The bill of indictment issued by the Israeli public prosecutor on 2 September alludes to a “festive atmosphere.” And yet, what took place on the evening of 12 August in room 216 of the Red Sea Hotel, a cheap facility in the centre of Eilat, a seaside resort at the tip of the Red Sea, is more redolent of a horror movie. The gang rape of a sixteen year-old by some thirty men—for the moment eleven have been indicted, including eight minors—also reveals the severe fractures that exist in a society marked by machismo and “virilism” as Doctor P., a psychoanalyst who has her cabinet in Tel Aviv1 explained to us, a climate which gives men the impression that anything goes. “These revolting acts” according to the Association of Rape Crisis Centres reveal what feminist Iliana Weizman calls a “toxic manhood.”
Rape videos on the social networks
When the teenager and her girlfriend happened on these men around the Red Sea Hotel’s swimming pool, she was drunk. According to the prosecutor’s report, video surveillance recordings viewed by the police during the investigation show that the consumption of liquor by minors in that hotel is “commonplace,” which resulted in the arrest of the manageress.
At one point the young woman, who was not a guest at the hotel, asked to cool off. A group of men took her to a room and started raping her. “A rumour spread down the hall that there was a naked girl who was getting fucked, and very quickly the flies began to gather to take advantage of the opportunity,” a source close to the investigation explained to Haaretz.
So traumatised were the victim and her girlfriend that it took two days before they went to the police, while videos of the rape began to circulate on the Web. One of the first things the investigators did, before the affair was made public, was to destroy them. Israel, as we know is the world’s leading specialist in cyber security and the police has at its disposition state-of-the-art technologies. One of the chief suspects, a man of 27, had already been arrested several months before in a bus. He was drunk and was harassing female passengers. He told the policewoman come to arrest him: “I would just love to rape you!” The investigation showed that he was the only person to remain in the room all the time that the rape lasted.
The triumphant return of presumed rapists
Already, last summer, on 17 July, a dozen Israelis, between 15 and 22 years old, were accused of having gang-raped a 19-year-old British tourist in the Cypriot resort of Ayia Napa. Some of them, as in Eilat, had filmed the rape with their mobile phones. Nonetheless, the young men were acquitted by a Cypriot court and their victim heavily charged and actually convicted of false testimony. Cyprus is a country where Israeli tourism is an important source of income and some media rushed to the rescue of the presumed rapists. Thus, the army radio station quoted one of them as saying, “British girls run after everything in pants here. It may have been her fault.”
The upshot was that on their return to Tel Aviv, the cohort of youths were met by families and friends with a triumphal welcome at Ben Gurion Airport, complete with Champagne and confetti, and such edifying slogans as “The Brit was a whore” and “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The people of Israel is alive”)—one of the far right’s favourite slogans…
As for the British victim, she received the support of Israeli feminists and lawyers, revolted by this public display of political incorrectness. But with the Eilat affair, an era of complicity and indifference seems to have ended. A one-hour protest strike took place in some workplaces on 23 August and there were many demonstrations in Tel Aviv and other cities. Israel seems determined to confront these instances of violence against women. Political leaders vied with one another to find suitable words to condemn what Benyamin Netanyahu described as crimes against humanity. He preferred to ignore the passivity of the political class up to now: in 2017 his government promised to subsidise associations fighting violence to women to the tune of 250 million shekels (approximately 74 million dollars). Three years later, none has received a penny.
And what about those corporations that launched militant advertising campaigns and some of which came out in support of August 23 protest strike? “The electricity company advocates zero tolerance in the matter and publishes messages of solidarity,” Doctor P. explains. “But it establishes no connection with the history of this country, with its institutional violence which benefits it in many ways.” A useful reminder in passing: the Israel Electric Corporation provides the bulk of the electricity consumed in Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territories and thus profits from the occupation.
Two hundred and thirty rapes per day
Many feminists see a “connection between a toxic manhood and a militarised society,” says Magda, an activist in Haifa. Which sheds doubt on that display of unanimity in the condemnation of the Eilat gang rape. “In a society dominated by male hierarchies, violence is not merely an all-pervasive symptom, it is a decisive characteristic,” journalist Henriette Chacar wrote last year. “Benny Gantz, Israeli army chief who challenged Netanyahu—before teaming up with him—in the last national election, bragged in one of his campaign spots how ‘certain portions of Gaza had been sent back to the stone age’ under his command. When Netanyahu was trying to form a cabinet in May 2019, Gantz pleaded with him, ‘to be a man.’"
Does being a man involve lording it over women and despising them? The figures supplied by various sources are appalling. According to the police, 230 women are raped every day, i.e., 84,000 each year in a country whose total population is just under 9 million, which would put Israel in 32nd place in the world according to the statistics of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). One woman in five is raped during her lifetime and one in three suffers a sexual assault. There are over 20 femicides each year. And half of these murdered women had lodged a complaint, which clearly shows that “up till now the victim’s word doesn’t count for much in the eyes of the police” as Magda points out. The statistics for 2020 are likely to be worse. According to Iliana Weizman, there have already been some fifteen femicides since the beginning of the year, and during the Covid-19 lockdown, “Violence to women has increased by 60%”.
Protests are gaining momentum
A few months ago, Iliana Weizman and some other women launched movement called HaStickeriot. Taking their cue from the French “colleuses” movement, their goal is to paste black and white posters with “hard-hitting, easy to retain messages,” like “no means no,” in Hebrew, Arabic, English, French and Russian in order to reach all the women in the country. “As a French Jewish immigrant, I don’t have the same background as an Israeli Muslim or Christian, an immigrant from Ethiopia or from the former USSR,” she explains. HaStickeriot is on the cutting edge of the ongoing mobilisation, demanding that the State finally release the funds promised to finance the fight against violence to women and a real program of sex education in schools. “We have to stop repeating that we need to protect our girls. We must teach our boys to understand the meaning of consent, starting at an early age”.
Another campaign, Yater mi shloshim (More than thirty [rapists]) is collecting the testimony of rape victims, “already over a thousand” at the beginning of September, according of one of its activists, Ruty Klein. “The shock produced by that gang rape in Eilat reminded us that we are all in the same boat together”, she explains in the newspapers. Magda views these mobilisations as “a good thing. Little by little, Israeli women are calling into question the existing. There is a growing awareness that there’s a lot wrong with this country”. Many observers have called attention to the diligence shown by the police and public prosecutor in the Eilat case: “We congratulate the police and the prosecutor, who understand the public relevance of this case and have devoted major resources to the investigation,” was the comment published by the Rape Crisis Center Israel. “It is time for that to become the norm for every case of sexual offence.”
Army and “total dehumanisation”
In Doctor P.’s view, our thinking must go beyond our legitimate indignation, we must question what these young men learn during their military service and the importance that technology has acquired in Israel.
“There is something central in our military system. Israel is on the cutting edge in surveillance technologies,” she explains. This is especially due to the existence of Unit 8200, specialised in cyber surveillance for the Israeli army and at the origin of many start-ups in this area. “Everything transits through technology, this total dehumanisation has been carried very far and, first of all, with regard to the Palestinians, who are the object of very close electronic surveillance. Our young men have become accustomed to sitting behind a screen and appropriating the most private dimensions of people’s lives. They encounter serious difficulties in love relationships which are no longer verbal, but transit through technology, imagery, the networks. This leaves these young males in great solitude.” But it also leads them to expose themselves. “Many of these youngsters post videos on the networks in which they put themselves in harm’s way to prove something. Whoever films the most dangerous or strangest thing will attract the most attention.”
Of course, this phenomenon is not peculiar to Israel, yet here the “militaristic” dimension plays a major role, according to Doctor P. “Eilat, after Cyprus and other rapes, seems to belong to an especially savage, brutal form of ritual. What can we expect when the use of humiliation and violence towards the Palestinians has been institutionalised? In this respect, the female politician Tzipi Livni once said: ‘The enemy has to see that we are out of control.’” So, the doctor sees using violence on Palestinians, on women, on young intersex persons, on migrants, is due to the “habits” acquired in the army and especially through their initiation into techniques of cyber harassment.
“We speak of male violence and sexual education, but no connection is ever made with our political circumstances,” the psychoanalyst concludes. “In this country, it’s one or the other, you or me, the strong against the weak. It begins with the Palestinians, the Ethiopians, the Africans, the Mizrahim 2 and finally women and children. The toxicity is first a collective phenomenon.”
Magda agrees with her: “The logic here is primarily one of domination.” Might makes right? “Yes, that’s it, might makes right. Nauseating…”
1Who prefers to remain anonymous, specifying that she speaks “in the name of a group of practitioners who have been giving much thought to the issue of violence against women in Israel.”
2North African or Sephardi Jews, long treated as second-class citizens by the Jews of European origin (Ashkenazi) and whose resentment has been used by the Likud to establish its electoral predominance.