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Hamas' Most Horrific Weapon of War: 5 Takeaways from UN Report on Sexual Violence Against Israelis

16 March 2024



2024-03-16 0052

Just days before International Women’s Day and five months after the Hamas terror attacks on Israel, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict issued a report validating the heinous and sadistic crimes committed against women during the October 7 terror attacks and against hostages held by Hamas since that day.

This report, the first UN assessment to affirm, and not only recount, allegations of sexual violence committed on October 7, found that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Israeli women were victims of rape, “sexualized torture,” and other cruel and inhumane treatment during the terror attack.

The 23-page report also concluded that there is “clear and convincing information” that sexual violence continues to be committed against hostages and called for Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release them.

Since the October 7 attack, when Hamas murdered more than 1,200 Israelis and took more than 240 hostages, Israeli women have faced doubts and questions about the brutality and sexual violence they suffered. The UN report counters those deniers’ appalling claims with details that leave no room for doubt.

“Horrific crimes took place on the 7th of October,” said the UN envoy, Under-Secretary-General Pramila Patten. Really, really horrific crimes.”

Here are five things to know about the report.

1. Examiners found evidence that conflict-related sexual violence took place on October 7.

The UN envoy’s 17-day mission to Israel included meetings with Israeli national institutions, Israeli security forces, and witnesses and visits to the Israeli National Center of Forensic Medicine, the Shura military base, the morgue that received victims’ bodies, and sites targeted by Hamas on October 7.

What did she and her team find there? A pattern of victims, mostly women, fully or partially naked, bound and shot across Hamas’ killing fields that day.

In addition, the team found “reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred,” including rape and gang-rape at the Nova Music Festival, where 360 festivalgoers were massacred and dozens taken hostage, Road 232 (the route many festivalgoers took to try to escape), and Kibbutz Re’im, where residents were trapped for more than 24 hours during the Hamas rampage. In most of the incidents, there were no survivors to testify. Victims were raped and then murdered.

The report distributed to the public did not recount some of the confidential and graphic details shared with the UN from the more than 5,000 photographs and 50 hours of footage reviewed. But publicly available videos, some filmed and disseminated by the terrorists themselves, do bear witness. Video recordings show 22-year-old German-Israeli Shani Louk half-naked in the back of a pickup truck being paraded through Gaza amid cheers. Sadly, Louk has been confirmed dead.

2. There is “clear and convincing information” that sexual violence continues and hostages are still at risk.

The UN envoy found “clear and convincing information” that sexual violence, including rape, sexualized torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, has been committed against hostages and “reasonable grounds” to believe that such violence may be ongoing against those still held in captivity by Hamas.

Israel believes that 134 hostages remain in Gaza, including two children and up to 19 women. Although Israeli officials estimate that Hamas has murdered at least 32 of the remaining 134 hostages.

Another publicly available video not specified in the report shows 19-year-old Naama Levy, a resident of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, being dragged into a vehicle by an armed terrorist, her gray sweatpants soaked with blood below her waist. Levy is still a hostage.

Patten called on Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release all individuals held in captivity and to ensure their protection, including from sexual violence. Every government should demand the same.

3. The UN report should put to rest deniers’ appalling claims that allegations of sexual violence by Hamas on October 7 are unsupported.

Israeli and Jewish women felt utterly betrayed when the obscene crimes committed by Hamas terrorists were initially met with silence from many human rights and feminist advocates.

Amid dozens of Instagram posts condemning Israel’s retaliation since October 7, UN Women – the official arm of the UN focused on promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment – posted twice: once to say the group was “alarmed by reports of gender-based violence” on that day and again two months later to condemn gender-based violence in general. The group notoriously deleted a post condemning the Hamas terror attacks, before posting a statement on its website.

Today, some public figures continue to expressly deny that Hamas engaged in acts of sexual violence on October 7; others who have not denied the allegations have simultaneously refused to condemn them, even as more details of witnesses’ testimony have been made publicly available. This denial not only deepens Israeli victims’ trauma but also contributes to the spread of antisemitic hostility that has occurred worldwide following Israel’s military response to Hamas’s attacks.

The silence sparked outcry from celebrities and on social media, much of it branded with the hashtag #MeTooUNlessURaJew. Author and former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg has teamed up with an Israeli filmmaker to create a one-hour documentary about Hamas’ sexual atrocities in which she interviews eyewitnesses, freed hostages, and first responders.

During her visit to Israel, Under-Secretary-General Patten acknowledged the betrayal many women felt, saying “I saw things here that I have not seen anywhere in the world. … Only when I am here do I understand the magnitude of the pain, the insult and the anger of Israel regarding how the world did not sufficiently understand and treat the atrocities that happened to you.” Her report should make it undisputable that no reasonable person can deny that Israelis were victims of sexual violence on October 7.

4. Hamas’ use of sexual violence as a weapon of war is clear.

The UN team that accompanied SRSG Patten to Israel and prepared the report were not charged with identifying the identities or affiliations of the perpetrators of the sexual violence accounts they reviewed. A task of this complexity would have required a far longer mission.

However, the UN team found, and the SRSG’s report asserts, that the horrific crimes committed in Israel on 10/7 followed similar patterns and were committed simultaneously in multiple locations during Hamas’s meticulously planned operation. Thus, the UN report leaves little doubt that Hamas not only committed sexual violence, but that it deliberately undertook a campaign of sexual terror against Israelis, both the immediate victims and the Israeli public at large.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog commended the UN report for substantiating “with moral clarity and integrity the systematic, premeditated, and ongoing sexual crimes committed by Hamas terrorists against Israeli women.”

“Therefore, now the world must react strongly by condemning and punishing Hamas,” Herzog posted to X, formerly known as Twitter. “We must all continue our relentless efforts to bring all the hostages home to their families. As we can learn from the report, they are constantly under clear and present danger.”

5. Hamas must be held accountable.

Rather than wait for the UN envoy to present the findings as part of her annual report on conflict-related violence later this year, the UN Security Council convened a formal meeting on March 11 at the request of  the U.S., United Kingdom, France, and Japan.

The responsibility now falls to governments to amplify its disturbing conclusions and hold Hamas accountable for its horrific atrocities on October 7, including but not limited to the sexual violence affirmed in the report.

Their most immediate priority, though, must be to bring the remaining hostages home.

There are 19 women still being held in Gaza. Fourteen are presumed alive: Liri Albag, Noa Argamani, Karina Ariev, Agam Berger, Shiri Bibas, Amit Buskila, Emily Damari, Carmel Gat, Daniella Gilboa, Romi Gonen, Naama Levy, Doron Steinbrecher, Arbel Yehud, and Eden Yerushalmi. Five are confirmed dead, but their bodies are still being held: Maya Goren, Ofra Keidar, Shani Louk, Inbar Heiman, and Judith Weinstein-Haggai.

The UN report expresses grave concern that the hostages face an ongoing risk of sexual violence for as long as they remain in captivity.

“The families and relatives of hostages are enduring a nightmare,” Patten told the Council. “I saw the pain in their eyes and as a mother I could feel their anguish and heartache. I invite you all for a few seconds to put yourselves in the shoes of these families … What do we tell them?”

At that meeting, Hamas’ use of sexual violence as a weapon of war was condemned by several representatives of Security Council’s 15 member states, but none more stridently than U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

“The evidence before us is damning and devastating,” she said. “Now, the only question is: How will we respond? Will this Council finally, finally, finally condemn Hamas’ sexual violence? Or will we continue to stay silent?

She also called on Hamas to accept the terms of the U.S.-facilitated ceasefire deal to which Israel already has agreed.

All governments should reiterate the UN report’s central recommendation to Hamas: release the hostages, unconditionally and immediately. They also should affirm that the use of sexual violence as a weapon is a war crime that will not be tolerated, no matter where it occurs.

In addition, governments that have not yet designated Hamas as a terror group and have prevented the UN Security Council from doing so should urgently reconsider.

No government should be permitted to provide support of any kind to an entity capable of carrying out the brutal sexual violence Israelis experienced on and since October 7. The new UN report’s confirmation of the graphic terror inflicted by Hamas on Israelis should ensure Hamas is never again able to launch such an attack.

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