Why the Israel-Hamas War is a Feminist Issue

Consequences of wars for men and women are different and disproportionate.

Historically, men in positions of power have often started or provoked wars or interfered in existing military conflicts. It must be noted that the personality of a political leader is one of the key factors which play a role in shaping foreign policy or the behavior of states. It is a known fact that politics in a large majority of nations across the world is dominated by men. Thus, their “masculine” personality often influences the way they take decisions, irrespective of whether they are precautionary or reactionary. Feminist scholars therefore, have always argued that there are too many international conflicts, including devastating wars, because the behavior of states is equivalent to the behavior of men occupying political positions. The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) between then US President John. F. Kennedy and Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev can be explained as a clash of political ideologies of two men who were almost ready to push the world into another world war for the sake of demonstrating the power and might of their respective nations and being hailed and for the same. The US and Soviet Union were both military superpowers during the cold war era, but their prolonged rivalry reflected through proxy wars and the “arms race” can be attributed significantly to the egoism of men in positions of power in both these nations. In 1945, when the atomic bombs were dropped in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States, the political call was taken by then president Harry S. Truman, who faced immense criticism later for the same. Moreover, the invention of the atomic bomb was an outcome of the Manhattan Project, headed by American physicist Robert J. Oppenheimer. The two men in both these cases, exercised their political power and knowledge respectively to perpetuate violence and create prompt destruction. Even though many may argue that such decisions are strictly guided by political and situational considerations, the absence of initiation of peace talks and negotiations is something which has always between observed under the leadership of men than women. The world’s biggest dictators today and in the past have been men, which demonstrates how violence, force and aggression is inextricably linked to male behavior. Therefore, sensitizing oneself to human needs and breaking free from the shackles of these patriarchal traits should be the first step of any man occupying a position of political power. The world in such a scenario, will be in peace than “pieces”.

On October 7th, the male-dominated military wing of Hamas, the Qassam Brigades, launched attacks on Israel, killing more than 1,400 people and taking about 200 people captives. Israel’s response under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was swift as he declared war against Hamas and ordered a total blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel since then has been carrying out air strikes and aerial bombings of targeted establishments. There has been no sensitivity shown by the Prime Minister and the men in his current war cabinet towards the death of innocent civilians caused by Israeli air strikes on Gaza and the humanitarian catastrophe due to the chronic scarcity of food, water and medical supplies. The intervention of Iran and US in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war have made matters worse for regional stability in the Middle-East. It is speculated that Iran, under its leader Ebrahim Raisi, who has been a vocal supporter of Hamas, helped it plan and carry out the attacks on October 7th. The US on the other hand, has rejected calls for a ceasefire and thrown its weight behind Israel, with President Joe Biden announcing military and financial aid. From a feminist perspective, the interplay of four actors- Israel, Hamas, Iran and US, with all of them being controlled by powerful men, has turned the Israel-Hamas conflict into a game of chess, where the pawns are the innocent civilians on both sides. The critical question that therefore emerges is that, why should women and children always have to bear the consequences of wars invented and propagated by men and normalized by the patriarchy?

Consequences of wars for men and women are different and disproportionate. In terms of violence, women are not only injured or subjected to physical torture as unlike men, they also face sexual harassment and are often used as human shields. One amongst the most tragic incidents which occurred on October 7th was the abduction of Shani Louk, a 22-year-old Israeli-German woman, who was paraded semi-naked through Gaza, apparently unconscious on the back of a pickup truck. She was recently declared dead by the Israeli authorities.  Therefore, the first attack during a war is always on women’s rights. Meanwhile, when we look at Gaza, according to Human Rights Watch, approximately 50,000 pregnant women and girls in are at risk of missing vital ante-natal care and giving birth in challenging conditions without electricity or medical supplies. A United Nations gender analysis emphasizes these concerns, predicting an increase in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity, which threatens previous health improvements in Palestine. Comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, as well as psychosocial support, but may also go unmet due to the strain on Gaza’s healthcare system. The lack of clean water poses a crisis for parents, often mothers, trying to care for their babies. Additionally, access to water and safe sanitation facilities is crucial for women and girls managing their menstrual hygiene. When these needs are unmet, it can lead to serious infections, including hepatitis B and thrush. Women and girls in shelters might encounter severe difficulties in accessing supplies and facilities, and a lack of awareness about menstrual health, especially among men, will exacerbate the challenges they face.

The Israel-Hamas war is one among the many military conflicts which raises questions on the absence of women from political decision-making during conflicts. The population of a state is comprised of both men and women. However, whenever a crucial decision is taken to push the state into a war, why is it that only men sitting in political chairs have a say in it? In most situations, women representatives in the government are not even consulted. The ongoing crisis in the Middle East due to Israel and Hamas is being perceived either from a Eurocentric perspective or a religious lens. However, it is best to describe it as a historically rooted conflict, perpetuated by patriarchy. Israel-Hamas’s war is a feminist issue which has arisen due to the continuation of male-dominated political institutions, which exclude women from policymaking. The conflict has taken a toll on the human rights of the marginalized- particularly women and children. Unless there are efforts to include women as stakeholders for the resolution of this issue, there can be no social or humanitarian justice ensured.

Riyan Buragohain
Riyan Buragohain
Riyan Buragohain is an undergraduate student pursuing triple majors in English, Political Science and History from Christ University, Bangalore, India. He has interned with several organizations in India such as Little Umbrella Foundation (LUF), Jeevan Jagran Foundation (JJF), Cinepari, Destination Heritage and Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. Primarily, his interest lies in the field of international relations, political theory and gender studies.