The gratuitous humiliation of women, the Occupation’s new weapon of war?

Trigger warning: This post describes serious abuse of women and children.

Two months ago (13 July), I shared Save the Children’s report on Israel’s seriously abusive treatment of Palestinian children.

Unfortunately, it isn’t only children. We need to face up to Israel’s increasingly abusive treatment of Palestinian families. One of Israel’s most dauntless journalists, Amira Hass, whose mother’s Diary of Bergen-Belsen, 1944-1945 is one of the profoundest records from the death camps I know, has shocked readers of Israel’s liberal newspaper, Haaretz, with a harrowing account of a raid on a Palestinian home (£) in the small hours of 10 July. Around fifty troops surrounded the Ajlun home in Hebron and forced entry. It is the terror inflicted on the women and children, who were separated from the men, particularly the strip-searching of the women, which is so alarming.

Hass writes,

Two masked Israeli women soldiers with rifles and an attack dog forced five female members of a Palestinian family to strip naked, each one separately…. The soldiers threatened to release the dog if the women did not comply, the family says…. The children (fifteen aged between four months and 17 years) were screaming in fear the entire time. Amal (one of the five) told the soldiers to pull the dog back because the children were afraid of it; she then took off the rest of her clothes.

The four others had similar experiences. According to Hass, Zeinab recalls,

When I objected, they came near me with the dog in a threatening way. I heard Diala (another of the strip-searched women) yelling to me from outside the room that I should do what the soldier said. After that, I undressed. The soldier told me to turn around. I only turned halfway around, and then she brought the dog near me again. I was shaking and crying. At one point, the children were left alone in the living room without their mothers and in the presence of the armed soldiers.

The IDF reports finding an M16 rifle and ammunition in the house. The male members of the household were searched but not required to strip, so there was clearly no reason to force the women to do so.

According to the Haaretz lead editorial, it is rare for soldiers to demand that women strip completely, but the (female Palestinian) B’Tselem researcher said that in recent months:

… there have been more such incidents. During the mass searches of homes in Hebron that followed a deadly shooting attack two weeks ago, soldiers came to her home as well. She, too, was told to strip, even though she wasn’t suspected of weapons possession. It’s clear the demand that women strip in front of armed, masked female soldiers can’t be interpreted as an “operational necessity,” but rather a method of humiliation for its own sake, for the larger purpose of automatic punishment, oppression and intimidation. If there are any actions over which the black flag of illegality flies, this is unquestionably one of them.

This is what Israel’s occupation has now come to, a new staging post on a dark road. What an education for those children. What will they do when they grow up? We cannot, must not, remain silent.

* David McDowall worked for UNRWA in the 1970s, and was an Oxfam relief worker during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Since then he’s written on Middle Eastern and British history.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Sadly, supporters of the right-wing Israeli government will see this as unexceptional. The humiliation of Palestinian families in front of their children has been going on for years, with boys accused of stone-throwing being snatched by the IDF in night-time raids. Finding the M16 doesn’t justify what was clearly designed not as a search, but as a punishment.
    Israel has been increasing its colonial stranglehold on Palestine ever since 1967, using brutal tactics to goad Palestinians into resistance. Since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Israel has never wanted a ‘partner for peace’, it has wanted an excuse to claim it’s the victim of terrorism, as a cloak to cover the (illegal under international law) annexation of the whole of the West Bank and Jerusalem, on the grounds that Palestinians are ‘born terrorists’.
    Resistance fighters are made, not born, and as in Ukraine, they’re a response to an invading force.

  • The daily reports from Palestine are just so awful and there is no serious external pressure on the Israeli government to change. Tory ministers criticise but in a mild sort of way. The Labour leadership is almost silent on Palestine and most Labour MPs dare not open their mouths about Palestine for fear of offending their leader. Alistair Carmichael and others on our benches do speak up and will undoubtedly continue to do so.
    I would encourage Lib Dem PPCs, especially in winnable seats, to go and visit Israel and Palestine and see for themselves what’s happening on the ground. Several of our parliamentarians from both chambers have visited in the past. Last year Layla Moran, Munira Wilson, Baronesses Ludford and Janke went on a visit organised by Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Council for Arab-British Understanding. Ed Davy went himself when he was Foreign Affairs Spokesperson. MAP and Caabu are organising a visit in late October and would be open to taking Lib Dem PPCs. If any PPC would like to go their name can be forwarded to MAP if they write to [email protected]

  • Martin Gray 8th Sep '23 - 7:25pm

    Well put Andy….
    The Israeli government acts with absolute impunity…It’s security forces are engaged in a brutal suppression of the Palastinian population aided & abetted by illegal Israeli settlers ….The West continues to turn a blind eye to those daily attacks & with that it’s complicit in the ethnic cleansing of the Palastinian people…

  • Steve Trevethan 9th Sep '23 - 12:16pm

    Thank you for an important and sad article.

    Might it help everyone to expect and use less unkind/cruel behaviours if our main stream media reported such behaviours more accurately and objectively as Haaretz is reported to do?

    Might our.main stream Media be inconsistent in its reporting of unacceptable behaviour?

    Might the reporting of such be inconsistent in favouring « Western » nations/allies and doing the opposite to (those deemed to be) opponents?

    Does the BBC charter require it to be balanced/objective?

    Is it?

  • Pamela Manning 9th Sep '23 - 1:26pm

    Steve Trevethan you might be interested in CAMPAIN set up with aim of holding media and church to account for unbalanced reporting.
    In 2012 British Govt funded and published a report by senior Brtish lawyers who found Israel in breach of the UN Convention and the Rights of the Child. Similar reports followed UNICEF 2013, US State Dept March 2014 and UN secretary General report May 2014 stated little improvement in practice. Last Wed Jusin Welby in speech on reconciliation at St Martin in the Fields failed to take a stand, seeming to suggest God would take care of it!

  • Steve Trevethan 10th Sep '23 - 1:40pm

    Thanks to Pamela Manning!

    I have joined!

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