Podcast / Start Making Sense / May 8, 2024

The Mob Attack on UCLA’s Protest Encampment—Plus Israel, Hamas, and Sexual Violence

On this episode of Start Making Sense, David Myers comments on protest at UCLA, and Azadeh Moaveni discusses sexual violence on October 7 and after.

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The Mob Attack on UCLA’s Gaza Encampment, plus Israel, Hamas, and Rape | Start Making Sense
byThe Nation Magazine

Lots of pro-Palestine encampments on college campuses have been attacked by local police, but UCLA was different: a pro-Israel mob attacked the encampment on April 30. The attack continued for three hours before police stepped in, and they didn’t arrest any of the attackers. The next night, the police themselves attacked and shut down the encampment. UCLA Professor and Chair in Jewish History, David Myers has our report.

Also on this episode: There’s no doubt that Israeli women and girls were raped during the Hamas attack on Oct. 7; but there is little evidence to support Israel’s charge that rape was a “premeditated, systematic” strategy by Hamas—offered as a justification for Israel's destruction of Gaza and killing of 35,000 civilians. At the same time, evidence is growing of sexual abuse of Palestinian women held in detention by Israel. Azadeh Moaveni reports on the findings of her reporting for the London Review of Books.

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Counterprotesters attack a pro-Palestinian encampment set up on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles, on May 1, 2024.

(Etienne Laurent / AFP via Getty Images)

Lots of pro-Palestine encampments on college campuses have been attacked by local police, but UCLA was different: a pro-Israel mob attacked the encampment on April 30. The attack continued for three hours before police stepped in, and they didn’t arrest any of the attackers. The next night, the police themselves attacked and shut down the encampment. UCLA professor and chair in Jewish history David Myers has our report.

Also on this episode: There’s no doubt that Israeli women and girls were raped during the Hamas attack on October 7; but there is little evidence to support Israel’s charge that rape was a “premeditated, systematic” strategy by Hamas—offered as a justification for Israel’s destruction of Gaza and killing of 35,000 civilians. At the same time, evidence is growing of sexual abuse of Palestinian women held in detention by Israel. Azadeh Moaveni reports on the findings of her investigation for the London Review of Books.

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

Gaza Protest and Free Speech, plus Biden’s Haiti Gala | Start Making Sense
byThe Nation Magazine

As campus protests continue against American support for Israel’s war in Gaza, universities and colleges have legal obligations to combat discrimination and a responsibility to maintain order. But they must not sacrifice the principles of free speech that are core to their educational mission. Ben Wizner of the ACLU will explain.

Also: Kenya finally is sending 1000 police officers to Haiti on what is called a “UN security mission,” and Joe Biden held a gala state dinner honoring the president of Kenya for doing it. Amy Wilentz will comment on what she calls “the Devils’ Ball.”

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Jon Wiener: From The Nation magazine, this is Start Making Sense. I’m Jon Wiener. Later in the hour: rape of Israel women and girls on Oct. 7, and sexual abuse of Palestinian women before and after that – Azadeh Moaveni will report.  But first: the mob attack on the pro-Palestininan encampment at UCLA last week David Myers will comment – in a minute.
[BREAK]
On dozens of college campuses, the encampments established by students opposed to Israel’s destruction of Gaza have been shut down by police. But at UCLA, the nation’s number one public university, something else happened, something worse. A violent pro-Israel mob came on campus and attacked the students in the encampment. Police were there, but they stood by for hours, failing to stop the attack and failing to arrest any of the perpetrators.
That was the night of Tuesday, April 30th. For comment we turned to David Myers. He’s a distinguished professor at UCLA where he teaches Jewish history. He’s written for The LA Times Op-Ed page, The Forward and The Atlantic, and he’s been an activist working for peace in Israel/Palestine for decades. David Myers, welcome back.

David Myers: Good to be with you, Jon.

JW: Tuesday night, April 30t: how bad was that attack for UCLA–and for the rest of us?

DM: Well, I had never seen anything quite like it. Certainly not in the United States and not on a university campus. Nothing in my experience could compare to it. The only things that it summoned up in my mind were violent attacks, that I knew of as a Jewish historian, directed against Jews with tacit or explicit support of the state from a century ago, what were called pogroms in the context of the Russian Empire. This did not have the scale of destruction of the pogroms of the turn of the century in Eastern Europe.
But what we saw was a band of thugs make their way toward the encampment and embark upon an assault that went without police intervention for four hours. Those of us who were watching on live television were in a state of shock. And the fact that this was followed up the next day by a massive police presence on campus to take down the encampments, thereby sending a message to many, that those who attacked so wantonly on Tuesday night would go free, and those who were their victims would be punished.
All of this lends a sense of, I think, shock and trauma to the UCLA campus. I think there’s just a sense of devastation.  The sort of a compact that unites the various stakeholders in our university community has been unraveled, and I think people are really frazzled and grieving–and still having to keep abreast of breaking developments every hour. So this is as serious a crisis as I’ve ever experienced in my 33 years at UCLA. And it’s not confined to UCLA, it’s nationwide.

JW: The mob that attacked at UCLA was carrying Israeli flags. They were singing Hebrew songs. You and I are both Jewish. For us to see other Jews attacking students at UCLA is–well, what would you say it is?

DM: It is a violation of every Jewish impulse and sensibility that I hold dear. I don’t know that I can say that all of the attackers were Jewish. I believe some of them were and all seem to be acting on behalf of their idea of Jewish students and the pro-Israel cause. It may also be that some made their way to campus because they like a fight. I wouldn’t be surprised if we discovered that some members of the Proud Boys or an organization like that were involved.
But I’d say the operative sentiment that ran through my head throughout that four-hour period was: “Not in my name.” This is an affront to every imaginable Jewish ethical principle that I hold dear.
And I should say that this is not to say that there have not been instances of antisemitism, expressions of antisemitism over the course of the last seven months on our campus. There have, and we need to call them out without hesitation when they occur. But if this is a response to those instances, we are in a very dangerous place.

JW: Well, let’s go back a couple of weeks: The encampment, 30 tents, was set up on April 25th. For five days things were pretty peaceful there. What was the encampment like?

DM: Pretty peaceful.  A lot of energy. I went to check it out and discovered that there was a good deal of positive spirit and energy. At certain points, there were chants. For the most part, those chants were ones which I myself, as a strong supporter of Palestinian freedom and liberation, could have chanted myself. There were some other chants that I was less comfortable with, but did not necessarily interpret as anti-semitic, chants about globalizing the Intifada. But it was overwhelmingly peaceful. I saw no instance of exclusion or harassment within. What I did see is that there was a small number of counter demonstrators who were shouting from outside of the encampment at those within it. And those within tended to exercise great discipline.

JW: I read that Jewish students at the UCLA encampment held a Passover Seder and a Shabbat service there.

DM: That’s right. I wasn’t present for either. But there’s a contingent of Jewish students, some of whom are associated with organizations like IfNotNow and Jewish Voices for Peace, some of whom have no organizational affiliation, who spent a good deal of time in the encampment, held a Seder, held a Kabbalat Shabbat service as a way of expressing their Jewish values, by aligning with the Palestinian Solidarity movement.
So when we speak of defending Jewish students, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a wide spectrum of perspectives amongst the Jewish student population at UCLA. We should be attentive to all of the stations along that spectrum.

JW: On Sunday, April 28th, pro-Israel groups organized a big counter-rally. You were there — in what capacity?

DM: I originally came with a kind of third group, not as part of the Palestinian Solidarity movement and not as part of the pro-Israel counter demonstration, but with an Israeli grassroots-organizing movement called Standing Together, which you know about.

JW: And which you and I talked about here a few weeks ago.

DM: We did indeed. So there’s a local chapter of Standing Together, which brings together Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs and other interested parties in support of the proposition of peace, justice, and equality for all inhabitants of that land. And we came basically to promote the ideas of Standing Together–peace, justice, and equality for all.
Immediately upon arriving on campus, I could sense tremendous tension and made my way to a number of administrators whom I knew who were there and said, “What’s going on?”  And they said at the time, LAPD was on its way — because there had been various violations by both groups of the established principles that had been agreed upon.
But what I saw in addition to that were groups representing each of the sides beginning to amass on a street adjacent to the Royce Quad and beginning to face off against one another. And I and two colleagues, Dov Waxman and Aryeh Cohen, understood that in the absence of any other intermediating force, we should just jump in and do what we could to separate the groups because we all feared that violence could easily break out.
And for about two and a half hours, we stood there. I think Dov Waxman stayed longer, really trying to keep the two groups apart. And what we observed, and there may have been other instances with different balances elsewhere on that very combustible day, what we observed was that almost all of the instigation came from the pro-Israel side, and frequently from Hebrew-speaking Israelis.
Again, I don’t want to suggest that the entire pro-Israel counter demonstration was committed to this kind of provocation, that I don’t believe to be the case. But those with against whom we were facing or those who were on one side of that line were hurling insults and threats. And in some instances, even throwing punches. The Palestinian solidarity side exercised very considerable discipline. They had yellow vested de-escalators to keep people under control.
Sometimes they weren’t successful and someone from the pro-Palestinian side would throw back a punch. Sometimes there were insults hurled the other way. But in our observation, it almost all came from the pro-Israel camp. And it was astounding to us that LAPD, as far as I know, never arrived. I did see, while in the midst of the two groups, a contingent of UCPD officers, about a hundred feet up, maybe 200 feet away from where I was. I went and approached them and asked one officer, “Can you help? Look what’s going on? There’s a conflagration about to erupt.”
And that officer said, “Yes, we know. We’re game-planning our strategy now.” I took some solace that in a matter of minutes they’d begin to help. That didn’t help. That didn’t happen for the duration of the time I was there, probably another 45 minutes or so. And as far as I know, they never deployed in a position as intermediaries, as mediators or facilitators or de-escalators. And basically the two groups were left to their own with a handful of volunteers trying to keep the peace.

JW: And a pro-Israel group set up a Jumbotron facing the encampment. Tell us about the Jumbotron.

DM: I believe it was on Saturday night.

JW: How far away?

DM: I’m going to say 20 feet, something of that order. Maybe it was 50 feet, but it was a big screen, and it was projecting terrible, terrible images from the October 7th massacre. And insofar as that space is carefully regulated, it was unclear to me how it was allowed to be brought on. I suppose the logic some or the administrators would be, “Well, if we allow the encampment, we should allow – ” And I would say a counter demonstration at a remove from the encampment, not abutting it, and surely not a Jumbotron to screen those images, which are really horrifying and traumatizing and triggering.

JW: I’m told this was babies screaming.

DM: Yeah. Yeah.

JW: Rape victims.

DM: Bodies dismembered. Yeah.

JW: And how long did this program run?

DM: I believe around the clock. That was already very strange to me that it was permitted to be there and that it wasn’t taken down and that it wasn’t taken down after the terrible events of Tuesday night. And I guess that just relates to my sense that there was a systems failure, an abdication of responsibility of very major proportions.

JW: So the attack from pro-Israel militants came on Tuesday night. Then on Wednesday, the university administration assembled this gigantic police force, not just the LAPD, but the LA County Sheriffs, the highway patrol, other police departments. Thousands of supporters of the encampment gathered on the UCLA campus to stand between the coming attacking force and the encampment. The police waited until – what? Two in the morning or something like that, before attacking the encampment, demolishing it, and arresting more than 200 people. Tell us about the police tactics. I was especially interested in the use of non-lethal, so-called non-lethal projectiles, about which the LAPD has been sued many times.

DM: Right. Well, I must say I wasn’t there that night. I received many reports. But what I want to first begin by saying is the juxtaposition of these two images was just so stark. Tuesday night, no police for four hours as one group is attacking another, and then at least by 4:00 PM on Thursday, a massive police presence.

JW: Just to repeat your earlier point about this juxtaposition, it made it clear that the attackers would go free, and their victims would be punished.

DM: The police used, as you know, all sorts of means that usually are deployed to confront violent crowds, including flashbangs and non-lethal weapons that were directed at the encampment. Those who were there and witnessed it were stunned and immediately traumatized by what seemed to be an act of violence that was sanctioned by the university, the city, and the state.

JW: The official rationale offered by the university President Michael Drake, was that the students at the encampment engaged in quote, “Disruptive unlawful protests that violate the rights of our fellow citizens,” close quote. What were the violation of the rights of others committed by the students in the encampment that provoked this massive police action?

DM: Well, what was alleged was that some people in the encampment prevented access both to the encampment and from one part of the Quad to the other.

JW: Let’s just pause there. This is students – apparently, some students complained that the encampment blocked one route from one side of the Quad to the other side of the Quad so that they had to walk around it–

DM: That’s right.

JW: To get to a class. Is this a violation of their rights?

DM: It didn’t seem so to me. I’m simply reporting what was alleged. And then I think the other allegation was that university property was defaced, particularly Royce Hall. And I would say I’m not in favor of defacing buildings.

JW: This is graffiti?

DM: Yeah, largely graffiti. But I would not say that graffiti merits the kind of police presence that we saw on Wednesday and Thursday night.

JW: Some other schools have taken the opposite path. First Brown, then Northwestern, Rutgers, the University of Minnesota, my own school, UC Irvine, have been discussing the issues raised by the students in their encampments, including divestment from Israel instead of calling the cops and arresting the students. And some of these schools have come to agreements that this will be now a matter for public decision making by the appropriate bodies of the university. Why do you think that UCLA Chancellor, Gene Block, did not do that?

DM: Chancellor Block did do it initially. That’s the confounding piece here. In fact, I was thinking, “My heavens, maybe there’s a new way. Maybe the UCLA way is the wave of the future and the way to avoid what we had seen it at USC and Columbia.” I think there was intensifying pressure from outside actors and the University of California regents who became increasingly intolerant of the presence of the encampment on the Quad and increasingly responsive to these allegations that had been raised about anti-Semitic actions and invective.
And we sort of flipped 180 degrees from this model of restraint to a model of hyper-militarization. And I’m left perplexed as someone who knows our administrators. I’m left in a state of utter perplexity about how this could have occurred. I look on with admiration at the Browns and the Minnesotas, and now the Occidentals and other schools that were committed to an ongoing process of communication and negotiation between administration and student demonstrators.
That yielded, I think, very positive outcomes. The ending of encampments, often in exchange for – at Minnesota, exchanges the Palestinian universities, and at Brown and Minnesota and elsewhere, a willingness to hold a conversation about divestment from companies that provide offensive military equipment to Israel. And I would say, as someone who espouses the ideals of ethical investment, this seems to me like a perfectly legitimate conversation to have. And in those institutions, it had a very good outcome. So again, I’m just left perplexed about how we went from being a model for strength to the opposite in an instant.

JW: One last thing, we’re speaking now. It’s Monday, May 6th. This isn’t over yet, I’m afraid.

DM: No. We are hearing reports of an imminent invasion by Israel into Rafah, the last remaining city in Gaza that has not been completely attacked. And we’re also hearing reports of Hamas’s agreement to a ceasefire deal, which Israel is now considering. By the time this airs, we’ll probably know a good deal more. But if the attack on Rafah takes place at the scale that we fear, I’m certain that there will be sustained student activism for many days, weeks, and months to come.

JW: David Myers–you can read his article on the UCLA events at The Forward. That’s forward.com. His piece is called “I’m a UCLA Professor. Why Didn’t the Administration Stop Last Night’s Egregious Violence?” David, thanks for all your work on this, and thanks for talking with us.

DM: Always good to be with you, Jon.
[BREAK]

Jon Wiener: Now it’s time to talk about rape on October 7th in the attack on Israel, and sexual violence and abuse in wartime. For that, we turn to Azadeh Moaveni. She’s an Iranian American journalist and academic who’s been covering the Middle East for two decades. She’s the author of the books Lipstick Jihad, Honeymoon in Tehran, and Guest House for Young Widows. We talked about them here. She’s also associate professor of journalism at NYU, where she directs the program in global journalism. Her work appears in The New York Times, The New Yorker and The London Review of Books, where she’s written about Ukrainian women refugees, Iranian women resisting the morality police, and now a report on sexual violence in Israel and Palestine on October 7th, and before and after October 7th. We reached her today in Manhattan. Azadeh Moaveni, welcome back.

Azadeh Moaveni: Thank you so much for having me.

JW: First question: is there any doubt about whether Israeli women and girls were raped during the Hamas attack on October 7th?

AM: I don’t think that there is any doubt that there was sexual violence that day, including rape – the accounts of a small number of eyewitnesses, but perhaps a larger number that we don’t have access to yet, and the assessment of both Israeli organizations and more recently a UN team.

JW: So there’s no question that Hamas on October 7th was guilty of war crimes. That’s the conclusion of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International among others. We want to focus on a related question. Was rape on that day a “premeditated, systematic” strategy by Hamas? That’s what the Israeli government says, and so have some other prominent news organizations. The Guardian published its own report in January from its Jerusalem correspondent Bethan McKernan, referring to “the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war by Hamas”. And Sheryl Sandberg says, “Hamas used rape systematically.” I have to say the reports of rapes on October 7th are unbearable, but we need to look at them not only to condemn the perpetrators, but also because of the role rape reports have played in the current war. Let’s talk about that first.

AM: That’s exactly right, Jon. The whole question of whether this sexual violence was systematic and widespread is really the heart of the matter. I mean, it is on the grounds of sexual violence that the Israelis have refused a ceasefire. It is more recently rape. And these allegations of rape were invoked by the Israeli ambassador of the UN to deride the United Nations for even contemplating Palestinian statehood. So they’re at the center of the Israeli military campaign and the political constructs for it.

JW: I should add the American Jewish Committee has said the rapes on October 7th are a reason why Israel should not agree to a ceasefire. On the other hand, the author of the UN report, which we’ll be discussing in a minute, says the evidence that Hamas committed rape and sexualized torture on October 7th make a ceasefire a priority — in order to protect the Israeli hostages still held by Hamas, for whom she says there is clear and convincing information that some of them had endured sexual violence and rape while in captivity. This is Pramila Patten in her press conference. She’s the UN special representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict. So we need to look at the evidence because of its political significance as a justification for the beginning of this war, for its continuing, and for the refusal of a ceasefire, which, as we are speaking on Monday, may finally come to pass. So what is the evidence that rape was a premeditated systematic strategy by Hamas on October 7th?

AM: For that, even Pramila Patten herself says that in her report, which is the only sort of expert report, although not an investigative report, and we can talk more in a second about what that means. There is no evidence as of yet that sexual violence and/or rape was systematic as part of the Hamas military battle plan for that day. There has been some sort of evidence put forward by the Israeli government that Patten herself found some of it impossible to substantiate, about Hamas fighters or different Palestinian militant fighters having phrase books in their pockets or found on them with instructions in Hebrew for telling women to take their clothes off, and that there were theocratic justifications that had been found. I don’t think any of that has been substantiated.
There are some Palestinian detainees who have given some testimony that they were instructed. I don’t think that’s really being looked at very seriously given the very real likelihood that those were extracted under torture. So it’s a very long way of saying that evidence for systematic and widespread rape as a weapon of war, no one has that yet.
There may never be evidence either way around those two fundamental questions because the UN body that is mandated and able to address those two questions is not being admitted by the Israelis, is not being given access to this evidence, to the witnesses. And so we may never actually have those answers. And in a way that ambiguity is at the center of the controversy around Pramila Patten’s visit. It was not really an investigation, but it sort of put the stamp of the UN on what the Israelis then wished to spin her mission to conclude. So the full-blown investigation will probably never happen because of access issues. And so this is probably all we will ever have, and it’s not conclusive on those points.

JW: I’d just like to recall that Bret Stephens, the New York Times opinion columnist, said, “how quickly the left has moved from ‘believe women’ to ‘believe Hamas.’” I wonder if you have any comment. 

AM: That was a refrain that was made a lot by Israeli advocates, by Israeli women’s groups around the time. And Arab feminists, Palestinian feminists, there were many thoughtful responses to that notion, the idea that women weren’t being believed because of anti-Semitism, that there was an exceptionalism around this particular terrible day and its acts of violence because the victims were Jewish. But the response to that by Palestinian feminists, by global south feminists, by a whole collective of feminist international law scholars was that rape has been instrumentalized throughout the history of war to perpetuate war as much as has been used as the weapon of war. And that it is actually ethically imperative for the sake of the suffering of the women who may have had and who did experience sexual violence to investigate this fully. But that the sad truth of the matter was that there are no survivors. There are no women who survived rape that day who have lived to tell that. That woman that’s invoked the sort of mythological woman who is not being believed for reasons that are devastating is not known to us.
So we’re left with a day’s worth of terrible atrocities, incomplete evidence, and a situation in which these accounts have become so monstrously intertwined with the Israeli government’s siege of Gaza that as Patten herself said, it’s interfering with the possibility of any survivors actually coming forward because their families and themselves see that they may be caught up into and caught up within a terrible process that requires them to feel shame because they have to be the national face of the defilement of Israeli society. They have to bear a terrible stigma. And so the whole thing has turned into in what the sort of field of sexual violence research and survivor centric reporting and ethics over years has taught us. It ceased to be about anything that has the suffering of women and the full accounting with their wellbeing at its center as its priority.

JW: Probably the most important thing in your report in the LRB is the argument that we need to widen the focus and look at violations of women other than forced vaginal penetration in violations that victimized Palestinian women as well as Israeli women. Why is this broader focus looking at more than vaginal rape necessary, and why is it so ignored?

AM: The reason why narrowing the sort of aperture of concern to only be concerned with penetrative rape is that it elides and tends to completely leave out of debates and strategies for protection and also political debates about accountability. The wide and often much more prevalent spectrum of other gender-based harms that women experience. So sexualized torture and detention, obstetric or reproductive violence, the sort of shutting down of medical centers, the sort of conditions in which pregnancy and successful birth in a population become impossible, sexualized means of interrogation as a way of blackmailing and controlling the lives of political activists and dissidents. On a society-wide scale, these kinds of harms are much more widespread and to an extent daily, these are systematic in ways that can be shown.
And if we’re looking at the ways that conflicts shape and harm the lives of women day in and day out in a sort of widened aperture of our recognition of harm, these are the most extensive. And also, often our perception of what is the worst thing that can happen to a woman, the notion that that’s rape comes from a very patriarchal and sort of shame-focused purity culture sort of way.
I’ve worked in a lot of war contexts where women have been raped, but they’ve also had their children abducted or disappeared. They’ve had their husbands murdered. They can’t feed their children because of malnutrition and famine. And in the spectrum of everything that’s happening to them, maybe rape isn’t always in their minds the worst thing. It’s one of many very awful and grotesque things that can harm a woman. And pushing on rape as the worst thing reinforces that terrible stigma and stain of rape, which is very hard to undo when we’re trying to aid survivors as well. So there’s the whole host of reasons sort of to do with how we help survivors, how states and militaries can conduct their security policies to protect and minimize rape that are not aided by the obsessive focus on simply penetrative rape.

JW: So if we broaden the focus to include Palestinian women in detention, I understand from your LRB piece, this is hard to find out about because Israel detains Palestinian women in military sites and off-grid detention centers that cannot be visited by any outside observers. But we do know there are something like 147 women detained on the West Bank, Palestinian women, and we know a little about their treatment from Israeli groups, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, couple of other groups. You convey some of the disturbing findings that they have made. Tell us a little about that.

AM: What appears from these reports, these Israeli organizations that you mentioned, some sort of joint Israeli-Palestinian rights groups, and then Palestinian rights groups. We do actually have a pretty extensive array of reporting that looks at what women have experienced; Palestinian women have experienced in detention since October 7th. And the picture that it paints is of sexualized abuse and torture becoming a systematic aspect of the detention experience. So that means that from the moments of arrest through the whole period of detention through to release, women are experiencing beatings that target their genitalia and their breasts. They’re kept naked for extended periods. They’re forced to endure stress positions, humiliating, degrading sexual positions while naked. There have been accounts of Palestinian women being forced to pose naked with Israeli flags behind them. And then the interrogators take their pictures and say that they’ll share that with their community so that no one will ever marry them.
There are two accounts of actual rape of Palestinian women in detention.
And something that one of the UN special rapporteurs told me is that it’s hard actually to even get a sense of the full picture of this because many of these women, when they come out of detention, or actually according to one report, all of them receive phone calls because they’re released, of course, back into the West Bank and into a context in which they’re still very vulnerable. They receive phone calls, threatening phone calls from what they presume to be Israeli authorities telling them that if they say anything about what happened to them in detention, that their families will be harmed, that if they have male relatives who are in detention, they will be harmed.
So on the Palestinian side, the security of women who come out on the other side of detention to actually talk about what’s happened to them is very much in question. So that just highlights difficulty for us to know the full picture, along with of course, fears that if they talk about it extensively, that will encourage Palestinian families to perhaps leave towns and areas that are being targeted by settlers, which is a sort of repeat of fears of rape driving expulsion from villages in 1948 as well.

JW: You have said that throughout the history of war, sexual violence has been an important justification for perpetuating war. That sexual violence perpetrated by one side is often used to justify violence, including sexual violence on the other side. Are you implying that Israeli abuse of Palestinian women justifies Hamas rapes on October 7th?

AM: Absolutely not. No. If there’s anything to take away from the horrific targeting of women on both sides, by both sides throughout this war, it’s that women are incredibly vulnerable and are targeted by the taboos in their own community, by the overwhelming military nature of what’s happening to them. I think what’s worth reflecting on is the way that gender and sexual harm just permeates this whole conflict in ways that we don’t really see unless we’re looking for it. The images of Israeli soldiers stringing up Palestinian women’s lingerie as they go through towns and homes in Gaza, or the things that they’re saying to Palestinian women in detention, ‘we’re going to do to you what Hamas did to our women.’ This is a war that’s just completely saturated in notions of and fears of and actualities of sexual violence. And I’m a bit bewildered that this remains in a sort of silo of reporting and consideration when it’s really at the heart of how this is being experienced and perpetrated.

JW: Azadeh Moaveni — you can read her important article, “What They Did to Our Women: Women in Wartime,” at the London Review of Books, lrb.co.uk. Azadeh, thank you for this piece, and thank you for talking with us today.

AM: Thank you so much for a really thoughtful conversation.

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Jon Wiener

Jon Wiener is a contributing editor of The Nation and co-author (with Mike Davis) of Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties.

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