The Sexualization of (Political) Violence

The Caption on the Israeli soldier's Instagram photo reads "Fuck all Arabs their blood is tasty.”

The Caption on the Israeli soldier’s provocative Instagram photo reads “Fuck all Arabs their blood is tasty.”


A columnist on the Electronic Intifada (a website dedicated to news, information, and blogs on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank), Benjamin Doherty, recently pointed out in an article how the Israeli Army has directly and indirectly used Instagram and other social media outlets to promote it’s image. Some of these pictures are provocatively sexualized, with Israeli soldiers posting photos of themselves posing half-naked while holding an M-16 rifle. Doherty has a name for this phenomenon among the Israeli Army, “War Sporno”. As he puts it to use “male and female bodies to eroticize the military, to displace violence against Palestinians, to encourage Western public’s to identify with Israeli soldiers.” While I agree partially with Mr. Doherty’s analysis of this, I think there is another, even more dangerous and devious side to this “War Sporno”. Because it doesn’t just work to present a positive image of the Israeli military (and State of Israel as a whole) by “de-uglyfing” the imagery of the occupation and Israeli soldiers. Even worse, it is trying to erase morality and ethics from the political situation entirely by portraying violence against the Palestinian people as a part of an almost romanticized justification. Surpassing even any necessity to present oneself as moral or “good”, because the moral question no longer applies.  Though there is a difference between the official Israeli Army’s use of War Sporno, which is just trying to “de-uglify” the image of the occupation and Israeli soldiers by presenting them in a positive and “beautiful” light, and the unofficial, regular Israel soldiers use of War Sporno, which evermore represents something of a conflation between the oppressive violence against the Palestinian people and the sexualization of the Israeli army (and people).

War Sporno represents a dangerous product, some produced through decades of oppression and dehumanization of the Palestinian people. In the end, the goal of such dehumanization is not to try to present oneself as the moral good of a conflict, but to present evil as something positive in the face of such a conflict. And to make that evil seem all the more attractive through the use of a sexual image of violence.  With talk of annexation of the West Bank increasing as well as the growing political hegemony of the right-wing in Israel, we shouldn’t throw out the possibility that in such a scenario, there will not be members of the Israeli far right who may consider that political Apartheid over the Palestinians is not something permanent. That eventually Israel will undergo the same faith as South Africa and will be ruled mainly by an Arab majority. And that with already most of the world condemning this near-future Israel, the only way to truly end the “Palestinian problem” is through total genocide of the Palestinian population. Whether through mass murder or sterilization of the populace. And in such an event, dehumanization of a people prove to be a great tool in the perpetration of absolute atrocities.

But if this is the case, then War Sporno is nothing new in the history of human conflict. The linking of sex and political violence have occurred in many conflict zones, from the Serb army in the Bosnian war to both sides of the Liberian civil war, where a stunning 75% of the women in Liberia during that war were reported to have been raped. We must realized that correlating violence in any such a matter as being romanticized is inherent dehumanizing and ethically immoral, especially if this violence functions on a mass political scale. When this happens, truly horrific things can occur, and we lose all sense of our basic humanity.


  1. Said Simon · February 19, 2013

    Setting aside the discussion over just how enormously Israel would need to change before your slippery slope argument for the possibility of some future genocide against Palestinians to be remotely plausible, it is worth questioning just how novel or concerning we should find this association between images of sex and political violence. I mean, it’s nothing new – not in Israel and, basically, not anywhere else. ‘Warrior’ aesthetics have been sexualised in nearly all civilisations; soldiers posting snapshots of themselves looking sexy with their weapons is simply one incarnation of it made possible by certain social media technologies.

    Of course, the capacity to do violence, both private and political (if you buy the distinction), is deeply embedded within norms of masculinity in a great many cultures.

    If you’re concerned about how the aesthetics of occupation serve to de-humanise the occupied, I’d sooner direct you to look at how soldiers are in the habit of taking snapshots of themselves with bound prisoners, or the age-old military practice of taking war mementos. ,

  2. skepoet2 · February 19, 2013

    Anyway, I would second Simon suggestion at snap shots of bound prisoners. Thinking in terms of Buber: a violent relationship of struggle is still an “I-Thou” relationship, the snap shot of the bound prisoner is an “I-It.” Combined with sexualization that does have some profound implication.

  3. Arya Moghadam · February 19, 2013

    I think I should have clarified the fact that I think any chances of genocide perpetrated by a far more radicalized Israeli government is extremely slim. Most likely I think Israel will annex the West Bank and institute a Banutistan style of rule over the Palestinian population, until eventually such a rule becomes unsustainable and collapses, with a Arab majority in the new, multi-ethnic, pluralist state. The only reason I said that is that is while the chances of such a scenario to occur is very unlikely, we should nevertheless hypothesize the possibility of such drastic measures being done. If only to prepare ourselves.

    With regards to the fact of you stating, “it’s nothing new – not in Israel and, basically, not anywhere else.” I mentioned that specifically in my piece, “But if this is the case, then War Sporno is nothing new in the history of human conflict.” As well as mentioning the Bosnian War and the Liberian Civil War as other examples where sexual masculinity and warfare interconnect at times.

    Now what you said about focusing more on the “aesthetics of occupation”, that I fully agree with and realize I should have mentioned aesthetics at times instead of just a vague “sexualization”. The physical action of “soldiers taking snapshots of themselves with bound prisoners” has no direct sexual connotation, the “I-It” as Derick pointed out, but a less direct sexual connotation could be added to it. Whether through the form of sexual humiliation or masculinity. And could even further skew the moral compass of such a physically inhumane act.

    Anyways thank you for your critique, I know this isn’t my best piece of writing here, but it is my first.

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