Israel has accused Hamas of committing abuses against large numbers of women. Hamas denies the allegations.
On Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists launched a surprise attack on Israel, breaching the barrier fence surrounding Gaza and killing hundreds of civilians and soldiers. Israel has accused Hamas of committing widespread sexual violence during the attack, based on evidence from witnesses, medical workers, crime scene photographs, autopsies, forensic analysis and confessions from captured Hamas fighters.
However, collecting and verifying the evidence has been extremely challenging, as most of the victims are dead and many of the survivors are traumatized. Some activists and Jewish women’s groups have criticized the media and the international community for being skeptical or silent about the issue. They have organized a conference at the United Nations on Monday to raise awareness and demand justice.
Hamas officials have denied the reports of sexual violence and blamed other armed groups that joined the attack. But their denial is contradicted by extensive witness testimony and documentary evidence of killings, including videos posted by Hamas fighters themselves.
Israel Accuses Hamas of Mass Rape
Meni Binyamin, the head of the International Crime Investigations Unit of the Israeli police, has said that “dozens” of women and some men were raped by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.
“We are investigating sexual crimes against both women and men perpetrated by Hamas terrorists,” Mr. Binyamin said in an interview with The New York Times. “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,” Mr. Binyamin added. “I cannot get into details.”
Mr. Binyamin said a team of 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 banks of video imagery 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.
The Israeli authorities have released little information about specific crimes and victims but in mid-November, police officials shared a video of an Israeli woman who said she had witnessed Hamas terrorists gang raping a young woman whom they captured during a music festival in the Negev desert. The witness, whom the 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.
“We’ve had hundreds massacred, families wiped out in their beds in their homes, women brutally raped and murdered,” Mr. Netanyahu said in early October.
Activists Seek Broader Condemnation
The claims of widespread sexual assault on Oct. 7 have been met with disbelief and silence by many, according to women’s rights activists. They say that no survivors of rape or assault have come forward to share their stories publicly.
Sheryl Sandberg, the former Meta executive and a prominent advocate for women in the workplace, wrote an opinion piece for CNN, saying that the lack of attention to the alleged sex crimes was a setback for the global fight against gender-based violence.
“We have made so much progress in believing survivors of rape and assault in various contexts,” Ms. Sandberg wrote. “But this time, many are turning a blind eye to the evidence that these women endured horrific abuse in their final moments.”
Ms. Sandberg urged the world to “loudly condemn the rapes of October 7 — and all rapes.”
Some people in Israel and elsewhere have criticized the delay in the response from organizations like the United Nations, which they interpreted as a sign of skepticism about the reports of sexual violence.
U.N. Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment, issued a statement last week, demanding that all cases of gender-based violence that took place on Oct. 7 be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.
“We are appalled by the numerous reports of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence during those attacks,” the entity said.
The statement followed a post by the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, on X, formerly Twitter, in which he acknowledged “numerous reports of sexual violence during the despicable acts of terror by Hamas on 7 October that must be rigorously investigated and prosecuted.”
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, posted on X on Nov. 29, saying that U.N. Women had “immediately and strongly condemned” every other massacre where such “heinous sexual crimes” were committed.
“But when Israeli women are the victims,” he added, the entity “doubts the allegations.”
Secretary Hillary Clinton’s full remarks today at the UN session led by the State of Israel on sexual and gender based violence on October 7: