Maya Mikdashi writes: Every morning we wake up to an updated butcher’s bill: one hundred, two hundred, four hundred, six hundred Palestinians killed by Israel’s war apparatus. These numbers gloss over many details: the majority of Gazans, one of the most populated and impoverished areas in the world, are refugees from other parts of historic Palestine. It is under a brutal siege, and there is nowhere to hide from Israel’s onslaught. Before this “war” Gaza was a form of quarantine, a population held captive and colonized by Israel’s ability to break international law with impunity. They are population in a relationship of dependency — for food, for water, medicine, even for movement — with their colonizers. In the event of a ceasefire, Gaza will remain colonized, quarantined, and blockaded. It will remain an open-air prison, a mass refugee camp.
One detail about the dead, however, is repeated often in Western-based mass media: the vast majority of murdered Palestinians in Gaza are civilians — and sources say that a “disproportionate” number are women and children. The killing of women and children is horrific — but in the reiteration of these disturbing facts there is something missing: the public mourning of Palestinian men killed by Israel’s war machine. In 1990 Cynthia Enloe coined the term “womenandchildren” in order to think about the operationalization of gendered discourses to justify the first Gulf War. Today, we should be aware of how the trope of “womenandchildren” is circulating in relation to Gaza and to Palestine more broadly. This trope accomplishes many discursive feats, two of which are most prominent: The massifying of women and children into an undistinguishable group brought together by the “sameness” of gender and sex, and the reproduction of the male Palestinian body (and the male Arab body more generally) as always already dangerous. Thus the status of male Palestinians (a designation that includes boys aged fifteen and up, and sometimes boys as young as thirteen) as “civilians” is always circumspect.
This gendering of Israel’s war on Gaza is conversant with discourses of the War on Terror and, as Laleh Khalili has argued persuasively, counter-insurgency strategy and war-making more broadly. In this framework, the killing of women and girls and pre-teen and underage boys is to be marked, but boys and men are presumed guilty of what they might do if allowed to live their lives. [Continue reading…]