As I write this article, the long-running debate is flooding social media over the film. Huda’s living room finally cooled down.
Palestinian director Hany Abu Asad’s tense 90-minute thriller explains how the Israeli secret service (Shabak) recruits Palestinian women. It takes place in Bethlehem where Reem (Maisa Abd Elhadi), a young Palestinian girl, gets her hair done at Huda’s (Manal Awad) salon. Reem is then drugged by Huda, who photographs her naked with a man (Samer Bishara) who is not her husband. The footage is then used to blackmail Reem and coerce her into collaborating with Shabak.
The film is based on real events. And it’s not a completely unique story.
The film highlights the reality of Palestinian women living under the occupation and the harmful patriarchal society that surrounds women’s sexuality and very often shamefully stigmatizes them. This sparked a needed conversation about gender issues within Palestinian society and placed them in a broader context of ongoing Israeli colonization.
The manipulation of patriarchal norms such as the notion of so-called “Erd” honor has long been used by Israeli security forces to crush the ability of the Palestinian people to resist and destroy their social fabric. However, we are still hesitant to bring patriarchy and gender inequality into our discussions, or simply marginalize them as exogenous and irrelevant topics to our national struggle.
This is the logic some critics of the film have used when they claim that it distorts the role of Palestinian women in the anti-colonial struggle and reduces them to unfaithful wives and Shabak collaborators.
operator ‘Isqat Siyasi’
Israeli gender-based violence targeting the bodies and sexuality of Palestinian women is not a new phenomenon in the history of Zionist colonialism. Palestinian women have endured a heavy burden as they have been subjected to daily attacks on their lives, sexuality and bodily rights.
Historically, the intelligence apparatus has exploited the Orientalist patriarchal notion of honor and used the threat of sexual violence against Palestinian women to blackmail them into recruiting them as collaborators in what is commonly referred to as “Isqat Siyasi” (collapse politics in Arabic). In this sense, Huda chose victims in disturbing marriages or facing domestic violence to make his point: “It is easier to oppress a society that already oppresses itself” referring to misogyny in the within Palestinian society.
The practice of “Isqat” not only attempts to break down Palestinian resistance but also to fragment the fabric of Palestinian families. This argument is supported by a statement signed by 34 reservists who served in Unit 8200, Israel’s top secret military intelligence, which revealed that Israeli intelligence is designed to control Palestinian life and create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators.
In detailed interviews by The Guardian newspaper, soldiers from Unit 8200 claimed that Palestinian sexuality is a target of the unit to blackmail people into collaborating. “Any information that could allow the extortion of an individual is considered relevant information. Whether this individual has a certain sexual orientation, is cheating on his wife, or needs treatment in Israel or the West Bank, he is being blackmailed,” said one of the soldiers interviewed.
Gender-based violence as a tool of Israeli colonialism
Recently, Palestinian feminists have raised the issue of Palestine as a feminist issue that involves revisiting our understanding of Israeli colonialism in Palestine through a gender-sensitive lens, and placing indigenous Palestinian women at the center of this reassessment. Therefore, gender-based violence against Palestinian women – whether committed by Israeli forces or domestic agents – must be understood within the broader context of colonialism.
Placing indigenous Palestinian women at the center of the analysis of the Zionist colonial project aims to demonstrate the links between gender-based violence and colonization in the lives of Palestinian women. That is to say: gender-based violence against Palestinian women (including Isqat) is by no means accidental in the history of colonialism. Rather, it is an oppressive tool and a systematic product of the colonialist and Orientalist mindsets of Zionism that conceive of Palestinian women as “sub-human”.
Thus, to understand gender-based violence against Palestinians, feminist activists and researchers must begin by interrogating the gendered and racialized aspects of Zionist colonialism itself to highlight the intersection of gender and race with violence against Palestinians. Palestinian women.
We must understand that domestic violence against Palestinian women, which is repeatedly marginalized, is not a separate issue from anti-colonization and liberation issues. Such an understanding does not understand the intersectionality between the history of colonization and the patriarchal gender system. The reality is that it is precisely through gender-based violence that the colonial project has flourished. As the feminist writer Andrea Smith reminds us, to colonize a people, the colonizer must first naturalize the hierarchy by instituting patriarchy; “Patriarchal gender violence is the process by which colonizers inscribe hierarchy and domination over the bodies of the colonized.
Commitment to the liberation of Palestine requires that anti-colonial strategies begin by challenging these mechanisms of hierarchy and oppressive patriarchy, striving beyond notions of female honor and virginity, and building justice between gender and women’s empowerment.
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