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“I cry not only because I am a man, but because I am human”: What it means to be a man in Gaza

“I cry not only because I am a man, but because I am human”: What it means to be a man in Gaza

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Life Marginalized Groups Basic Rights The Truth

Saturday 13 April 202402:51 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"لم أبك على رجولتي، بل على إنسانيّتي"... ماذا يعني أن تكون رجلاً في غزة؟


Since the beginning of the war on Gaza, we have read countless reports from various media outlets and human rights organizations counting all of the women and children who have fallen victim to the occupation. These counts have typically excluded men. And we repeat that 73% of those killed are women and children. But what about the remaining 27% – all of the men who have been killed? Do those in charge of calculating these statistics and percentages exclude the number of Palestinian men who have been killed? Are they "terrorists", or "fighters", whose deaths can be justified?

Women and children account for 73% of deaths in Gaza. But what about the remaining 27%? Do those in charge of these statistics and percentages exclude the number of Palestinian men who have been killed? Are they "terrorists", or "fighters", whose deaths can be justified?

In the months since the war started, Israeli officials have made countless genocidal statements, in which all Palestinians, even the children, are deemed potential terrorists, even if they are children. As a result, the media has grown accustomed to stripping Palestinians, especially men, of their humanity, and their civilian and human status. The term most commonly used by Israelis to describe Palestinians in Gaza and justify their mass killing is: complicit. According to them, all the inhabitants of Gaza are complicit in one way or another, and so, their killing is justified.

This Israeli view is inseparable from the traditional Western regard of the Eastern man, and therefore of the Palestinian man.

Since the start of the war, Israeli officials have made countless genocidal statements, in which all Palestinians are deemed possible terrorists. As a result, the media has grown accustomed to stripping Palestinians, especially men, of their humanity.

Perhaps the world was shocked when it saw the face of Gaza's Khaled Nabhan, the grandfather of Reem "Roh al-Rouh" ("soul of my soul"), bearded and wearing a turban, reminiscent of the stereotypical image of the extremist Middle Eastern man. This image was shattered for many. However, it did not break the entrenched general image among Israelis, which deprives the man of his humanity.


"Human animals" and legitimizing their killing

Israeli occupation soldiers stormed the house of former prisoner Muhannad Abdul Wahed, 43, in Gaza. “They trampled us with their tanks. They killed my young son in front of my eyes. Then they unleashed a dog on to maul me,” Muhannad tells Raseef22. He adds, “I didn't react, fearing it might lead them to kill my children, including my daughter Ayla who saw them dragging me outside. And I was unable to do anything.”

For Muhannad, being tortured, and utterly helpless, in front of his family, was humiliating and cruel. “I was in great shock. They detained me for twenty days. And as soon as they released me, I went to my daughter to hug her and maintain my role as the strong, supportive father. She is only three years old. She is too young for this.”

Muhannad is not the only Gazan man who has spoken up about his experience at the hands of the Israeli occupation. There are also the thousands of other men, who have been killed in the war, and therefore cannot give their testimonies.

Muhannad is not the only Gazan man who has spoken up about his experience at the hands of the Israeli occupation, in which he was stripped of his humanity. There are also the thousands of other men, who have been killed in the war, and therefore cannot give their testimonies. Their stories will be told by family members.

According to an article published by Al Jazeera English, “Their killing is permitted precisely because they are Palestinian men. Their gendered and racialised status, specifically their blanket designation as 'Hamas terrorists', eclipses their civilian status, deeming them killable and un-grievable. Their killing is excused and justified within the context of 'counterterrorism'.”

Ali Habiballah, a writer and researcher on Palestinian affairs, points out that “despite the religious extremism prevailing in Israeli society in recent decades, and the transformations it has brought about on the political map, Israel has not used religious terminology in its war on 'the other'. For example, we have not heard the term 'goyim' (gentiles, or non-Jews) when talking about Palestinians.”

He adds, “Instead, the white, colonial, Orientalist dictionary – which has been used extensively throughout history – has been restored when viewing Palestinians as 'human animals' and 'backward'. This is the same historical dictionary adopted by Israeli propaganda, which has ruled and continues to rule the logic of justifying the killing of Palestinians.”

According to Haaretz, a number of prisoners were forced to have their legs and arms amputated after being detained in tight handcuffs for too long.


When the occupation stripped the Palestinian man of his clothes and humanity

Countless images taken by Israeli soldiers of arrested Gazan men, stripped of their clothes, their wrists zip-tied, piled into military vehicles, fields, and onto the streets, have been circulated in the media. Some of the videos are even accompanied by songs or harsh insults directed at these prisoners, many of whom have disappeared at the hands of the Israeli occupation. Little is known about these kidnapped, violated men. According to Haaretz, a number of prisoners were forced to have their legs and arms amputated after being detained in tight handcuffs for too long.

Muhannad was one of those detainees. During his detention, he was subjected to all kinds of torture and psychological and physical violation, which has left him with severe psychological trauma and mental anguish. Tears streaming down his face, Muhannad shared, “Nobody can bear what the Palestinian man in Gaza has been forced to endure. No one can endure this pain, loss, captivity, and torture. I have cried a lot; Not only because I am a man, but because I am human.”

Muhannad is shocked by the global disregard for Palestinian humanity and its silence in the face of death and destruction. “Dehumanization.. This is what the Israeli narrative promotes. They kill and capture Palestinians and claim to be fighting terrorism. When they arrested me while I was sitting, safe in my home and tortured me in front of my children, where was the terrorism?” Muhannad asks.

“Nobody can bear what the Palestinian man in Gaza has been forced to endure. No one can endure this pain, loss, captivity, and torture. I have cried a lot; Not only because I am a man, but because I am human.”

“The scenes of bound, naked men were bewildering and reflected an Orientalist perception of our society as patriarchal and masculine, and a clear violation of this perception through the practice of the most severe forms of insult against it. We've seen this in previous scenes in Abu Ghraib, for example,” says Ali Habiballah. He adds, “We must not forget that Israelis are subject to Western criticism, to Western societies, newspapers, and discourse that portray women and children within the victim circle while excluding men from it. Also, practicing violence against the Palestinian man, then documenting and disseminating it, is less costly for Israelis, internationally and domestically, and may not result in moral guilt if they had committed this violence against women or children.”

Habiballah believes that human mentality, in general, classifies men as war-makers, making it therefore easier to exclude them from the victim circle. Even in Arab literature, we advise not to kill a child or a woman. So we strip a man of his civilian status, and he becomes a weapon bearer. “On October 7th, the Palestinian man appeared to Israelis as an active man. This created resentment among Israelis, prompting them to use highly humiliating tools against this image of the man who they believe planned, acted, and invaded.”

We generally classify men as war-makers, making them therefore easier to exclude from the victim circle. Even in Arab literature, we advise not to kill children or women. We strip man of his civilian status, and he becomes a weapon bearer.

Social roles have changed

Before the war, Alaa Abu Shaaban, 44, worked as a taxi driver, while his wife took care of the house. But after he lost his car in an Israeli airstrike, he and his family fled to Rafah, where he shares the household chores with his wife. He is concerned about finding income to support his family of seven, “My wife wakes me up every morning to search for firewood to light the cooking fire. Then I go out to look for clean water. I'd be very lucky if I find some,” Abu Shaaban tells Raseef22, adding, “If one of the children is sick, I stand in a long line outside the clinic.”

Men have begun to adopt new roles since the start of the war, such as volunteering to help civil defense and ambulance crews in searching for the missing, rescuing the wounded, and removing rubble from bomb sites.

“We must not forget that Israelis are subject to Western criticism, to Western societies, newspapers, and discourse that portray women and children within the victim circle while excluding men from it.”

Feminist and social activist Aya Al-Zinati tells Raseef22, “the war has changed the stereotypical social roles and functions between men and women, causing psychological damage to both genders, as men and women found themselves facing a new reality.” Al-Zinati explains, “The war has deprived men of their livelihoods and jobs, putting them in an existential struggle in terms of searching for the necessities of life, preparing food for the children and caring for them during displacement. On the other hand, women who have lost their husbands have been forced to adopt men’s roles in providing for the family.”

The war has spared no one

Mohammed Al-Sheikh, 40, fled with his wife and eight children to school shelters in Rafah after their home was bombed by Israel. Each morning, he lights fires with firewood so his wife can bake bread and sell it. “The war has greatly burdened me. I spend my days preparing the fire oven, then heating water for my children to bathe, then standing in aid queues to provide a small meal for them. Sometimes I return empty-handed and have to search for canned food in the market for hours, amidst skyrocketing prices,” Mohammed tells Raseef22.

"Dehumanization.. This is what the Israeli narrative promotes. They kill and capture Palestinians and claim to be fighting terrorism. When they arrested me while I was sitting, safe in my home and tortured me in front of my children, where was the terrorism?"

Some nights, he wakes up to accompany one of his children to the bathroom, because of the children’s fear of bombing. “Before the war, they relied more on their mother for these things. But they also need me to comfort them. Sometimes I read them stories, especially since they have been deprived of playing and of living in peace,” he says.

According to Al-Zinati, “these sudden changes in the lives of men and women create a severe psychological crisis in the face of the loss of social and economic life.”

The war has not spared anyone. There is no social group or gender that has been affected more than another. Everyone in Gaza –men, children, women, the elderly, has lost their safety in both the private and public sphere. They have lost their homes, whether literally or metaphorically. They have lost their city and its future. These are losses created by the occupation: An occupation that has stripped the Palestinian man of his humanity.



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