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Reports of sexual violence horrify nation

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6 December 2023, The Age / New York Times, by Jeffrey Gettleman

TEL AVIV: From the first days after the October 7 attacks on Israel, Israel has accused Hamas terrorists of committing widespread sexual violence.

Israeli authorities say they are investigating reports of sexual assault and have compiled considerable evidence – from witnesses, emergency workers and crime scene photographs – showing that they took place.

But they say it has been extremely difficult to collect the evidence because most of the victims are dead. Many activists say that too little credence has been given to what they believe was a pattern of widespread rape during the attacks by Hamas.

Activists have complained that some news outlets questioned the veracity of the allegations and that international organisations such as the United Nations were too slow to speak up about the issue.

Hamas officials have denied the reports of sexual violence and said that any atrocities were committed by other armed groups that poured into Israel after Hamas fighters breached the barrier fence surrounding the Gaza Strip. But extensive witness testimony and documentary evidence of killings, including videos posted by Hamas fighters themselves, support the allegations. This is what we know.

Mass Rape Accusations

Meni Binyamin, the head of the International Crime Investigations Unit of the Israeli police, said that ‘‘dozens’’ of women and some men were raped by Hamas militants on October 7.

‘‘We are investigating sexual crimes against both women and men perpetrated by Hamas terrorists,’’ Binyamin said. ‘‘There were violent rape incidents, the most extreme sexual abuses we have seen, of both women and men. I am talking about dozens. This is an ongoing investigation,’’ he added. ‘‘I cannot get into details.’’

Binyamin said investigators had gathered ‘‘tens of thousands’’ of testimonies from survivors and witnesses of the attack, as well as from soldiers and emergency medical workers. He said intelligence officers were combing through video footage and photographs of the Hamas incursion. They have not shared any information about interviewing victims of rape.

Autopsies, forensic evidence and confessions from captured Hamas fighters also corroborate that sexual crimes were committed, he said.

Israeli authorities have released little information about specific crimes and victims, but in mid-November, police shared a video of an Israeli woman who said she had watched Hamas terrorists gangraping a young woman whom they captured during a music festival.

The witness, whom police did not identify, said she had been hiding during the festival and had seen Hamas terrorists taking turns raping a young woman, mutilating her and then shooting her in the head. Her testimony was consistent with other witness accounts from the music festival.

Top Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have accused Hamas of using rape as part of a broader campaign of atrocities.

Lack of condemnation

Women’s rights activists have expressed dismay about what they see as a lack of credence given to claims that sexual assault was widespread on October 7. So far, no survivors of rape or assault have spoken publicly about their experiences.

‘‘We’ve come so far in believing survivors of rape and assault in so many situations,’’ wrote former Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, a leading voice on women in the workplace, in an opinion piece for CNN. ‘‘Yet this time, many are ignoring the stories that these bodies tell us about how these women spent the last moments of their lives. Not loudly condemning the rapes of October 7 – or any rapes – is a massive step backward for the women – and men – of the world.’’

Many in Israel and elsewhere have complained that it took too long for organisations like the UN to issue condemnations, a delay they took to imply that the initial reports of sex crimes had not been believed.

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Article source: The Age / New York Times | Jeffrey Gettleman | 6.12.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000