January 30, 2010

Israeli feminism

One of the domains in which Israel is certainly a light unto the nations is the department of twisting words. Israeli culture's greatest contribution to humanity is in the perfection of the oxymoron: "purity of arms", "present absentees," "a Jewish and democratic state," and so forth. Another contribution is in linguistics. Usually, we call adjectives qualifiers because they slightly qualify the meaning of the noun. A tawny dog is still a dog, and a tall building is no less of a building for being tall. But not all adjectives are like that. The adjective 'Israeli' is one of the exceptions. Israeli socialism, Israeli justice, Israeli citizenship are examples of noun phrases in which the adjective doesn't qualify the noun but perverts it. Israeli socialism is the doctrine that Jews must drive Palestinians out of the job market, and then out of their country, in order not to oppress them as wage workers. Israeli citizenship does not make one an Israeli national, because there is no such thing as Israeli nationality according to Israeli law. Israeli law is another such noun phrase, because the law is usually understood as setting limits to the arbitrariness of power. But under 'Israeli law', the commander of an area in the Occupied Territories can make his every whim 'the law' simply by writing down an order. A 'law' was even issued once forbidding Palestinians from collecting the thyme that grows on the sides of the roads.

But the subject of today's language lesson is 'Israeli feminism'. Israel is well known for the Hasbara mileage its gets out of women. I've been told by Palestinians that women soldiers at the checkpoints are worse than the men. Courtesy of the Israeli NGO breaking the silence, we now have a confirmation and an explanation. That's feminism, the Israeli version:

Testimony 1 Name: *** | Rank: First Sergeant | Unit: Border Patrol | Location: General

Somehow, a female combatant has to prove herself more, on the ground too. Again, a female combatant who can lash out is a serious fighter. Capable. A ball-breaker. There was one with me when I got there, she’d been there long before, she was – wow, everyone talked about what grit she had, because she could humiliate Arabs without batting an eyelash. That was the thing to do.
The entry ‘ticket’?
Yes, kind of. When I got to the company they were on operations maneuvers, and I got the highest marks, guys included. I was in the top ten. They were all impressed and at first I had a really good reputation, until I was out in the field and they realized I wasn’t that tough. On the ground I wouldn’t apply my capabilities. Like, she’s fit and she can punch and she’s a ‘karate-kid’ and all that doesn’t really show when she’s out there. Not because I didn’t give a shit. No, I was too wimpy. First of all, I didn’t like to cut guard duty. I can’t say I didn’t fall asleep on any shift. We all do. But I wasn’t too keen on cutting the job and going out to do this and that. Sure, let’s take a ride to this or that village because you know, routine drives you crazy, but I wasn’t too keen on going wild. So I had a problem. But right at first people really appreciated me.
..Was it obvious or implied that this was the ‘entry ticket’ for girls, to belong?
I think guys need to prove themselves less in this respect, but it was not clearly stated. We did talk about how the tough female-combatant has no problem beating up Arabs. It’s obvious, you don’t even need to spell it out. This one means business, you should see her humiliating them – there was no problem to say something like this out loud. Take a look at that one, a real ‘ball-breaker,’ see her humiliating them, slapping them, what a slap she gave that guy! You hear this kind of talk all the time.

From Women Soldiers’ Testimonies, Breaking the Silence

For clarity sake, it should never be forgotten that the biggest payout of the ethnic cleansing and oppression of Palestinians accrues to White secular Ashkenazi men of European origins whose families founded Israel. Part of the privilege enjoyed by this group is that they can delegate the less pleasant aspects of 'Israeliness' to less privileged groups, including Mizrahi, women, Druze, etc., to do their dirty work for them, while they themselves remain invisible or even lead the opposition to the occupation. While that is not an excuse for the shocking abuse that takes place at the checkpoints, never lose sight of it!


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