A U.N. event, co-organized by Sheryl Sandberg, presented testimonies of rape and mutilation of women by Hamas terrorists in the Oct. 7 raid on Israel, and criticized the U.N. for its silence on the issue.
One woman’s body had “nails and other objects inserted into her genitals”. Another victim’s sex organs were so severely damaged that “it was impossible to tell if it was a man or a woman”.
These were some of the horrifying details shared by Simcha Greinman, a volunteer who helped recover the bodies of the victims of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, at a U.N. event on Monday.
“I saw and felt terrible things with my own eyes and hands,” he said, pausing frequently.
Shari Mendes, a member of an Israeli reserve unit that prepared the corpses of female soldiers for burial, said her team found several who were killed on Oct. 7 “with gunshot wounds to their crotch, genitals, vagina, or breasts”. Others had disfigured faces, or multiple bullets to their heads.
Israeli officials have alleged that the terrorists also committed widespread sexual violence – rape and sexual mutilation – especially against women, in addition to killing more than 1,200 people and kidnapping some 240 others on Oct. 7.
However, these atrocities have been largely ignored by human rights groups, the media, and the U.N., amid the broader conflict between Israel and Hamas. Until recently, UN Women, the U.N. agency for women’s rights, which has often advocated for the rights of Palestinian women and girls, had not specifically acknowledged or condemned the sexual violence by Hamas.
Many Israelis and Jews around the world feel betrayed by the international social justice community – women’s groups, human rights groups, liberal celebrities, and others – whose causes they have supported in other crises.
On Monday, about 800 people, including women’s activists and diplomats from about 40 countries, gathered in a hall at the U.N. headquarters in New York for a presentation that exposed the evidence of large-scale sexual violence, with testimonies from witnesses like Ms. Mendes and Mr. Greinman.
“Silence is complicity,” said Sheryl Sandberg, the former Meta executive, who was one of the main organizers of the event, along with Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. “On Oct. 7, Hamas brutally murdered 1,200 souls and in some cases, they raped their victims first,” Ms. Sandberg added. “We know this from eyewitnesses, we know this from combat paramedics, we would know this from some victims if more had been allowed to live.”
Hamas has denied that its fighters committed sex crimes, claiming that they would violate Islamic principles.
But there is ample evidence, such as the bodies of women found partially or fully naked, women with broken pelvic bones, the accounts of medical examiners and first responders, videos recorded by Hamas fighters themselves, and even a few firsthand witnesses like a woman, whose video was released by the Israeli police last month, who said she saw Hamas terrorists rape, mutilate, and shoot a young woman they had captured at a music festival.
Meni Binyamin, the chief of the International Crime Investigations Unit of the Israeli police, said in an interview that they had documented “violent rape incidents, the most extreme sexual abuses we have seen,” on Oct. 7, against women and some men. “I am talking about dozens.”
Israeli officials have not estimated how many women were sexually assaulted or mutilated. They say that forensic scientists were initially overwhelmed by the task of identifying bodies, rather than preserving evidence of rape. Few victims or eyewitnesses survived, and even fewer have spoken publicly.
UN Women Faces Criticism for Delayed Response to Hamas’s Sexual Violence Against Israeli Women
On Monday, the United Nations heard testimonies from Israeli police officials and paramedics who witnessed the horrific sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas militants against Israeli women on Oct. 7. One of the witnesses said that the attackers aimed at the women’s genitals, a pattern that was observed repeatedly.
Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the UN headquarters, denouncing the organization’s double standard and indifference towards the victims of sexual violence. They chanted, “Me too, unless you are a Jew.”
The UN, especially its agency for women’s rights, UN Women, has been the target of growing frustration and anger for its silence on the issue. Although Secretary General António Guterres condemned the Hamas massacre right away, he did not address the specific sex crimes until late November, when he called for a thorough investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.
Dr. Cochav Elkayam Levy, an Israeli law professor and the founder of a commission on the Oct. 7 crimes against women and children, said that she sent a letter to UN Women on Nov. 1, signed by dozens of scholars, urging the agency to “urgently and unequivocally condemn the massacre committed by Hamas,” and to acknowledge the use of rape as a weapon of war. She said that she received no reply from the agency.
Mr. Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, said that he also sent two letters to Sima Sami Bahous, the executive director of UN Women, along with photographs of the victims’ bodies, highlighting the use of rape by Hamas militants. He said that he got no response from the agency, not even an acknowledgement of his letters.
It was not until Nov. 25 that UN Women finally mentioned the issue on social media, saying that it was “alarmed by reports of gender-based violence on 7 October,” but without naming Hamas as the culprit.
In a statement on Monday, UN Women condemned “the abhorrent attacks by Hamas against Israel” and said that it had been “closely following reports of brutal acts of gender-based violence against women in Israel since they first came to light.”
The agency added, “We believe a full investigation is essential, so that perpetrators at all sides can be held accountable and justice can be served.”
However, the agency’s response was deemed “woefully unsatisfactory and consistent with the UN’s longstanding bias against Israel” by a bipartisan group of more than 80 members of Congress, who released a letter last week criticizing the agency.
Since the outbreak of the war, UN Women has concentrated its efforts on providing humanitarian aid and attention to girls and women in Gaza, and on advocating for a cease-fire as Israeli airstrikes caused thousands of Palestinian casualties.
Several pro-Israel members of Congress expressed their outrage at the silence of international and domestic organizations on the issue.
“I’ve been internally raging for about two months,” said Representative Lois Frankel of Florida, who leads the Democratic Women’s Caucus. “There is antisemitism involved and there are some folks who are more interested in portraying the loss of life in Gaza than highlighting the complete inhumanity and viciousness and brutality of Hamas.”
Ms. Frankel plans to introduce a House resolution later this week condemning the use of sexual violence in war and has been pushing for congressional hearings on the topic.
Senator Jacky Rosen, a Democrat from Nevada, called out UN Women for its “failure to immediately and unequivocally stand up for Israeli women.” She said that international organizations “including several on the far left, have chosen to dismiss, downplay or outright deny Hamas’s widespread use of sexual violence and rape against Israeli women on Oct. 7.”
On Monday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, delivered an emotional speech at the UN, describing the “raw footage” that she had seen that “takes your breath away with the sheer level of evil it depicts.”
“When I saw the list of women’s rights organizations that said nothing, I nearly choked,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “Where is the solidarity for women in this country and in this world to stand up for our mothers, our sisters and our daughters?”
Speaking at the U.N.’s Flag Hall, Ms. Sandberg faced the Israeli flag and expressed her grief over the tragic loss of lives. Her voice broke as she struggled to continue.
“I don’t know how to talk about this and not,” — she stopped, inhaling sharply and apologizing. She left her sentence incomplete.