Israeli settler colonialism, “humanitarian warfare,” and sexual violence in Palestine

Medien, Kathryn (2021). Israeli settler colonialism, “humanitarian warfare,” and sexual violence in Palestine. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 23(5) pp. 698–719.



In recent years, Israel’s military practices have increasingly been described as “humanitarian,” entrenching the narrative that the State of Israel is at war with a “hostile” and “terrorist” Palestinian population. Taking the notion of “humanitarian warfare” as my point of entry, this article critically examines the relationship between the identification and documentation of sexual violence in conflict and Israel’s notion of liberal warfare. Palestine/Israel is often absent from international reports and scholarship on sexual violence in conflict, where attention is increasingly focused on non-state actors. The article argues that this absence functions to both obscure the sexual violence of Israel’s settler colonial occupation and bolster the notion of Israel as a modern liberal democracy engaging in a conflict against a population deemed terrorist. Against this narrative, the use of sexual torture against Palestinians held in Israeli prison and detention facilities is documented, as are the sexually violent structures of militarized settler colonialism and occupation more broadly. Exploring these sites of humanitarian and feminist complicity with war, colonial occupation, and sexualized violence, the article contends, can help us to better grapple with the complexities of sexual violence in conflict and reminds us of the necessity of incorporating anti-imperial and anti-colonial politics into feminist analysis.

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