This report comes as part of the "Not on the Margins" project, which sheds light on freedoms, and sexual and reproductive health and rights in Lebanon
The deputy spokesperson for the Israeli Army, Ella Waweya, known as 'Captain Ella', posted a video addressing women in Gaza after she "saw the great injustice they are subjected to".
In a sympathetic tone, Ella tells them that she knows who has imposed all this destruction and ruin on them. In another video, she claims to understand their suffering, living with men from Hamas, who she accuses of "robbing women of their freedom, and then killing and raping them," adding that they "kidnap women and girls" and that this is not the way those women want to raise their daughters.
Ella addresses women in the Arabic language to establish a close connection with them, claiming she "fears for their interests" and knows them better than they do. However, in reality, Ella is aware that she doesn't know what women in Gaza want, yet she uses them as an easy tool to promote Israel's perspective in the West.
As the military battle in Gaza transitioned to a cyber battle involving various individuals, groups, institutions, and intelligence units, there has been a flood of clips with the aim of serving Israeli propaganda. While most focus on the Israeli military narrative about what happened on October 7, and beyond, some specifically target Palestinian women in Gaza.
Ella, the IDF deputy spokesperson, addresses women in Arabic to appear close to them, claiming she "fears for their interests" and knows them better than they do. But in reality, Ella is using Gaza's women as a tool to promote Israel's perspective in the West
In its media campaign, Israel boasts of being the "only democratic state in the Middle East," claiming that the law guarantees human rights and equality between men and women, and does not discriminate between dark-skinned and European Jews. However, Ella, and the state she represents, claim to know "the rights of Palestinian women more than they do." Still, these rights end within its rule, as Israel daily commits blatant violations against Palestinian women, from sexual harassment to physical assaults, extortion, imprisonment without trial, and more, even going as far as to attack the headquarters of human rights institutions, including feminist organizations.
The depiction of women in Western narratives discussing "women's rights" in "less developed" nations often portrays an image of submissive, oppressed, and weak women, as encapsulated by Edward Said in his book "Orientalism". The book delves, in some parts, into the negative perceptions and view towards Eastern women held by Western writers, which is reflected in numerous speeches by officials in the United States and Europe, which have long been used for political purposes, and have been exploited to maintain the presence of Western colonial interests under the guise of "defending the rights of oppressed women."
According to Said, Orientalism is defined as a Western method of dominating the East, reconstructing it, and exerting control over it. In feminist discourse, Orientalism represents a perspective of women as perpetual victims in need of constant support from the West.
In Western narratives, women in "undeveloped" nations are often depicted as submissive, oppressed, and weak. In reality, they have been exploited to maintain the presence of Western colonial interests under the guise of "defending the rights of oppressed women"
Last year, Western media outlets republished an image of the Palestinian young girl Ahed Tamimi facing off with an Israeli soldier, presenting it as a Ukrainian girl facing a Russian soldier. They showered her with praise for her courage and resilience, depicting her as a brave defender of her country (Ukraine), despite their silence later on when Israel arrested Tamimi on charges of "incitement to terrorism". According to the West, the Palestinian woman is expected to remove her veil and break free from male authority to be deemed a "good woman". However, she becomes a terrorist when she confronts and stands up to Israeli aggression.
Feminist discourse in the service of foreign policy
During the protests that followed the death of the Iranian young woman Mahsa Amini, when she was assaulted by police in Tehran, President Joe Biden announced, during a speech he delivered at a college in California, that he stands with the "brave women of Iran". He stated that "women all over the world are being subjected to persecution in different ways... and no one should dictate what they should wear." He encouraged women aspiring for freedom by referring to them as "brave", and called on the Iranian government to release the human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He mentioned that "Sotoudeh faced repeated arrests, harassment, and torture under the direction of Tehran, yet this made her resistance and determination even stronger."
When Turkish President Erdogan withdrew Turkey from the Istanbul Convention to combat violence against women, Biden expressed deep disappointment and sorrow for the "reality of women in Turkey". However, this rhetoric was absent when hearings were held that paved the way to the invasion of Iraq, and at that time, Biden was one of the most prominent Democratic voices supporting President George W. Bush's decision, overlooking the rights of Iraqi women and the hardships they would endure as a result of the war.
According to the West", the Palestinian woman is expected to remove her veil and break free from male authority to be deemed a "good woman". However, she becomes a terrorist when she confronts and stands up to Israeli aggression.
Former US Security Coordinator between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, General Keith Dayton, assigned in 2007 to build and train Palestinian security forces, once spoke of one of his missions, which is to: for teenage girls in Jenin to be able to visit their friends in the dark without fear of "mischief-makers." During his tenure, the Palestinian Authority, under his influence, arrested dozens of women from the West Bank for various reasons, including their husbands blackmailing and extorting them!
Dayton's statement and experience embody the Western perspective on women in our countries and the kind of "freedom" that the West dictates for them; which is for teenage girls in Jenin to visit their friends at night without fear, but not liberating them from an occupation that oppresses and stifles every detail of their lives.
"The West must not abandon the women of the East"
The Washington Institute published an article titled, "Women’s Rights—Why the West Shouldn’t Abandon the Middle East". The author, a researcher in the Extremism Policy Unit at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Jemima Shelley, notes that Biden's visit to the Middle East in 2022, his first since assuming the presidency, faced complete rejection. The left wing of the Democratic Party viewed Biden as prioritizing economic interests over the protection of human rights.
She emphasizes that "diplomatic engagement is key to further involvement in supporting these changes and encouraging other countries to do the same – and it must not back down. Western governments and peoples cannot turn their backs on the Middle East, especially for the sake of the region’s women."
The Orientalist view classifies Eastern women into stereotypes, as in the case of young Palestinian Ahed Tamimi, who became a "Ukrainian heroine" due to her blonde hair and colored eyes, and a "Palestinian terrorist" when resisting Israeli occupation
While the article attempts to portray the Middle East as an area that has made significant progress and no longer remains "retrogressive in terms of women's rights," it confirms the adoption of the Orientalist view in feminism, especially when discussing the necessity of not refraining from encouraging activists "to prevent reactionary forces in the region from prevailing over progressive forces."
Last year, Western media outlets republished an image of the Palestinian young girl Ahed Tamimi facing off with an Israeli soldier, presenting her as a Ukrainian girl facing a Russian soldier. They showered her with praise for her courage and resilience defending her country (Ukraine), despite their silence later on when Israel arrested Tamimi on charges of "incitement to terrorism"
We cannot deny the progress in women's rights brought about by Western feminist movements, nor can we overlook the violations of women's rights and growing misogyny in the region. This is not the subject of discussion. These broad discourses lack – or intentionally neglect – a comprehensive understanding of what Arab women lack in terms of rights or what women truly want. This deficiency is directly related to the interests of the states involved in these movements, which often exploit feminist discourse.
Western countries and their systems present themselves as more knowledgeable about our rights – us the women living in this geographic region – than we are, and that they feel our suffering more than we do.. The feminist Orientalist perspective discussed by Edward Said is reflected in the global feminist discourse and its treatment of women's rights in Eastern societies.
This perspective insists on focusing on what it only deems appropriate for women, based on naive and simplistic beliefs, disregarding what women in this region actually need. This view also influences the classification of Eastern women into stereotypes, as seen in the case of Ahed Tamimi, who became a "Ukrainian heroine" because of her blonde hair and colored eyes, and a "Palestinian terrorist" when she resisted the Israeli occupation!
* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22
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