fertility.
Why are we seeing footage of all of this? Why is Hamas taking great care to shoot video of women screaming in terror, of terrorists going on door-to-door killing operations in residential neighborhoods, and of cringing families on the living room floor watching their children die? Why did they take a woman with bound hands and bloodsoaked pants out of a trunk and move her to the back seat of the same car, in front of a camera?
The video is the purpose. Its message is the military operation.
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