The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil,
but because of the people who don't do anything about it
Occupation magazine - Commentary
Send To friend
Death Becomes Her: Women, Occupation, and Terrorist Mobilization
Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, July 2010
In recent years, the relationship between foreign military
occupation and the increased likelihood of violent
insurgency and terrorism has been asserted (Pape
2005) but is far from proven. The actual micro-level
dynamics that make the correlation between the two
sufficient to warrant extended discussion is even less understood
and has led a variety of researchers to examine the microlevel
foundations of how the presence of foreign military
personnel might exacerbate conflict or provide motivation for
the local population to mobilize against the foreign troops in
their midst (e.g., Downes 2008; Edelstein 2008)
While the specifics of why an occupation aggravates terrorism
and insurgency can only be addressed by teasing out
the individual economic, social, and political strategies that
occupiers use and testing their individual effects, the relationship
between how an occupation impacts the civilian population,
especially the women of the target country, is even less
well understood. Although a handful of high profile and newsworthy
cases have emerged from Iraq in which American soldiers
have been involved in sexual atrocities (for example, the
rape and murder of Abir al Janabi) as well as prisoner abuses
at Abu Ghraib (Associated Press 2007;BBCWorld News 2006),
the systematic harassment and coercion of women during an
occupation requires a more nuanced understanding both of
the cultures in which the occupiers operate and of what constitutes
sexual atrocity in each cultural milieu.
In cases of rape and murder, the violation of the laws of
war and criminal codes can lead to action from the international
community.However, beyond such clear examples of
sexual atrocity, cases of occupation often involve less extreme
forms of sexual harassment that encourage the mobilization
of the enemy and have long-term and serious impacts on the
country’s female population.
In this article, I explore the larger phenomenon of sexual
humiliation that occurs in cases of ethno-nationalist conflict
in which the presence of foreign military personnel can constitute
an occupation, and how such abuses can fuel the
insurgents’ rhetoric and incentivize the population to engage
in terrorism.1 Threats to rape women have become routine
and systematic, and forced strip searches, exposure of women
(who are photographed for future use), exposure ormasturbation
by soldiers in front of female detainees, and threats to
rape male detainees’ female relatives in order to coerce and
obtain forced confessions all constitute forms of sexual humiliation
that have become commonplace in many conflicts
besides Iraq. Although these actions fall short of rape in most
cases, some cultures construe these methods as forms of rape
because of the ways in which their societies understand honor,
shame, and chastity. In the cases under review, either ethnic
or religious differences between the foreign military troops
and the target population exist; in some cases, there are both
ethnic and religious differences. In all cases, the fact that the
women belong to conservative, patriarchal societies exacerbates
the humiliation and allows military tactics to resonate
in highly specific ways.
Women in traditional Islamic societies that are under occupation
face dual pressures from both foreign military forces,
who routinely harass and degrade them, and their own societies,
who may challenge their conduct (especially regarding
the honor code2 ) should they be questioned by military or
security personnel. The mere presence of a woman alone in a
room with a man who is not a relative can have serious repercussions.
Aware of this constraint, Israeli occupation forces
have used a variety of sexually inappropriate behaviors to their
advantage to secure testimony or collaboration from detained
According to recent human rights reports, the situation for
women under occupation comprises physical and psychological
risks.Watchdog groups express a “grave concern over the
increased difficulties being faced by Palestinian women and
girls living under Israeli occupation, including the sharp
increase in poverty, soaring unemployment, increased food
insecurity, incidents of domestic violence, and declining health
in their psychological well-being” (United Nations Commission
on the Status of Women 2009).
The extent to which the harassment of women becomes
part of the rhetoric for radicalization and mobilization varies.
Although defense of women’s honor was a lynchpin of
al-Qaeda ideology even before the war in Iraq (the al-Qaeda
manual captured in Afghanistan in 2001 identifies the humiliation
of Muslim women as a cornerstone of Western imperialist
policy to humiliate Muslims worldwide3 ), in many
situations, the sexual humiliation of women is hardly discussed
at all because of the high shame factor. The differences
between the cases appear to be the extent to which the
atrocity occurs and how visible the alleged crimes are. In other
words, al-Qaeda can target their propaganda at Muslims in
Europe and the United Kingdom and discuss in general terms
the need to protect Muslim women from being raped and
sexually mistreated in countries far and wide, because the
cases of sexual atrocity tend to be scattered and distant from
the areas where the mobilization occurs (e.g., Kashmir, Iraq,
and Palestine). It is infinitely more difficult to mobilize a
population whose women are being attacked locally because
of the constraint of making these crimes known in a society
with an honor system that limits their appeal for mobilization.
In Palestine, where sexual atrocities by the occupying forces
occur close to home and tight-knit communities are common,
the Palestinian honor code overrides any possible benefit of
using women’s humiliation to inflame a constituency, because
of the fear that the community will shun the women who are
affected instead of responding to the call to mobilize. Shockingly,
no Palestinian political organization, either terrorist
group or political party, cites the abuse of women to encourage
people to join the resistance. In a conservative society in
which relations between men and women are rarely discussed,
publicization of the sexual harassment of women is
more likely to bring shame upon the family than to serve as a
rallying cry for more involvement in the resistance.
It is natural to assume that many of the most heinous sexual
atrocities would not be exploited in conservative Islamic
societies. Yet al-Qaeda’s emphasis on the dangers to Muslim
women byWestern occupying forces and the rhetoric that followed
the brutal attack on Abir al Janabi in Mahmudiya in
March 2006, as well as allegations that U.S. soldiers raped
and impregnated Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, demonstrate
that under certain conditions, sexual violence can become part
of the rhetoric to mobilize people to join the insurgency (Harding
Far from being kept secret, the attack on al Janabi was the
most widely reported event in the Arab press in 2006. Every
newspaper and television station carried explicit and detailed
descriptions of the young girl’s rape and murder and the subsequent
cover-up.4 Al Rafidyan, an Iraqi television station,
described the actions of LieutenantsGreen and Cortes in detail:
Steven Green, a human monster wearing the uniform of the
occupation... raped an innocent girl not more than 15, and then
killed her after he killed her father, mother, and little sister.
After drinking wine with three other occupation soldiers, Green
headed for the girl’s house in Al Mahmudiyah, where he killed
her three family members in cold blood. He and another friend
raped the girl before shooting her twice.5
The Turkish newspaper Al Ittihad concluded that it was a
double crime, both as premeditated murder and as a violation
of human rights when she was raped. The whole spectrum of
Iraqi politicians and all members of parliament denounced
the attack. A letter to the editor of Al Ittihad ominously concluded,
“Abir isn’t the first victim and probably will not be the
last” (Mahdi 2006).
JihadiWeb sites exploited the crime to mobilize new supporters
throughout the Islamic and Arab world. TheWeb sites
described how the occupiers actions should inspire Muslims
to rise up and join the jihad against the nonbelievers:
The latest crime is a reflection of their vileness. They violate the
honor of Muslims in their houses and raping them and then
following up their horrible crime by burning the bodies to conceal
it from the people as if the crimes of the oppressors, which
the Glorious Qur’an told us about materialized today with the
actions of the occupiers and their henchmen . . . The more the
enemy persists in its tyranny and contentiousness, the more we
persist in continuing on the road of Jihad, which is our way of
raising injustice from all Muslims . . . and destroying the signs of
infidelity and disbelief.6
Jaysh Al Mujahidin, another jihadist group, claimed that
it had downed an Apache helicopter in retaliation for Abir’s
rape.7 Another insurgent organization named the rockets it
used to attack U.S. positions after the little girl. According
to a report by Al Jazeera, the insurgent group named
“Iraq’s Islamic Army” (al Jaish al Islami f’il Iraq) claimed that
it was producing 20-kilogram surface-to-air missiles named
We called it Abeer [sic] as a reminder of what happened in
Mahmoodiya [sic] to our sister in Islam Abeer [sic], who was
raped by the crusaders and was killed after that. In the time we
bring good news to our Muslim brothers, we promise the crusaders
that they will find the feeling of death by these Abeer
[sic] rockets, which will burn them and make victory for the
Muslims. (Islamic Army in Iraq 2007)
Finally, a new suicide bomber brigade was named afterAbir
al Janabi under the auspices of the Dhat al Nitayqayn Martyrdom
Brigade, the leading female suicide bomber unit in Diyala
Province (Mukhtar 2008). The attacks at AbuGhraib and
against Abir al Janabi also feature prominently in many of the
last will and testaments of Iraqi suicide bombers. Much like
Muhammed al Durrah, the young Palestinian boy who was
killed in 2000 as his father tried to shield him from crossfire
between Palestinian Authority and Israeli forces, Abir has
become the poster child of what should be feared most from
the occupation and a rallying cry for jihad. Although the number
of reported sexual assaults in Iraq remains relatively small
compared to other cases in the Sudan or Sierra Leone conflicts,
the idea that occupiers are raping Muslim women in the same
way that they are raping the land resonates with young Muslim
men in Europe and the United Kingdom.
Unlike in Iraq, there are virtually no reports of war rape
against Palestinian women in Israel, and no human rights
groups have documented any attacks.8 In fact, the Israeli government
has taken to court any sources, including international
newspapers, that have alleged that Israeli soldiers
rape Palestinian women (Keinon 2001). Instead of the kind of
war rape that is evident in cases such as Darfur, Sierra Leone,
Liberia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, what is common in the
Israel-Palestine cases is a systematic pattern of abuse of women
in jail in which other forms of sexual humiliation and the threat
of rape occur with regularity.
According to Andrea Dworkin, “The Israeli army . . . may
be the only one in the world routinely to sexually expose themselves
and begin to masturbate as a means to disperse Arab
women demonstrators or groups of women” (Dworkin 2000).
Dworkin has documented cases of sexual abuse that include
public strip searches, constant sexual innuendo, and threats
of rape and publication of photographs of Palestinian women
being fondled by the security forces in order to obtain confessions.
These threats are not only verbal, but also include
unwanted touching and even masturbation against a woman.
Soldiers also threaten to publicize Photoshopped pornography
made of the woman during her captivity (e.g., a female
prisoner’s head superimposed onto a naked body) to obtain
In these ways, the occupying forces take advantage of the
Arab honor code of conduct, which demands not only that
girls be virgins until marriage, but also that they not engage
in any behavior that might bring shame upon the family. For
all intents and purposes, women in Arab societies are subject
to dire consequences if the family’s reputation is negatively
impacted by any licentious behavior, real or imagined.
Instances such as being alone in the presence of a member
of the opposite sex or kissing a boy can cause rumors within
the community. If the girl’s family is traditional and follows
the honor system, an Israeli officer’s threat to publish a pornographic
picture of her may likely lead to a loss of life; if she
is raped, she will definitely be killed by members of her own
family (Sheely 2007; Jehl 1999).
In many parts of the Arab world, female chastity is seen as
the boundary between respect and shame for a family. An
unchaste woman, some people say, is even worse than a murderer.
For centuries, the result of that harsh, unforgiving code
has been death—the killing of girls and women by relatives to
cleanse honor that has been soiled. Sometimes, the misconduct
is no more than a rumor (Jehl 1999).
During the First Intifada, rumors alleged that the Shabak,
the Israeli security services, used sexual violence against Palestinian
women and men during interrogation. In their 1994
HumanRights Report, the IsraelihumanrightsgroupB’Tselem
did notfindcorroborating evidence to substantiate claims that
this was a codified practice, but they did cite at length a document
entitled, “Let the Methods of the Enemy’s Security Services
Be Exposed.” This document was circulated throughout
the territories in the 1980sanddescribed variousmethodsused
in isqat (exerting pressure, or blackmail). Among the numerous
methods, several relate to the targeting of women for sexual
humiliation in order to secure compliance or collaboration9
(Be’er and Abdel-Jawad 1994).
Palestinian women are routinely harassed, intimidated, and
abused by Israeli soldiers and border police in their homes
and at checkpoints. The women are subjected to threats of
sexual violence in public spaces to humiliate them in front of
their families. Although the actual cases of rape are rare and
might be attributed to conditions of access as well as societal
taboos, which would stigmatize any Israeli man who had intimate
sexual contact with an Arab woman, threats of rape are
common. Certainly, Palestinian women are made to fear sexual
abuse by both the horror stories that circulate in their communities
about what will happen to them if they are
imprisoned and the stories that the Israelis deliberately circulate
to strike fear in the hearts of any women who find themselves
Beyond searches, the conflict is pervaded by ethnic chauvinism
and sexism. In the town of Hebron, a longstanding
center of the conflict, an outside wall of a building has been
spray-painted, “Watch out Fatima, we will rape all Arab
women.” The Arab women in this area live within one block
from the Qiryat ’Arba settlement. It is highly probable that
the racist epitaphs come from the settlers.
Such indicators of sexism and racism are not by themselves
manifestations of violence. Nevertheless, they provide
some perspective on existing attitudes and the extent towhich
such hate speech is tolerated by Israeli society and especially
by the right-wing settler community (although each side
accuses the other of hate speech intended to radicalize groups).
In addition to graffiti, Israeli soldiers have started to design
T-shirts that include blatant sexual messages, show Palestinian
women being killed, or include slogans intended to offend
Muslim societal norms. A recent article in Israel’s newspaper
Ha’aretz described these new “fashions,” including a Lavi Battalion
T-shirt featuring a drawing of a soldier next to a young
woman with bruises, and the slogan “Bet you get raped!” and
a Golani Brigade T-shirt depicting a soldier raping a Palestinian
girl that reads “No virgins, no terror.” One sharpshooter’s
T-shirt from the Givati Brigade’s Shaked Battalion depicts a
pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull’s-eye superimposed
over her belly,with the slogan in English, “1 shot, 2 kills” (Blau
For many observers of the conflict, harassment at checkpoints
and obnoxious T-shirts might seem to be the thin end
of the wedge. By themselves, such racist and sexist attitudes
are not violent and cannot compare to the systematic rape
campaigns in Bosnia and Darfur. After years of occupation,
however, these factors impact the civilian population in many
ways, some more subtle than others.
In general, Palestinian women are very vulnerable, especially if the military authorities decide to detain them (B’Tselem:
Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied
Territories 2010). Since 1967, over 700,000 Palestinian men and
women have been detained, totaling approximately 20% of the
total population within the occupied Palestinian territories.Not
all the women in Israeli jails have done anything to warrant
being arrested. Some Palestinian female prisoners are arrested
as a means of putting pressure on their husbands to either
refrain from partaking in activities that may be perceived by
the Israelis as threatening to the occupation or to turn themselves
in for crimes they may or may not have committed.
Other times, women are arrested as a coercive means to extract
information about their male relatives or to coerce them to
provide information to the authorities in the future. Finally,
some women are arrested as a result of their involvement in
militant and terrorist organizations. Again, this group is in
the minority (Women’s Organization for Political Prisoners
2010). Although women are only a small percentage of those
arrested, they appear to be treated in a manner consistent
with the treatment of men, and they are subjected to inhumane
treatment and psychological and physical torture.
Israeli authorities willingly use interrogation methods that
constitute torture. “Methods include prolonged hooding, beating
all parts of the body including the testicles, threats of
rape, banging on the prisoner’s head, spitting on his face,
forcing the prisoner to sit on a plastic tapered box, and faking
threats to sexually attack the prisoner’s family in the next
room” (Cohen and Golan 1991). In a testimony recorded by
B’Tselem, a prisoner reported spending every day between
interrogation sessions either in the cupboard or closet
(khazana) or tied up outside. “In addition to the beatings, he
was continually humiliated and threatened (told, for example,
that [the soldiers] would rape his sister and that his
mother was pregnant from an Israeli Shabak agent)” (Cohen
and Golan 1991, 44).
The prisoner rights organization “Women for Support of
Women Political Prisoners” has published a number of testimonies
about the detention and interrogation ofwomeninthe
“Moscobiya,” a detention center in Jerusalem known as the
Russian Compound(Levi 1990).The treatment of women does
not differ significantly from the treatment of prisoners
described previously. Reports include the prolonged use of
“al-Shabah,”a method in which a sack is placed on the detainee’s
head and her hands are tied to a railing behind her back or above
her head; and the “khazana” (Arabic for cupboard), a method
in which the prisoner is placed for hours (some allege for more
than a day) in a cell measuring no more than 100 cm by 80 cm.
As a result, the prisoner cannot stand upright or straighten her
legs while sitting. The cell is filthy, and the prisoner is denied
access to basic facilities.The women allege that they have been
beaten and encountered sexual harassment, including threats
of rape and sexual insults (Cohen and Golan 1991, 31).
Citing a UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for
Women) report from July 2009, Addameer, the Palestinian
human rights organization that oversees and protects prisoners’
rights, maintained that the treatment of female Palestinian
prisoners was particularly brutal and had not improved
in the 18 years since B’Tselem’s report in 1991 (Addameer,
Prisoner’s Support and Human Rights Association 2009). In
addition to violating women’s modesty under the Palestinian
honor code, the report further describes a systematic pattern
of abuse of female prisoners in Israeli jails. Palestinian women
who are pregnant and due to give birth are routinely incarcerated.
The women are allowed to keep their children with them
for the first few years; however, pregnant detainees do not
receive any consideration for their condition or any preferential
treatment in terms of diet (e.g., folic acid, prenatal vitamins)
or medical care. In fact, all of the women in the jails
suffer from malnutrition because even their most basic dietary
needs are not addressed.
According to the Addameer report, “Israeli investigators
continue to systematically threaten Palestinian female prisoners
in a manner that perpetuates gender-based violence that
is founded on the perception of women as inferior to men”
(Addameer, Prisoner’s Support and Human Rights Association
2009). Officers threaten younger women with rape during
the initial phase of the investigation to force them to
provide information or plead guilty to a crime they may or
may not have committed. They also strip-search female prisoners,
a practice that is not used against Israeli criminal prisoners.
In cases in which Palestinian prisoners have refused to
comply, they have been tied up and forcibly stripped of their
clothing. Finally, the majority of Palestinian women in Israeli
detention are subjected to torture, beatings, insults, threats,
and sexual harassment (Daily Star 2009).
There are approximately 63 female political prisoners in
Israeli jails, mostly in Hasharon Prison in Tel Mond and
Damoon Prison in the Carmel. Some of these women are as
young as 14 (Women’s Organization for Political Prisoners
2009). The situation in Iraqi prisons is worse. The abuse of
Iraqi detainees is widespread and constitutes torture according
to the Geneva Conventions. The Red Cross has documented
a number of “serious violations of humanitarian law,”
including beatings and prolonged solitary confinement, occurring
not just in Abu Ghraib, but throughout Iraq. The International
Committee for the Red Cross stated that prisoners
are beaten, sometimes to death, and that American soldiers
fire on unarmed prisoners from watchtowers and kill them
(BBCWorld News 2004).10
A variety of abuses inside the CIA’s overseas prisons
emerged following the leak inAugust 2009 of a Justice Department
report, including soldiers’ threats to sexually assault
members of a detainee’s family, staging of mock executions,
and intimidation with a handgun or power drill. According to
eyewitness testimony used to indict Charles A. Graner, an
American soldier who tortured prisoners:
U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib urinated on us, forced us to stroll
naked in the yard and took pictures of us. They compelled us to
commit indecent acts, while they were taking pictures. They
forced us to eat pork and insulted Islamic sanctities, and if we
wanted to disobey their abominable orders, they would threaten
us with the rape of ourselves or our wives. (Jomhuri-ye Eslami
Less well known was the situation that Iraqi women faced
in Abu Ghraib. The abuse of Iraqi women at Abu Ghraib was
detailed in several reports in the London Guardian, sparked
by a note allegedly smuggled out by a woman named Noor.
The women were kept separately from most of the men, in
cell block 1A, but with 19 high-value male detainees. They were
forced to remain in solitary confinement 23 hours a day and
were routinely strip-searched in front of the male guards. Noor
claimed that American guards raped female detainees and that
several of the women became pregnant. The note ended with
a call to bomb the jail, to “spare the women further shame”
An Iraqi human rights organization pieced together what
happened to the women at Abu Ghraib during the group’s
investigation of abuse. Not surprisingly, few Iraqi women
wanted to discuss their ordeal, but the conclusion that Amal
Kadham Swadi, an Iraqi lawyer representing the detainees,
reached was that the pattern of abuse was rampant. According
to one eyewitness, gang rape was common. Swadi’s report
details one woman’s experience: “Several American soldiers
had raped her. She tried to fight them off and they had hurt
her arm. She showed us the stitches. She told us, we have
daughters and husbands. For God’s sake don’t tell anyone
about this” (Harding 2004b).
Huda Shaker, a political scientist at Baghdad University,
confirmed that women in Abu Ghraib were sexually abused
and raped. Shaker herself encountered sexual abuse at U.S.
checkpoints. An American soldier pointed the laser sight of
his gun at her breasts, then pointed to his penis and said,
“Come here, bitch, I’m going to f*&^ you” (Harding 2004a).
According to the New Yorker, which first broke the Abu
Ghraib story and published the now infamous photos, the
remaining photos and videos that have not yet been released
by the Pentagon show American soldiers “having sex with a
female Iraqi prisoner” and raping male detainees with tubes,
truncheons, or other objects (Gardham and Cruikshank 2009).
The report by General Antonio Taguba on the scandal confirmed
that U.S. guards videotaped and photographed naked
female prisoners and that “a male MP(military police) guard”
is shown “having sex with a female detainee” (Gardham and
Cruikshank 2009). Guards videotaped and photographed the
women and forced them to bare their breasts at gunpoint. Allegations
of rape and abuse were included in Taguba’s 2004
report, but the photographs were never publicly revealed.
Taguba confirmed that the allegations in Noor’s note were
accurate (Harding 2004b), saying, “The pictures show torture,
abuse, rape and every indecency.The mere description of these
pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it” (Gardham
and Cruikshank 2009).
The existence of photographs of abuse of female detainees
and underaged children provoked outrage throughout Iraq.
Some of the women involved mysteriously disappeared
(Gardham and Cruikshank 2009). Noor’s family may have
killed her because of the honor code. According to internal
U.S. memos, many of the women who were attacked by U.S.
soldiers committed suicide to avoid the shame and stigma.
The Islamic Clerical Board in Iraq “confirmed that Iraqi female
prisoners who were raped at the hands of their U.S. Capturers
have committed suicide in shame for their defilement”
Such deliberate abuses of women during conflict fall more
easily into the categorization of sexual atrocity during war,
whereas the subtle forms of sexual humiliation may not be
considered on the same level and with the same seriousness
as systematic rape campaigns (Bloom 2010); however, it is
important to understand the subtle forms of harassment and
pressure that women under occupation face. Both men and
women in Iraq face not only actual rape, but also the constant
threat of rape. In two completely separate accounts of their
experiences at Abu Ghraib, both Abdallah Bin Al Mubarak
and Abu Sulayman discussed how they were threatened with
rape and the rape of their wives and daughters.11 Posting their
experiences on JihadiWeb sites, they warned against the American
interrogators’ tricks: “They put you in a room and make
you listen to the voice of a woman screaming as if she is being
raped. They then tell you, it is your wife being raped by American
soldiers; so confess.” In reality, the voice belongs to one
of the female translators.12
In both cases, the mobilization of women into violent action
followed progressively after the abuses. Among the Palestinians,
women moved from supporting men during the First Intifada
to becoming involved as front-line activists, planning
operations and acting as quartermasters and suicide bombers
in the Second Intifada. In Iraq, although the number of women
involved was initially low, the 400% increase of female suicide
bombers in 2008 and the use of female bombers by conservative
Salafi organizations indicates the beginning of a more common
trend. It is clear that targeting the women of an occupied
country has long-term societal effects that contribute to their
mobilization into violence. The ways in which women have been
targeted can be obvious (such as in Iraq) or subtle, as in Palestine,
where there is an expectation that women will engage in
resistance against the Israeli occupation.
An understanding of the cultural contexts in which women
live is needed, especially in societies in which sexual codes of
conduct are strict and threats of sexual humiliation will resonate
in the same way that actual rape does. Outraging the
male population and creating incentives for women to become
more radicalized and involved in terrorism are precisely the
reverse of what any military force hopes to achieve for security.
Moreover, if women are crucial in the development of
civil society, a conclusion that has been demonstrated around
the globe and substantiated by research on the positive role
of civil society in conflict-ridden regions (Varshney 2003),
then it is imperative that women not be targeted in ways
that will make these roles more difficult to achieve. Imprisoning
women will radicalize them in a variety of ways. Imprisonment
creates incentives for people to join a terrorist
movement if they have not already and encourages them to
become more involved in the movement if they have previously
been on the periphery, and, if the prison authorities
use sexual humiliation techniques, the likelihood of violence
is exponential. It is also likely that single, formally imprisoned
women will not be marriageable when they emerge and
will fall into the hands of terrorist organizations. Occupation
forces must become aware that the imprisonment, harassment,
and torture of women will likely be used as cannon
fodder for terrorist organizations to recruit more fighters and
will increase the likelihood of women joining the resistance
movements. To decrease the probability of recruitment and
calm the rhetoric used in mobilization, occupation forces must
treat the women under their jurisdiction with the decency
that a free society expects women to have and provide the
women with incentives to steer clear of joining the ranks of
militant or terrorist organizations.
This research is supported by a grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR),
U.S. Department of the Navy No N00014-09-1-0557. Any opinions, findings, or
recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not
necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Naval Research. I thank John Owen for his comments on an early draft of this article and Shireen Judeh for her research
1. The presence of foreign military troops serves as a proxy for a highly
charged and politicized term of occupation. Loyalists and Unionists in
Northern Ireland would not consider the presence of British troops in
their country an occupation, Sri Lankans would not consider the presence
of their troops in Tamil-controlled areas an occupation, but the
target communities do perceive these foreign elements as occupation
forces. In the larger project to which this research belongs, all foreign
troops, even benevolent forces like humanitarian military personnel, are
included in the definition of occupation. I am grateful to John Owen for
2. The honor code in the Islamic world revolves around the notion that the
behavior of one member of the family can bring dishonor or shame to the
whole family or even the entire community. The only redress in such a
situation is the murder of the individual by one or more members of his
or her own family. This perceived dishonor can result from (a) unacceptable
dress, (b) a refusal to honor arranged marriage contracts or the
choice to marry someone else, (c) engagement in certain sexual acts, or
(d) engagement in romantic relations with the opposite sex. In cases of
forced sexual violence, Islam requires four male witnesses to the crime to
guarantee that the sexual act was not consensual. Thus, unless the four
witnesses can be produced, victims of rape or sexual atrocity are most
often blamed for engaging in illicit sexual conduct and are subject to the
honor code to rectify the dishonor and shame.
3. The al-Qaeda manual begins with a poem entitled “Pledge, O Sister”
warning women that the infidel will rip off their clothes, shave their
heads, and dishonor them. It pledges further to destroy every “godless
dog” who even utters a bad word toward their sisters in Islam (Post
4. Al Baghdadiyah, Baghdad Satellite Channel, and Raidayn reported on the
attack extensively. Al Mahmudiyah, Al Furat, Al Sharqiyah, and Al Diyar
carried more factual reports with comments by Iraqi politicians.
5. According to an Al Rafidayn News Channel report, July 5, 2006 translated
6. Posting by “Abu Hanifah” to the Islamic Renewal OrganizationWeb site,
the site of a Saudi dissident group lead by Muhammed al Ma’asari based
in the United Kingdom. The statement was issued by the Media Office of
the Mujahideen Army in Iraq; see www.patriotfiles.com/forum/
showthread.php?t=43389 (accessed July 15, 2007).
7. According to Al Jazeera Satellite Channel, July 4, 2006 (1412 GMT).
8. Although Islam Online has posted allegations of women raped during
interrogation, there is no human rights documentation to substantiate
these claims; see
9. The Israeli intelligence agency, Shin Bet, and the Israeli military, rely on
three main methods for the recruitment of collaborators: making vital
services conditional on collaboration, striking deals with people facing
detention and prosecution by the Israeli military courts, and isqat (blackmail).
The recruitment of collaborators is an effective method for dividing
Palestinians against each other and results in rampant distrust and
paranoia in Palestinian society.
10. A relevant report on Iraqi detainees at the Al Rusafa Detention Center
was issued by Human RightsWatch shortly before this issue went to
press. The report stated that “the detainees . . . described how interrogators
and security officials sodomized some detainees with broomsticks
and pistol barrels and, the detainees said, raped younger detainees, who
were then sent to a different detention site. Some young men said they
had been forced to perform oral sex on interrogators and guards. Interrogators
also forced some detainees to molest one another.” The complete
document can be accessed at
11. Abdullah Bin al Mubarak, statement posted by the Islamic Army in Iraq
Islamic Army: Lessons Learned from the Story of the Imprisonment of
Brother Abu Sulayman” in “Intercepted Letters from al-Qaeda Leaders
Shed Light on State of Network in Iraq,” Foundation for the Defence of
Democracy, September 12, 2008,
12. Jamal Eddine, “The Islamic Army: Lessons Learned from the Story of the
Imprisonment of Brother Abu Sulayman”; see previous note.
Addameer, Prisoner’s Support and Human Rights Association. 2009. Palestinian Women
Associated Press. 2007. “GI Gets 100 Years for Raping Iraqi Girl, Murders.”
MSNBC, February 23.
BBCWorld News. 2004. “Red Cross Saw Widespread Abuse.” May 8.
_. 2006. “Troops Took Turns to Rape Iraqi.” August 7.
Be’er, Yizhar, and Saleh Abdel-Jawad. 1994. Collaborators in the Occupied Territories:
Human Rights Abuses and Violations. Jerusalem: B’Tselem—The Israeli
Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
Blau, Uri. 2009. “Dead Palestinian Babies and Bombed Mosques—IDF Fashion.”
Ha’aretz, March 20.
Bloom, Mia. 2010. “Gendercide: The Strategic Logic of Rape inWar.” Paper
presented to the International Studies Association Meeting, New Orleans,
LA, February 18.
B’Tselem: Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
2010. Statistics on Palestinians in the Custody of the Israeli Security
Cohen, Stanley, and Daphna Golan. 1991. The Interrogation of Palestinians
during the Intifada: Ill-Treatment, “Moderate Physical Pressure” orTorture?
Israel: B’Tselem Human Rights Report.
Daily Star. 2009. “PalestinianWomen PrisonersMistreated by Israel.” July 16.
Downes, Alexander. 2008. Targeting Civilians duringWar. NY: Cornell University
Dworkin, Andrea. 2000. Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel andWomen’s Liberation.
New York: Free Press.
Edelstein, DavidM. 2008. Occupational Hazards: Successes and Failure in Military
Occupation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Gardham, Duncan, and Paul Cruikshank. 2009. “Abu Ghraib Photos Show
Rape.” The Telegraph, May 27.
Harding, Luke. 2004a. “Focus Shifts to Jail Abuse ofWomen.” Guardian,
_. 2004b. “The Other Prisoners.” Guardian, May 21.
Islamic Army in Iraq. 2007. “Communique: Good News, Abeer Surface to
Surface Rockets Manufacturing.” September 21.
Jehl, Douglas. 1999. “Murder for Honor.” New York Times, December 13.
Jomhuri-ye Eslami. 2007. “Made Up Dictators: Editorial.” Jomhuri-ye Eslami,
Keinon, Herb. 2001. “Reservists to Sue FrenchWeekly for Libel.” Jerusalem
Post, November 15.
Levi, Yoram. 1990. “164 DetainedWomen and Girls.” Davar, January 16.
Mahdi, Abdul Hadi. 2006. Letter to the Editor. Al Ittihad (Turkey), July 10.
McKelvey, Tara. 2005. “Unusual Suspects: What Happened to theWomen at
Abu Ghraib?” American Prospect, January 14,
Mukhtar, Uthman. 2008. “Al Arab Opens the File of Female Suicide Bombers
in the Land of the Two Rivers,” Al Arab Online, June 25.
Pape, Robert A. 2005. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of SuicideTerrorism.
New York: Random House.
Post, Jerrold, ed. 2004. Military Studies in the Jihad against theTyrants: The Al
Qaeda Training Manual. Montgomery, AL: USAF Counter-Proliferation
Sheely, Ellen R. 2007. Reclaiming Honor in Jordan: A National Public Opinion
Survey on “Honor” Killings. San Francisco: Black Irish Publishing.
United Nations Commission on the Status ofWomen. 2009. Situation of and
Assistance to PalestinianWomen—Draft Resolution (E/CN.6/2009/L.2/Rev.1).
United Nations Economic and Social Counsel.
Varshney, Ashutosh. 2003. Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in
India. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Women’s Organization for Political Prisoners. 2009. Newsletter February
_. 2010. Newsletter April 2010.
Links to the latest articles in this section
The US and nuclear programs in the Middle East
How can Israel, Palestine return to a two-state solution?
A matter of concrete debate