War Rape and the Question of Hamas

by | Dec 8, 2023 | Commentary

Israeli Zionist women have been speaking out these last few days to bring attention to the horrific rape of Jewish women, and the lack of outcry of feminists, for them, to this plight. They demand an indictment of Hamas and its sexual treachery towards women on October 7.

I have signed many different feminist statements, condemning the sexual violence towards Jewish women by Hamas but I feel I still have something more I must say. It is so important to push ourselves to new political clarity in these heart-wrenching times. So, here it is.

Although I and all feminists I know and work with condemn all rape, naming and indicting Hamas without indicting Israel and other war-defined nations is wrong-headed and does not do enough. Instead, it justifies and extends the bombing and murdering of Gazans.

None of us want to have the horror of war rape of women to be weaponized by the very nation that is the perpetrator of this war. The atrocities towards women in war, all wars, are at the heart of misogynist nationalisms. Hamas is not specific to this — but part of the universalized general truth that wars are fought with and on women’s bodies. Israel cannot be allowed to use rape by Hamas as a mobilizing factor in continuing to justify the war on Gaza, while Israel perpetuates this savage war and its own rapes.

There is much anger towards what is being depicted as a silence by progressive feminists for not speaking out against sexual violence done to Jewish women. According to these claims there is now evidence that women were summarily raped, and abused, and mutilated before most of them were killed. They were shot in the head afterward, with breasts cut off and other mutilated body parts.

The description of this sexual violence is hideous, and I do not ask for proof, or evidence. I assume this level of bestiality is part of war and the warrior. I assume that Hamas did do atrocious things to women’s bodies because women’s bodies are central to any war. Ask the women of Tigray what they experienced in the Ethiopian war. Or Muslim women in the Bosnian war. Or the women of any nation at war.

Rather than simply condemn Hamas, I and other feminists want to condemn misogyny and its wars, which always use rape as their best weapon.

If I might simply conclude:

Rape is a form of war.
It is a kind of war unto itself.
If there is war, there is rape.
It is not specific to a nation.
It is universal to misogyny.
Rape shows us hatred of women.
It is not specific to Hamas
Or Sudan or Nazism.

Rape is what war looks like on women’s bodies
Rape devastates, like a bullet
Rape is a form of mutilation
Rape is a form of killing
Rape is a form of hatred
Rape is a form of humiliation.
Rape destroys lives like a gun or bomb does.
It ends life as s/he has known it.

If you want to end rape in war, end war.

It is troublesome that Israel ignored and defied information that Hamas was planning an attack. They ignored the warnings, by several Israeli Defense Force (IDF) “spotter” women, of the Hamas attack that allowed these rapes.

And do not let the discussion and reality of the brutality of rape simply turn women into victims. Instead, rape is a response to the power of women — individually and collectively. Rape seeks to smash the power of women, as mothers, friends, comrades, community leaders, and resistance fighters. If women were powerless why rape them? Their powerfulness makes them targets.

As well, today women have become soldiers, snipers, spotters, fighters of all sorts. Women comprise 34% of the IDF, and 23% of them are officers. In the U.S., 17% of the military is women. Who knows how rape as a method of war will change, or not? One Ukrainian female sniper says: I always have a hand grenade with me. If I am captured, I will blow myself up before I let myself be raped.

It is so troubling that Israeli women were ignored when they were doing their jobs so well to have foreknowledge of impending disaster. Misogyny ignored them and then it let loose mass rape. It is also troubling that women hostages are assumed to need to be released because they supposedly need protection more than men. But this infantilizing of women just further distorts the truth that wars are fought with and on women’s bodies.


#EndWarRape. #CeasefireNow.  #FreePalestine.


Zillah Eisenstein is a noted feminist writer and has been Professor of Politics at Ithaca College. She is the author of numerous books, including “The Female Body and the Law” (UC Press, 1988), which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics; “Global Obscenities” (NYU Press, 1998) and, most recently, “Abolitionist Socialist Feminism” (Monthly Review Press, 2019).

Header image by Israel Defense Forces on Flickr.


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