What happens when rape becomes terrorism in hindsight? Does it protect the victim, or put women’s bodies in the firing line?
I wrote a piece on the recent Israeli Defence Ministry decision to classify a brutal 2012 rape as a ‘politically motivated hostile act’ for The Forward‘s Sisterhood blog: Here is the text, which originally appeared there:
Earlier this month, the Defense Ministry declared the victim of a rape in Tel Aviv three years ago to have been the victim of a terror attack.
The assault took place in a mall car park in 2012. At 4 A.M, Ahmed Bani-Jaber, 21, a Palestinian from the West Bank, pulled a knife on a young Jewish Israeli couple, forced them to have sex and then raped the woman. He was sentenced to 30 years for aggravated rape, sodomy and assault. The court originally discounted the notion that it was a hate crime or terrorism. “Just because we’re talking about an Arab defendant doesn’t necessarily point to nationalist motives,” the assailant’s lawyer, a public defender, said at the time. Back then, the victim reportedly wanted the indictment to spell out that the assault was a politically motivated hostile attack.
The Defense Ministry’s conclusion was based partly on the defendant’s previous military court indictment for stone throwing and the seriousness of the assault,according to Haaretz. The ministry concluded that the rape “was a violent act intended to injure a person due to her being Jewish and as part of the Israeli-Arab conflict.”
The first time such a decision was made was as recently as October. In that precedent-setting case, the female victim had been sexually assaulted by four Palestinian youths in Jerusalem in 2006.
The practical implications of these decisions are partly financial; victims of a hostile act are eligible for state compensation. But these unusual cases raise other important questions. How is rape as a terrorist act different to rape? And in the context of the current wave of violence, do these cases merely make the point for Israelis that their already dehumanized Palestinian enemy is even more brutal and inhuman?
The lawyer of the victim in the most recent case, Roni Aloni Sedovnik, sees the decision as a feminist – and nationalist – victory. “Rape and humiliation are a legitimate tool in the hands of Muslim fanatics to hurt the enemy,” she wrote on Facebook. “ISIS rape women and children of the enemy,” she added, as do Assad’s soldiers in Syria. “There is an urgent need here for international exposure of the crimes of the Palestinians, but miraculously all our calls to the Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely or the Prime Minister’s Office or the NGO Shurat Din went unanswered. Yes, well, it’s just women, who is interested in the fact that Palestinians sexually assault hundreds of girls and young Israeli women in the public space?” She ended her post with a cynical call for women to “stay at home” to safeguard their honor.
Rape of women as a weapon of war is, sadly, as old as war itself, and remains a regular component of warfare. As UN Women put it a few years ago: “Violence against women during or after armed conflicts has been reported in every international or non-international war-zone.” In 2008, former military advisor to the UN Major-General Patrick Cammaert said, “It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict.” Up to half a million women were raped in the 90s in Rwanda; up to 50,000 women were raped in Bosnia and Herzegovina; and the list goes on.
According to Sedovnik, who conflates “Muslim fanaticism” with Palestinian nationalism, Arabs assault Jewish women to punish Israel, their enemy, and this is just the latest example. Her claim of “hundreds” of assaults seems exaggerated, however. According to the scholarship, while there are scattered reports of sexual crimes by Israelis and Palestinians against the enemy during their various wars, there are relativelyfew reported incidents when compared to other modern wars when compared to other modern wars. (The Israeli army’s “low rape” record has even been trotted out by “hasbaraists,” only to be roundly disputed by their opponents.)
The idea of “the enemy” punishing Israel through its women certainly exists in the national consciousness. This is despite the fact that sexual crime in the context of the conflict is relatively rare. In the Israeli rock opera – yes, there is such a thing – called“Mami,” produced in 1986, Palestinian men threaten to gang-rape a woman, singing that they will “redeem Palestine” through “seed and erection.” Last year, when there were calls to ban Palestinians from certain West Bank bus lines, settlers urging the ban claimed, among other things, that Palestinian passengers were assaulting Jewish women.
Sexual harassment scandals are a dime a dozen in Israel, but assault by a Jewish man is often seen as an aberration. Assault perpetrated by a foreign migrant or an Arab, meanwhile, is seen as proof of their true nature, as feminist activist Revital Madar points out.
Without knowing all the details of the mall rape or the Jerusalem assault, it is impossible to say whether or not they were accurately categorized as “hostile acts.” Classifying them as such, however, sends a message to other victims of sexual crime that there are different kinds of rape and different levels of suffering as a result of assault. It also sends the message that Israeli women are something that can be used to hurt Israel, as if their bodies somehow belonged to the state.