To (not) Rape and Pillage

As a pro-Israel American Jew, I’ve encountered my fair share of anti-Semitism. Whether in regard to the existence of the state of Israel or my own personal religious beliefs, I’ve found myself the spokesperson for the Jewish people more times than I care to recall. Which is why, when former Israeli soldier Hen Mazzig was recently accused at an American university of being racist against Palestinians due to the lack of rape committed by the IDF, I couldn’t help but shake my head in frustration at both the Anti-Israeli sentiment and the perpetuation of rape culture.

While the irony of labeling a Jew “worse than the Nazis” for serving in an IDF unit specifically designed to address the needs of Palestinians borders on absurdity, the sentiment that “IDF soldiers don’t rape Palestinians because Israelis are so racist and disgusted by them that [they] won’t touch them” is not only illogical – it overlooks a long history of the various invading nations that have used rape to subjugate a people.

The intent behind such a statement only becomes clear when the notion that rape is a compliment is taken into consideration. This not only misrepresents the reality of rape, but does a disservice to rape victims everywhere. Portraying rape as flattery conveniently turns a brutal experience into something that can be easily disregarded by others. In addition, this sentiment perpetuates the idea that unattractive women can’t be raped, and therefore unnecessarily calls into question legitimate accusations of rape.

Furthermore, rape isn’t a tool to bridge nations together. If anything, the role of rape during war has traditionally been to inflict psychological trauma and humiliation upon civilians. “War rape” is defined as rape committed by combatants during armed conflict, war or military occupation. It includes situations where an occupying force forces people into sexual slavery. Currently, there is an epidemic of war rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to a 2010 study, 22% of men and 33% of women in eastern Congo reported conflict-related sexual violence.

While studying abroad in China last summer, I had the privilege of visiting Nanjing. It quickly became my favorite Chinese city due to its rich history and culture. It also didn’t hurt that there were trails to hike. While there, I visited the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, which memorialized the people lost in the Rape of Nanjing during World War II.

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I walked through the rooms lined with horrific photographs, stories, and pieces of history too intense to recount here. The beginning of the museum described the events leading up to the Rape of Nanjing. While reading about the (primarily Korean, Chinese, and Filipina) women forced into prostitution camps by the Japanese army, my Korean friend broke down in tears for her people. These women, known as comfort women, were duped and kidnapped into sexual slavery for the purpose of servicing Japanese soldiers. This was to prevent them from raping local women, which could lead to hostility and possibly rebellion. Around three quarters of comfort women died, while most of the surviving women were left infertile due to sexual trauma and disease.

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In addition to the systematic forced prostitution of women, Japanese Imperial Army committed another gendercide: the Rape of Nanjing. This six-week period of mass murder and rape following the capture of Nanjing was carried out with the intent of causing humiliation and demoralization. Contrary to the notion that not committing rape is somehow evidence of racism, the Japanese raped the Chinese to “prove” that they were superior. In just weeks, around 20,000 women were raped, including infants and the elderly. Men weren’t spared of the cruelty; there are several accounts Japanese soldiers forcing celibate monks to commit rape, and family members to commit incest.

When such horrors have been committed in the sake of demeaning an entire nation, can the argument that rape proves a lack of racism be anything but absurd? The concept that rape is about power instead of attraction holds true for individuals as well as warring nations. When the notion that Israel can do no right (and in fact is in the wrong for abstaining from war crimes) is finally put to bed, then we can truly come together for peace.

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