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Israeli women soldiers: Partners in racism & genocide, not examples of ‘gender equality’

Women and children are the main victims of the Israeli genocide in Gaza. Israeli officials admit that targeting women and children is a deliberate policy. Palestinian women’s groups, calling the genocide a feminist issue, urge all who value women’s rights to back a ceasefire.

Yet to the New York Times this is not the women’s story to write about. In a travesty of women’s rights, the Times hails the Israeli military for permitting women soldiers to kill Palestinians in Gaza.

The Times reportage of the genocide in Gaza is highly selective. The U.S. establishment’s newspaper of record has been called out repeatedly by activists for its biased and racist coverage of Israel’s war on Palestine, and for spinning the news in an effort to manufacture consent for the genocide in Gaza and shield Israel from accountability. This newspaper did even not cover the giant demonstration in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 13, 400,000 strong, calling for a ceasefire, an end to the sanctions against Gaza and for the U.S to stop arming Israel. 

On Jan. 20, the Times found a way to weaponize feminism against the women of Gaza by praising the IDF for letting more Israeli women fight.

Amplifying Israeli war propaganda

The front page article, headlined, “Israeli Women Fight on Front Line in Gaza, a First,” reads, “After a long struggle for acceptance, Israel’s female combat soldiers are pushing new boundaries after rushing into battle on Oct. 7.” We learn that a woman now “commands a company of 83 soldiers, nearly half of them men. It is one of several mixed-gender units fighting in Gaza, where female combat soldiers and officers are serving on the front line for the first time since the war surrounding the establishment of Israel in 1948.” There are also two all-women tank crews on the ground in Gaza.

The Times calls this a victory over “ultraconservative rabbis and religiously observant soldiers” by “feminists, secularists and critics of the country’s traditionally macho culture.”

Not far behind this women-washing of genocide is pink-washing.  “Same-sex partners of slain soldiers are now legally recognized widows and widowers” since Oct. 7, and since that date “at least one transgender soldier has fought on the front in Gaza.”

This has been used by the IDF to bolster its image, the article explains. “Female combat soldiers have become symbols of progress and equality, appearing on magazine covers and featured in television news profiles.” And now the Times is using them to bolster the IDF too, reaching a broader, international audience.

Are the two tanks operated by women among those involved in the storming of Al-Khair hospital in Khan Yunis, arresting their staff,and preventing ambulances from rescuing the wounded?  Are the women in combat for the first time among the snipers shooting Palestinians dead as they search for food or water for their families? Are they guarding the bulldozers now flattening huge swarths of Khan Yunis, forcing pregnant women to give birth in freezing tents because their homes were destroyed and they are blocked from  hospitals?

Equal gender opportunity to commit genocide is a cruel and obscene mockery of women’s rights. To hail it, as this article does, is to provide cover for the Israeli military to continue the killing that primarily and deliberately targets women and children. This does not advance the rights of women, it sets them back.

There is no skepticism in the article, no attempt to point out the contradiction of supporting gender equality in the IDF so women combat soldiers can kill Palestinian women in Gaza. Its writer, Times Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner, is part of this propaganda machine. Kershner’s son served in the IDF, and her husband works for the Institute for National Security Studies, leading a military and security think tank, which Kershner often relies on as source.   

Targeting women and children is intentional

The story not being told is that killing women and children in Gaza is not collateral damage. It is intentional, according to Giora Eiland, Israeli Army Reservist Major General, former Head of the Israeli National Security Council, and adviser to the Defense Minister.  Eiland’s statement was among those showing genocidal intent that the South African government cited in its application to the International Court of Justice.

On Nov. 19, Eiland said, “Who are the ‘poor’ women of Gaza? They are all the mothers, sisters or wives of Hamas murderers. On the one hand, they are part of the infrastructure that supports the organization, and on the other hand, if they experience a humanitarian disaster, then it can be assumed that some of the Hamas fighters and the more junior commanders will begin to understand that the war is futile.”  Eliand added “severe epidemics in the southern Gaza Strip will bring victory closer and reduce casualties among IDF soldiers.”

Two mothers killed every hour, a child killed every 10 minutes

Since Oct. 7,  the Israeli military has deliberately created a women’s rights crisis in Gaza. Some 70% of those killed are women and children. With starvation used as a weapon of war, women are the last to eat and children the first to die. A Palestinian child is killed in Gaza every 10 minutes. Two mothers are killed every hour. Of the 1.9 million displaced, close to 1 million are women and girls.

  • Pregnant women: With 61 hospitals and health care facilities damaged or destroyed, placed under siege or forcibly evacuated, 5,500 women a month are giving birth in unsafe conditions. Where they are able to get to a functioning hospital, pregnant women are having to undergo caesarean sections without anesthetic.  Premature births have increased by between 25-30 percent, as pregnant women suffer stress and trauma from  having to walk long distances in search of safety or to escape from bombs, from losing family members, and from being crowded into shelters in often foul conditions. 
  • At least 15 percent of Gaza births have complications requiring obstetric care. Not getting this care, women who would otherwise survive are dying before or during childbirth. Particularly in northern Gaza, cases of placenta abruption –– a serious condition that occurs to pregnant women during childbirth which is potentially life-threatening to both mother and baby –– have more than doubled. The Minister of Health for the State of Palestine, Dr. May al-Kaileh, has said that  the only option facing Palestinian women in Gaza who ‘bleed out’ after giving birth is to undergo a hysterectomy in order for their lives to be saved.
  • The World Health Organization warned that maternal deaths are expected to increase given the lack of access to adequate care.
  • Children and babies: Lack of clean water is a crisis for mothers trying to feed babies. In the camps, poor or no sanitation is worsening the risk of infection and medical complications are increasing, causing a spike in the number of babies dying from preventable causes like diarrhea and from the cold.
  • A month ago, the Director General of the World Health Organization warned that Gaza was already experiencing soaring rates of infectious disease outbreaks. At that time, diarrhea cases among children aged under 5 were 25 times what they were before the Israeli attack.  
  • Women and girls: With about 1 million women and girls now displaced, some of them multiple times, access to water and to safe sanitation facilities, essential for managing menstrual hygiene, is non-existent. When those needs are unmet it can lead to serious infections, including hepatitis B and thrush. In camps, as many as 700 people use a single toilet. The World Health Organization estimates that on the average in the camps there is only one shower for every 4,500 people.  Girls living in freezing tents are getting their first periods with no access to pads and without a mother to help them.

Snuff videos of women soldiers

This is the women’s issue in Gaza right now, and it is an extremely urgent one and surely one that Isabel Kershner couldn’t miss seeing, as she was ferried around on military vehicles to write her article. Israeli women combat soldiers in Gaza surely cannot miss this either.

Some in the liberal establishment say that a women’s presence and natural compassion is what is needed to stop needless violence, and therefore that a gain for women somewhere is a gain for women everywhere. While some women and men in the Israeli military may eventually step forward to condemn the genocide, and a handful have refused to serve in Gaza, there is no indication that Israeli women in combat have shown compassion for the women of Gaza. 

Women combat soldiers have joined their male counterparts in sharing what some are calling snuff videos. These are social media postings made by Israeli soldiers themselves where they imitate, mock and degrade Palestinians while standing in their demolished homes and institutions. These racist videos have sparked outrage and disgust, and speak to the fact that no power holds the Israeli military accountable for its actions, and to the fact that the genocide is made possible by a unconditional 24/7 airlift of weapons from the Pentagon.

One such video shows women in uniform happily dancing and mugging in a bombed-out area with elements of Palestinian life scattered about. In the midst of a starvation campaign, where Gaza women are eating last to make sure their children can eat and 93% of the population faces crisis levels of hunger, one women picks up a large sack with the markings of the rice bags distributed by UNWRA. It is open. With a grand and mocking gesture she the flings the bag in the air, causing the rice scatter on the ground.

That Israeli soldiers are making these racist and sickening videos is conveniently left out of  New York Times’ coverage.

Palestinian women are all of us

The New York Times has written many editorials over the decades backing women’s rights, and claims this as a principled position. However, misusing women’s equality in such a warped, racist and harmful way to support Israel’s genocide reveals that this media outlet’s bottom line isn’t principled positions, it’s protecting the bottom line of the liberal establishment that it represents. The Times bolsters Israel because that state is the Pentagon’s indispensable attack dog in the oil rich Middle East, and protects the profits of the Times’ board of directors by keeping down the indigenous populations there.

In marked contrast to this misappropriation of gender equality, grassroots Palestinian women’s groups within historic Palestine and in exile have declared ending the Gaza genocide a feminist issue. They have put forth an urgent call to all those truly interested in women’s rights to join feminists worldwide and others fighting for a ceasefire, to end the blockade, and allow humanitarian aid into Gaza unimpeded, and for a free Palestine.

They point out that “Palestinian women have been struggling for decades against the intersection of national, social and economic oppressions, calling out the inherent patriarchal core of Israel’s regime of oppression.”

They are part of the people’s movement, the only force that has ever gains for workers and oppressed people in this country around the world.  Palestinian women play leading roles worldwide in this people’s movement which has as its heartfelt mantra no one can be free unless Palestine is free.

The women of Palestine show the world that struggle for gender justice cannot be separated from fighting oppression, discrimination, racism, colonialism and militarism.  No women can really be free until all Palestinian women are safe from attack, have quality health care, food and housing for themselves and their families, and can live with dignity in a free Palestine.

Recent protest in front of the New York Times office. Liberation photo.

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