In Israel's war, Palestinian women's bodies are battlefields

In Israel's war on Gaza, Palestinian women's bodies are battlefields
7 min read

Farrah Koutteineh

04 April, 2024
Israel's violence against Palestinian women is core to its settler colonialism because they sustain indigenous life and resistance, writes Farrah Koutteineh.
The systemic violence and humiliation of Palestinian women by Israeli soldiers goes back 75 years, writes Farrah Koutteineh. [Getty]

In recent weeks disturbing revelations of widespread sexual torture and rape of Palestinian women by Israeli forces invading Gaza have come to light.

Last week it was reported that a pregnant Palestinian woman had been kidnapped and held hostage alongside her family by Israeli soldiers in the vicinity of Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital.

She was brutally beaten for several hours and after telling the Israeli soldiers she was five months pregnant, the beating only intensified. This was then followed by soldiers raping her in front of her husband and children, threatening to shoot any of them that closed their eyes during the ordeal.

These horrifying revelations are in fact nothing new when it comes to Israel’s continuous assault on Palestinian women’s bodies. This is a practice as old as Israel itself. When the settler colonial state of Israel formed just 75 years ago, mass rape of Palestinian women was part of its foundational project.

Zionist terrorist groups used mass rape to assert domination over the native Palestinian towns and villages it was ethnically cleansing.

The countless massacres of Palestinians that took place across the 1940’s during the Nakba, in order to create the state of Israel, from the Tantura massacre, to the Deir Yassin massacre, all document the mass-rape of Palestinian women.

Zionist terrorist groups would often rape Palestinian women in full display of an entire Palestinian village, to terrify others to flee.

The Israeli settlers who perpetrated such barbarity were never held accountable. Instead today they are hailed as heroes in Israeli society. In documentaries about these massacres they laugh and snigger over their role in mass-rape, even gloating that some of their Palestinian victims were as young as 14 years old.

As more of the unsubstantiated Israeli government statements about what really happened on 7th October are being debunked, notably their fictitious statements on alleged ‘mass rape’ of Israeli settlers, it is absolutely vital, now more than ever, to condemn Israel’s 75 year long targetted campaign of rape murder of Palestinian women.

During Israel’s first invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israeli forces committed some of their most unimaginable violence against Palestinian women.

The Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982 saw Israeli soldiers torture, rape, mutilate and murder over 3,500 Palestinian refugees, mostly women and children. Horrifying testimonies of survivors recall unthinkable mutilations of pregnant women’s bodies, testimonies that were actually stolen and appropriated by Israel supporters online.

They had deceptively proclaimed these brutally detailed testimonies of mass rape, mass mutilation and mass murder from Sabra and Shatila massacre survivors, were the testimonies of Israeli women on 7th October. 

But these claims were then verified by fact checkers and shown to be unsubstantiated. Indeed, many were the stolen testimonies of Sabra and Shatila massacre survivors.

The lived experience of female Palestinian political prisoners exemplifies the intensified violence Palestinian women experience. They experience psychological, physical and sexual torture at the hands of Israeli prison guards. They are even documented cases of pregnant prisoners tortured to the point of miscarriage.


Former Palestinian political prisoner Rasmea Odeh recalls a harrowing but unfortunately not uncommon nor unique female Palestinian experience whilst incarcerated. Odeh was arrested in 1969 by Israel, for being a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

After her arrest she was brutally beaten, tortured and raped by Israeli prison guards. Israeli prison guards later arrested Odeh’s father, whereby they gave him the ultimatum to either be forced to watch guards sexually torture his daughter or do it himself, to which Odeh was forced to falsely confess, worried her father would have a heart attack.

Since 7th October it is estimated over 25,000 Palestinian women and children have been killed by Israeli forces. Israel’s systematic targeting of Palestinian women is not coincidental or abstract, it exactly underpins the violent settler colonial nature of its very existence.

Throughout settler colonial history, it has often been the bodies of indigenous women that have been viewed as the battlefields of settler colonial domination. European settler colonialism is constructed upon power and domination, not only upholding notions of white supremacy, but of violent misogyny.

During the vast European colonisation of Turtle Island (US & Canada), violence against indigenous women became a central element of the colonial strategy for conquest and genocide.

Indigenous women were targeted with rape and femicide due to their ability to sustain their tribes through childbearing, and thus the survival of native populations depend on its women. 

Indigenous women have always been seen as the demographic threat responsible for sustaining the indigenous population that settler colonial projects seek to dominate or exterminate.

Today across the US and Canada, indigenous women are at the forefront of gendered violence. Despite only making up less than one percent of the population, the murder rate of indigenous women is ten times higher than that of any other ethnicity.

In fact, over 80% will experience sexual violence in their lifetime and indigenous women are more likely to be raped or murdered than go to college. The roots of violence against indigenous women across Turtle Island experience today are deeply colonial.

The disturbing phenomenon of photos coming out of Gaza in recent months of perverted Israeli soldiers posing with Palestinian women’s underwear and lingerie is rooted in similar colonial misogyny.

Israeli settler society since its beginnings has been caught up in the same orientalist obsessions over Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern women as its colonial predecessors.

Throughout France’s colonisation of Algeria, the modesty of Algerian women, most notably the veil, became a colonial fixation. Algerian women played a fundamental role in the decolonisation of Algeria: veiled women were not only active revolutionaries, but the veil empowered their very resistance by defying European misogynist ideals of women that confined their worth to their appearance.

Post-colonial writer Frantz Fanon summarises this fixation as, “This woman, who sees without being seen, frustrates the coloniser. The occupier was bent on unveiling…because there is in it the will to make this woman within his reach, to make her a possible object of his possession”.

French soldiers would often hold “unveiling ceremonies” of Algerian women, ceremonies of stark contrast to current scenes of Palestinian women in Gaza being forcefully stripped and humiliated by Israeli soldiers.

So the humiliation and violence we are witnessing in Gaza and across occupied Palestine today is not a product only of the current war, it is a systemic byproduct of Israel’s settler colonial survival.

Palestinian women who resist are amongst the most vilified in the world’s press and the most targeted by Israeli settler forces. Palestinian women like Leila Khaled, Rasmea Odeh, Shireen Abu Akleh, and Ahed Tamimi send tremors through the Israeli settler colony, as do all Palestinian women.

Because when indigenous women revolt, dissent, and resist, they strike settler colonialism at its core, simultaneously challenging its white supremacist and misogynist roots.

Indigenous women lead the way to liberation, and settler colonial states fear them for it.

Farrah Koutteineh is founder of KEY48 - a voluntary collective calling for the immediate right of return of over 7.4 million Palestinian refugees. Koutteineh is also a political activist focusing on intersectional activism including, the Decolonise Palestine movement, indigenous people's rights, anti-establishment movement, women's rights and climate justice.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @key48return

Have questions or comments? Email us at:

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.