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September 17, 2009

The Practice of Domination in Everyday Life


by contributor Robert Hariman

Amidst the many images of hostility, conflict, and destruction that come out of the occupied territories in Palestine, this one is truly shocking.

The photo appeared on page A8 of the morning edition of the New York Times with this caption:

Tinderbox In Hebron, a Jewish settler threw wine at a Palestinian woman. The city is a center of tensions between settlers and Palestinians.”

The complete set of images, which included a photo on page 1 of an Israeli child being bathed and three other photos on page 8 labeled “Veneration,” “Remembrance,” and “Preparation,” clearly favored the Israeli settlers. Even so, the photo above gives the lie to the myth of taming the frontier in the Holy Land.

But why does it shock? He is not hitting her, and surely spraying her is less of a crime than, say, razing a house with a military bulldozer. Or blowing up a bus with a suicide bomber. Since there is violence enough on both sides, why make so much of a minor incident of teenage insolence?

I think that there are at least three reasons for the photograph’s impact.

One is that it reveals what is rarely shown: the small acts of personal viciousness and humiliation that make up the practice of domination in an occupied land. Second, it is clear that both the boy’s aggression and the woman’s protective reaction are often-practiced, habitual responses. Were he taunting an older woman for the first time, he would be likely to look much more ragged, uncoordinated, and either furtive or overly demonstrative. Instead, he could be a figure out of Whitman: throwing his weight around without breaking stride, a figure of youthful grace on the city street. Likewise, she isn’t being caught by surprise. Her head is already turned, her body hunched against the impending blow. She’s been through this before, and she’s learned that direct confrontation is not an option. This may be her neighborhood, but it’s his street.

The third dimension of the photograph’s power derives from its capacity for analogy. Look at the woman’s coat and hat, and at the Star of David scrawled on the storefront; she could be in the Warsaw ghetto, and all it takes is a change of costume to see him as a German soldier. Or they could be an African-American woman and a young cracker in the Jim Crow South, or any other tableau that depicts the small details of domination. One picture isn’t enough to nail down such comparisons, but it should make you think of them.

Accompanying story and slide show.

(cross-posted from No Caption Needed.)

(image: Rina Castelnuovo/The New York Times)


    Amazing shot, really. I think the power also derives from the quality of the photo. How did the photog manage to capture the wine in mid-air?? Quite an insightful post, so thank you very much.

  • David

    Well done analysis. You’ve echoed what I was thinking “before the jump.”

  • Aurora

    As a composition it is beautiful; especially the turquoise and the red echoes of the wine. The spray of wine first registers as a sickle, a tool and weapon of the people of the land.
    The postures of the two participants are not particularly stressed out; he is almost casual and she signals resignation. What does that say about habits of behavior…
    The circumstances seem so fraught that staging would not be possible; yet I question how on earth did the photographer capture this?
    Also, in general, do photogs ever come to the site and join the conversation? I have not seen it yet, may have missed it, and would surely welcome it.
    Thank you again for creating a unique web experience.

  • liz

    not to mention the boy’s payot (the long locks of hair on the sides of his head), with their implications of religious adherence and piety, and the irony of that given his action in the picture.

  • dissector

    “it is clear that both the boy’s aggression and the woman’s protective reaction are often-practiced, habitual responses … he could be a figure out of Whitman: throwing his weight around without breaking stride, a figure of youthful grace on the city street.”
    For me, the stark white shirt, dark hat and casual personal violence invokes Malcolm McDowell’s portrayal of Alex in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Once I’ve compared the ‘boy’ to Alex, there is little else for me to say.

  • lytom

    What has she done to him?
    The neighborhood shows the deterioration of the businesses, the graffiti and finally human contact.
    Despicable, cruel, and criminal. Those would be descriptions of Jewish actions toward the Palestinians.
    Not punished and tolerated, even more bred in and army protected the settlers have all the rights.
    There is no protection for this woman and for every Palestinian living in their environment.
    Intimidation to try to make the living impossible and the threat to life and killing finally worked early in days of creation of Israel. Land grabbing, refugees, genocide. That resulted in 1948 in al Nakba.
    Nothing has changed!

  • Stella

    Excellent – thank you.

  • Amir Goy

    Sorry Liz…there is no great ‘irony’ here at all. If the young ‘Chosen’ one has indeed been faithfully studying his Talmud, he’ll know that others not of his kind are to be regarded as ‘lower’ life forms, much like cattle or insects… and can be abused, cheated, robbed, or even murdered with impunity.

  • bystander

    For me, the power of this photograph occurs in the recognition of how intensely personal this humiliation is, and was meant to be. There are no abstractions or generalizations behind which to hide. Caught by the cameral lens, moment it time, this is a male youth assaulting a vulnerable older woman. You are correct, Michael, to point out the familiar choreography; the dance has been ritualized.

  • Gasho

    This is a very very emotional shot. I want to take it to my friends, coworkers and others who are “pro Israel” and support various AIPAC type organizations just because they are jews and Israel is the homeland and their unquestioning support is a given. Go to them and say – “how does this make you feel”? I have great sympathy for the Palestinians.
    The ritualization of this kind of violence is interesting to point out. We’ve been trained, too, I think. Trained to think that the “Israel/Palestinian Issue” is too complex to really get to the bottom of. It’s been going on forever and both sides have committed such harm that there is no way to take sides – so we shouldn’t speak up, but rather just let it play out.. Well, I’ve got to say that I’m sympathizing more and more with the Palestinian people and the more I read from intelligent people (Juan Cole comes to mind) the less and less I feel I can put up with the Israeli violence.
    War criminals everywhere need to be called out and prosecuted. If Israel is committing war crimes, which the international community says that it is, then it needs to be held accountable. The majority of the Bush era characters need to face the same inquiries and consequences. Until the international community finds the strength to carry out these trials and clean up the evil messes that are infesting the world political scene there won’t be any movement towards a more just world – only further deterioration of our moral fiber and descent into the ugly side of human nature.

  • Rima

    Is there some special significance in throwing wine at someone? Would water, coffee, or 7-Up have been equally contemptuous?

  • Heron

    Observant Muslims do not drink alcohol. I think the intent is a sort of “defilement”.

  • Michael Shaw (The BAG)

    I’d love to take credit for this post, but it’s authored by Bob Hariman, chair of the Department of Communication Studies at Northwestern. Bob and John Lucaites, co-authors of the wonderful No Caption Needed book and blog, are contributers to BNN.

  • Michaeldg

    Wow- Are you saying that all religious Jews who have studied the talmud are instructed to treat non-Jews an nonhuman? Was that before or after the talmudic passage that instructs on the use of a gentile child’s blood for the making of matzoh?

  • g

    I’m curious too. Is wine typically carried on the street? Was this an impulse act while carrying a drink, or did the young man take it out into public with him intending to use it this way?

  • Wordsmith

    Or is it a feather? When I first looked at this I thought it a feather.

  • bystander

    Thanks Michael. My visceral response got the better of me. Appreciate the correction and kudos to Bob Hariman. Also, appreciate the additional links. Maybe my gaffe had a silver lining, after all.

  • Reactionary

    “Or they could be an African-American woman and a young cracker in the Jim Crow South, or any other tableau that depicts the small details of domination.”
    Cracker is disparaging and offensive. Why use it?

  • DennisQ

    What makes this picture so horrifying for BagNews Notes readers is that the arc of the blood-red wine is the same as the arc of the scythe of the Grim Reaper, posted a few days ago.

  • John Engleheart

    And we support Isreal. It’s not rocket science to figure out why WE (the USA) are hated in the middle east and why there is terrerism directed against us.
    Maybe that’s too simple for some folks.

  • Russ Nichols

    The wine looks kind of like a whip to me.
    I think these kinds of Israelis are acting the way abused children act when they grow up. The Jews were abused by the Nazis, and now they — as a people, carrying the historical memory of that abuse — are now the abusers.

  • Smgumby

    This childs grandfather may have been abused by the Nazis, using that as an excuse for this kind of institutionalized violence and racism is beyond twisted.

  • Amir Goy

    Sanhedrin 57a: “‘With respect to robbery–if one stole or robbed or (seized) a beautiful woman, or (committed) similar offenses, if (these were perpetrated) by one Cuthean [Gentile] against another, (the theft, etc.) must not be kept, and likewise (the theft) of an Israelite by a Cuthean, but that of a Cuthean by an Israelite may be retained’? . . . ‘For murder, whether of a Cuthean by a Cuthean, or of an Israelite by a Cuthean, punishment is incurred; but of a Cuthean by an Israelite, there is no death penalty’?” Footnote 5: “‘Cuthean’ (Samaritan) was here substituted by the censor for the original goy (heathen) [non-Jew]” (emphasis added).

  • Michaeldg

    I am no Talmudic scholar, but when I google your quote and see it come up on Neonazi websites ( it certainly makes me suspect as to who has found this passage and what their motives in using this fragment are.

  • Amir Goy

    If one, as I, bothers to look, this particular passage can be found in other places besides ‘Neonazi’ websites. It certainly makes me suspect…as you do not or cannot refute the existence of the passage itself…and just what your motives are in trying to tar/link the messenger with ‘the usual culprits’.

  • yg

    while sectarian tensions are a factor, i also see this as men vs. women. how many stories have we heard of muslim men throwing acid in women’s faces? men are dicks the world over, no matter their religion.

  • yg

    racists deserve to be disparaged.

  • Michaeldg

    I don’t own a 27 volume set of the Talmud and I suspect that most of the visitors to the bag (including you) don’t either. So we are being fed these kinds of snippets from someone who dug it up and have no way to put it in context. Was this passage a commentary of one scholar out of the seven that interpret each sentence in the torah or is this a consensus attitude of several scholars? I think that if I learned that a line of argument that I was diseminating was also being put forward by neonazis, it would give me considerable pause and I would thoroughly research whether this quote indeed exists and in what context it is used. I’m sure we can go through Koranic Fatwah’s and find some that sound pretty bad in isolation, but that should not tarnish the moral reputation of all Muslims.

  • asdfasdf

    My first reaction was that it was a Taliban assaulting a woman in a Burka. It’s hard to tell the crazies apart.

  • Reactionary

    To acknowledge a stereotype using offensive slang without the same scrutiny is equally racist.

  • Candyce

    It’s shocking on many levels. Her age, and his. The look on his face, and the fact that she is hiding hers. He thinks she is merely garbage. His obvious piety, which is not afforded to a Palestinian. He’s so nonchalant. There’s no anger there. It’s as if this act is normal, common behavior. Common indeed. There is no difference between this and acts carried out against Blacks not long ago in America. It is racist, horrible. This woman is just a woman. She has never hurt this boy. Her body posture saddens me. She turns and keeps walking, as if she expects this in her life.
    I ramble because I can’t really put together words that add much to this picture. It speaks for itself.

  • jtfromBC

    great pic Robert,reminded me of the line
    Man’s inhumanity to man
    “Many and sharp the numerous ills,
    Inwoven with our frame!
    More pointed still we make ourselves,
    Regret, remorse, and shame!
    And man, whose heaven-erected face
    The smiles of love adorn,
    *Man’s inhumanity to man*
    Makes countless thousands mourn!
    from; Man Was Made to Mourn – Robert Burns (1759-1796

  • J.D.Connell

    Not only is this woman being assaulted by a young man, but she has erased herself in clothing from head to foot. This photograph makes me furious.

  • Exuma

    I have been watching your site to see if you covered this photo. It is an incredible narative, all in one shot.
    My immediate reaction was how similar it was to the photos of the treatment of Jews by antisemites in Europe leading up to WWII.
    How sad.

  • nwgal

    I’m with Michael. Unless Amir can demonstrate that he/she knows something about the Talmud, one has to take the isolated passage, which happens to be associated with the neonazis, with a (large) grain of salt.

  • Enoch Root

    At first I thought this was a picture of an acid throwing assault. Stereotypically, that kind of assault happens when fanatics think a woman isn’t wearing hijab. So here we have an irony; she appears to be wearing some sort of scarf on her head, but the boy still attacks her.

  • Michaeldg

    A consultation with Wikipedia reveals some informative passages (
    By selectively citing various passages from the Talmud and Midrash, polemicists have sought to demonstrate that Judaism espouses hatred for non-Jews (and specifically for Christians), and promotes obscenity, sexual perversion, and other immoral behavior. To make these passages serve their purposes, these polemicists frequently mistranslate them or cite them out of context (wholesale fabrication of passages is not unknown)…
    In distorting the normative meanings of rabbinic texts, anti-Talmud writers frequently remove passages from their textual and historical contexts. Even when they present their citations accurately, they judge the passages based on contemporary moral standards, ignoring the fact that the majority of these passages were composed close to two thousand years ago by people living in cultures radically different from our own. They are thus able to ignore Judaism’s long history of social progress and paint it instead as a primitive and parochial religion.
    Those who attack the Talmud frequently cite ancient rabbinic sources without noting subsequent developments in Jewish thought, and without making a good-faith effort to consult with contemporary Jewish authorities who can explain the role of these sources in normative Jewish thought and practice.
    —Anti-Defamation League, The Talmud in Anti-Semitic Polemics

  • Banji Lawal

    About the talmudic passage that Amir wrote about; of course there are such ethnocentric and racist passages in the talmud, just like in the bible, qur’an and most of the world’s other religious texts.
    If someone does believe that their religious text is inerrant they might also think those outside the faith are less human. Fortunately most theists have the good sense to know such views are crazy bullshit at some level and instead try and espouse their religion’s other teaching about treating everyone in a civilized manner.
    All religions that i know of are full of contradictions so that hateful people, politicians, conservatives, racists are able to justify their actions by claiming their faith dictates it just as much as antiracists, progressives, animal rights activists, homeless advocates, and other left leaning humanitarians.

  • slug

    obviously an act of pure ignorance…i can’t see any reason to treat another human in such a way!

  • jad

    Every non-jew is a goyim or gentile…and according to the Talmud Jews are free to anything they want with a Goyim…Actually it is obligatory to treat Gentiles with humiliation and as slaves…

  • CM

    All i can say is Shame on those people who are discussing the composition of this picture… instead of realizing the the sensitivity of this picture, all they can see is the composition.

  • Yes

    At first glance I thought it was a PETA member splashing pig’s blood on someone wearing a fur coat.

  • Goy

    What has the Talmud “gone on to say” about the possibility of killing their own Messiah? Has it been “updated” to address the fact hat roughly only 2% of all Jews are “practicing” Jews?

  • Joe Blow

    its so odd. the casual yet deliberate action. The amount of wine appears to me that whatever small cup he had in his hand would have been full. So he was walking in the street looking for someone to throw wine on?
    was he waiting for an old woman? are the men all fled or arrested? was the man alone? is this something he/they often does?
    and I saw this picture “real time” when it was published and thought immediately of the absolute fact that the ultra-orthodox jews really have no use or acceptance of the people that have lived on the land for 1,000 years. They do know that GOD has given them this land and that all others must be driven out. Its GODS will so any action taken in that cause is sanctioned by God and thus not only accepted but required.

  • yoni

    thanks michael for the small research. it was in place… seeing judaism as the prob is purely racist.

  • [email protected]

    so did I miss something, I don’t see a “jew” passport or ID on the guy. Maybe he is an arab pissed with his mom?
    You are a bunch of anti fucking semites

  • Amaris08

    The photos that truly shocked me were of the Fogels and their bloody massacre by the 2 palestinian teens. Now that was truly shocking. Oh, and lets not forget the Hatuels, and Shelhevet Pass, and Daniel Viflic, well for that matter all these - 

    Who’s trying for domination through terrorism?

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