Recent news regarding the sexual assault of a seven-year-old girl has raised major issues for public discussion, but it seems that one aspect of the story must not be mentioned: if the girl was in fact attacked by a Palestinian man—which is not certain at this point—could it have been an ethno-religious attack?
Israel’s Army Radio host Razi Barkai rejected any possibility of a connection between the ethnicity of the suspect and a racist motive for the alleged act, and added, “It isn’t the Palestinian people who is raping the Jewish people.”
Indeed, anyone who dared mention the possibility that the crime could have had ethno-religious motives was labeled a racist, or a hypocrite who only cared about the rape because the suspect was an Arab.
But categorically rejecting the possibility that the attack had an ethno-religious element to it whitewashes the historical record. Yes, there is such a thing as a sexual assault perpetrated out of nationalist or racist motives, and sadly, that phenomenon has deep roots in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To understand just how deep, we must go back to the era of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al-Husseini.
An article that ran in Israel’s Ma’ariv daily before the 1967 Six-Day War, before the Jews were to perceive themselves as occupiers, described the leader of the Arabs’ rise to greatness in the riots of 1920: “Responsibility for bloodshed, acts of rape and pillaging, were the first chapter in the public career of Hajj Amin, who became a ‘national hero’ in the eyes of the Arab youth in [pre-state] Israel.”
In 1929, Arab rioters raped members of the Jewish community of Hebron, and that culture of battle led to a Jewish response later on. It is sufficient to touch on the Hagana fighters’ response to the rape of two Jewish women, which was commemorated in a popular song by Haim Hefer: “We castrated you, we castrated you, Mohammed!”
According to Middle East researcher Dr. Mordechai Kedar, the Arabs see Zionism as founded on “pillaged ground,” and so the rape of Jewish women could be seen as justified.
Such incidents did not cease after the State of Israel was established, either; in 2012, a woman from Tel Aviv was recognized as a victim of terrorism after her claim that her rape had been ethno-religiously motivated was initially scoffed at by law enforcement officials.
In his book “The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam” Douglas Murray describes the West’s denial of the religious characteristics of acts of rape by Muslims.
He writes that when a group of nine Muslim men were convicted in the U.K. of sex trafficking in children ages 11-15, the fact that the gang members had been careful to choose non-Muslim girls as their victims was only occasionally raised in court, and even less often in the media.
The fact that in Israel it is also verboten to even speak of the possibility that a sexual assault might have been ethno-religiously motivated indicates that the denial has affected us, too. We should remember what Zionist activist Yitzhak Tabenkin wrote after the Six-Day War: “We must see with open eyes … that in Arab countries and in many other places there are forces that threaten to bring disaster upon us. The moment they are given a chance, they are willing to do to the Jews everything the Germans did under Hitler.”
The suspect in the current case might indeed be innocent, and his conviction in the court of public opinion without a trial is inappropriate. But we do not have the privilege of shutting our eyes to the reality of this violent conflict.
Yehuda Shalem is a doctoral candidate at Ariel University and a research fellow at the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication.
This column first appeared in Israel Hayom.