This case note documents the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
Background of the Conflict
The Deir Yassin Massacre took place on April 9, 1948. About 130 fighters from the far-right Zionist paramilitary groups, Irgun (IZL) and Lehi, killed at least 107 Palestinian Arabs (including women and children) in the village of Deir Yassin, near Jerusalem (Morris 2005). The attack took place as the Jewish militia sought to relieve the blockade of Jerusalem during the civil war that unfolded before British colonial rule in Palestine ended (Morris 2005). The United Nations had just proposed the division of Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish one.
The Arabs rejected the proposal and civil war broke out. After several rounds of house-to-house fighting, the village succumbed to the attack. While several Palestinian Arabs were killed, several tried to flee or surrender – and many of them were taken as prisoners. There was killing, widespread looting, mutilation and torture, as well as rape and sexual violence (Morris 1987). The massacre was a significant event in the Arab-Israeli conflict. While the original death toll was estimated at 250, subsequent research has suggested that 107 villagers had died, and 12 had been wounded (Kan'ana & Zaytuni 1988).
Prevalence of Sexual Violence
A number of sources have documented rape and sexual violence in the Deir Yassin massacre. Morris (1987, 2004) noted that a number of IZL men raped and murdered a number of Arab girls. Assistant Inspector-General Richard Catling of the British Palestinian Police Force conduced interviews with survivors in Silwan on April 13, 15, and 16, 1948, and reported that several sexual atrocities were committed by the attacking Jews, and that many young school girls were raped and later slaughtered, and old women were also molested (Catling 1948).
Historian Abdel Jawad noted that women at Deir Yassin had talked about the rapes that had taken place at Deir Yassin when they spoke to British interrogators, and noted that they could never speak about this in their societies – it was never talked about by the men (Slyomovics 2007). The narratives of the victims of rape were suppressed, arguably because Palestinian men tied their honour to “the maintenance of kin women’s virginity (when unmarried) or exclusive sexual availability (when married)” (Hasso 2000: 495; Khalili 2007).
Strategic Use of Sexual Violence
The attack on Deir Yassin reflects all the trappings of settler colonialism. The use of sexual violence in the pursuit of occupation ultimately serves the “logic of elimination,” which seeks to “erase indigenous presence on a specific territory” (Shalhoub-Kevorkian et al. 2014). The use of sexual violence against Palestinian women was in pursuit of the settler colonial state’s attempts to destroy, eliminate, and drive out the Palestinians from their land (Shalhoub-Kevorkian et al. 2009).
Sexual violence was used “to strengthen indigenous patriarchal structures and aid in the eviction of Palestinians from their land” (Shalhoub-Kevorkian et al. 2009). It was also used as a means to intimidate and threaten the population in the village. The strategic use of sexual violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict is tied to the fact that colonial relationships are gendered and sexualized, and “the rape of the land as the rape of women’s bodies” comes to fore in these attacks (Shalhoub-Kevorkian et al. 2014). It was also used to further an agenda of ethnic cleansing targeting the Palestinian community.
Hasso, Frances S. (2000). "Modernity and Gender in Arab Accounts of the 1948 and 1967 Defeats", International Journal of Middle East Studies, 32:491–510.
Kananah, Sharif and Zaytuni, Nihad (1988). Deir Yassin القرى الفلسطينية المدمرة (Destroyed Palestinian Villages), Birzeit University Press.
Khalili, Leleh (2007). Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory. Columbia University Press.
Forwarded to the Chief Secretary of the Palestine government, Sir Henry Gurney, by Richard C. Catling, Assistant Inspector General of the Criminal Investigation Division, on April 13, 14 and 16, 1948, dossier no. 179/110/17/GS
Morris, Benny (1987). The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949. Cambridge University Press.
Morris, Benny (2004). The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge University Press.
Morris, Benny. (2005). "The Historiography of Deir Yassin". The Journal of Israeli History. 24 (1): 79–107.
Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Nadera, Ihmoud, Sarah and Dahir-Nashif Suhad (2014) "Sexual Violence, Women’s Bodies, and Israeli Settler Colonialism," https://www.jadaliyya.com/Details/31481
Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Nadera, Nādira Shalhūb Kīfūrkiyān, and Nādirah Shalhūb-Kīfūrkiyān (2009) Militarization and violence against women in conflict zones in the Middle East: a Palestinian case-study. Cambridge University Press.
Slyomovics, Susan (2007). Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory. Columbia University Press.