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Hamas’ use of rape as a weapon of war must be condemned

(Alamy)

4 min read

The voices of women in war have long been silenced. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Amid the multiple atrocities of Hamas’ attacks on southern Israel on 7 October, a truly horrifying picture of a systematic campaign of rape, torture, murder and mutilation has emerged. Shockingly, however, the international community has failed to clearly and unequivocally speak out against these crimes. 

The evidence of this campaign of mass sexual violence comes from eyewitnesses, first responders and morgue workers. A first responder at Kibbutz Be’eri testified to finding “piles and piles” of dead women “completely naked” from the waist down. 

The fact that sexual violence was committed at multiple locations suggests it was part of a systematic effort

Rami Shmuel, an organiser of the Supernova music festival, where Hamas murdered over 360 Israelis, spoke of seeing female victims with no clothes as he made his escape. “Their legs were spread out and some of them were butchered,” he recalled. “Why didn’t they [take] clothes off men? Only women, only young girls, beautiful girls, why?”

Another survivor of the Supernova massacre, Yoni Saadon, recalled: “I saw this beautiful woman with the face of an angel and eight or 10 of the fighters beating and raping her … When they finished they were laughing and the last one shot her in the head.” 

The fact that sexual violence was committed at multiple locations suggests it was part of a systematic effort. As the Israeli women’s rights campaigner professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari told the BBC, such a concentration of cases in a relatively short span of time – less than a day – in numerous locations, left her in “no doubt” that there was a “premeditated plan to use sexual violence as a weapon of war”. 

While Israeli police are documenting the evidence, testimony is being gathered by the Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas Against Women and Children, which is led by Israeli women’s groups and human rights experts. 

Despite all this, it took over seven weeks for the UN secretary-general António Guterres to call for an investigation into Hamas’ sexual violence crimes. And it took UN Women a similar length of time to directly address the issue, saying it was “alarmed” by the accounts. In a particularly cruel twist, eliminating “all forms of violence against all women and girls” is one of the UN’s sustainable development goals.  

On 7 December, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary asking him what support the United Kingdom government is giving to Israel to help investigate these crimes, support survivors and bring the perpetrators to justice. I also asked whether the UK government has asked the UN secretary general and the executive director of UN Women, Sima Bahous, for an explanation as to the UN’s failure to issue a full and timely condemnation of the sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas. Finally, because sexual violence should never be an issue for women alone, I called on the government to use its remaining weeks of its term as a member of the UN Human Rights Council to raise this issue and secure a clear condemnation from members of the rape, murder and torture perpetrated against Israeli women by Hamas on 7 October. 

Tragically, Hamas’ sexual violence may actually be continuing. Reports indicate female (and male) hostages have been sexually assaulted and abused during their incarceration, while the Biden administration has raised concerns about the real reason the terror group refused, in breach of the terms of last month’s temporary ceasefire, to hand over 20 women it continues to hold.  

In recent weeks, we have seen an effort to discredit, deny and minimise Hamas’ crimes. This denial appears to have primarily been driven by the race and nationality of the victims and the state in which they occurred. Once again, the voices of women in war are being silenced. 

 

Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West

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