Not just toxic masculinity: Militarism also feeds gender-based violence

In a society dominated by male hierarchies, violence is not only a pervasive symptom but a defining feature — especially for Palestinian women. 

Palestinian women cross the Qalandiya checkpoint outside Ramallah, West Bank, into Jerusalem to attend the first Friday of Ramadan prayers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, July 12, 2013. (Activestills.org)
Palestinian women cross the Qalandiya checkpoint outside Ramallah, West Bank, into Jerusalem to attend the first Friday of Ramadan prayers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, July 12, 2013. (Activestills.org)

The Israeli media has been awash with reports over the past week about the case of a dozen Israeli male teenagers, some minors, accused of gang-raping a 19-year-old female British tourist in the Cyprus resort town of Ayia Napa. The victim told local police the youths pinned her down while some of them filmed the rape on their mobile phones.

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel blasted Israeli media for their coverage of the case last week. A Channel 12 TV news report about the rape showed women in bikinis dancing at a pool party at the hotel where it took place, including footage of a woman licking a man’s crotch area. Army Radio began a news segment by quoting one of the alleged perpetrators, who said: “The British girls go with the flow with everyone here. It’s possibly her fault.”

The outrage over the media’s handling of the rape peaked on Sunday, when Haaretz journalist Noa Landau tweeted a link to a radio discussion a few days earlier between one of Israel’s most prominent security commentators, Channel 12’s Roni Daniel, and Channel 13 journalist Doron Herman, who is covering the case. Herman cites local police saying the victim had consensual sex with two or three of the suspects in the days leading up to the rape, and then on the last night she woke up in a room with 12 Israelis, not the two or three she knew. Daniel then interrupts and says: “Oh, she was used to two or three, suddenly [there are] 12, that’s the breaking point?”

Daniel has since tweeted a clarification, claiming that, in his view, “rape – whether it’s committed by one, two or 12 people – is the gravest of incidents.” “If I was understood differently, I have no choice but to apologize,” he wrote. 103FM Radio, the station on which the program aired, took down the segment from its site.

At a time when the #MeToo movement continues to challenge power imbalances, these men resorted to making excuses for the perpetrators and blaming the victim. Hundreds of listeners and viewers filed complaints with the broadcasting authorities in Israel, while others took to social media to condemn both the way the case has been covered in general and this specific discussion. But while the complaints focus on the misogynistic media narrative enabling rape culture, they almost entirely ignore the relationship between toxic masculinity and a militaristic society.

Daniel’s remarks about this case are a testament to how those defending male privilege and entitlement are often the same people invested in preserving a power structure based on the violent control and dispossession of Palestinians. For years, Daniel’s commentary has demonized Palestinians, often justifying the use of brute force. Daniel is the same commentator who said he isn’t concerned by the possibility that soldiers might be caught on camera beating Ahed Tamimi. He is the same journalist who, on a live prime-time broadcast, told Palestinian Member of Knesset Aida Touma-Sliman to “shut up” for suggesting that Netanyahu might be escalating tensions on Israel’s northern border to divert the public’s attention from his corruption scandals.

But Daniel is only one bad apple in a rotten orchard. At the beginning of the same segment, Herman says the case is “primarily sad” because “you see young boys before the army, about to be drafted in a week.” At another point in the conversation, Herman repeats: “by the way, some of them are slated to be drafted into combat units next week.”

In a society dominated by male hierarchies, violence is not only a pervasive symptom but a defining feature. Only a few months ago, Benny Gantz, the former Israeli military chief who challenged Netanyahu in the last national elections, boasted in a campaign video about how “parts of Gaza were returned to the Stone Age” under his command. While Netanyahu attempted to form a government last May, Gantz implored him to “be a man” and drop legislation that would protect him from looming corruption charges.

Israeli security forces guard as Jewish Israelis tour the Palestinian side of the old city market in the West Bank city of Hebron, June 15, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Israeli security forces guard as Jewish Israelis tour the Palestinian side of the old city market in the West Bank city of Hebron, June 15, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The link between masculinity and militarism is hardly new; dozens of books and scholarly articles have been written about how, in communities obsessed with garnering strength and power, not only are human rights compromised, but women and girls are especially vulnerable to violence. In the U.S., a clear connection has been established between domestic abuse and the epidemic of mass shootings. So, too, it’s time that the link between patriarchal abuse and the brutality of the occupation be widely acknowledged.

The power structure that ignores sexual misconduct allegations against a former Netanyahu advisor and allows him to continue to participate in national politics at a high level is the same system that has no qualms continuing to dispossess Palestinians, that advocates for segregation in the name of Jewish supremacy, that determines access to life-saving health care based on tiers of apartheid systems. The toxic masculinity of the prime minister’s son joking about pimping out his ex-girlfriend is borne of the same discourse that frames domestic violence as “honor killings,” which keeps families apart in different territories of the same country, and which justifies the killing of journalists and medics in the name of security.