Where Are the International Women’s Organizations as the Shocking Scale of Hamas’s Sexual Violence Against Israeli Women on October 7 Becomes Horrifyingly Clear?

‘They failed us,’ one distinguished scholar says of international women’s rights groups who have refused to call out the atrocities. ‘They failed us.’

A captured Israeli civilian seized by Hamas from Kibbutz Kfar Azza into the Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. AP

One of the first videos uploaded to social media of the Hamas terrorist attacks on October 7 showed the kidnapping of a 26-year-old Israeli, Noa Argamani, on the back of a motorcycle as she reaches out and screams, “Don’t kill me!”

Another was of 23-year-old German national, Shani Louk, whose partially clothed, contorted body in the back of a pickup truck led to speculation she was already dead. The Israeli government later confirmed she was beheaded. A third video showed Hamas terrorists dragging  a 19-year-old Israeli, Na’ama Levy, out of a Jeep in Gaza, her arms tied behind her back, blood pooling between the legs of her gray sweatpants.

The targeting of civilians — and women in particular — was clear from day one of this war. Hamas members posted their savagery online for the world to see. Yet those first videos were only the tip of the iceberg. In the weeks since the October 7 attacks, more evidence has come to light that Hamas intentionally used rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war. Rape is a war crime and a violation of international human rights law. So where are the major international women’s rights organizations in condemning it?

UN Women, the United Nations’s leading organization for the protection of women’s rights internationally, issued its first statement on the Hamas attacks on October 13. There is no mention of Hamas in the statement. There is no mention of sexual violence. It does call for the “immediate release of the hostages,” but the majority of the text is devoted to the “dire” situation in Gaza.

“Within a month following the Russian invasion to Ukraine, UN Women expressed grave concern over evidence of rapes and other conflict related sexual violence and called for an investigation into these allegations. Likewise, they reacted immediately to the reports of rapes of Yazidi women by ISIS, which was referred to as a terrorist group,” a professor and academic director of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women at Bar-Ilan University, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, tells the Sun. “Their failure to acknowledge what actually took place on October 7 adds fuel to the propaganda, to the campaign of denial, in which we find ourselves now.”

A UN Women statement released on October 20 calls for a ceasefire and again doesn’t name Hamas. The statement, though, does address “depression levels” from “a deep sense of hopelessness” in Gaza.

Another of the leading United Nations women’s rights organizations, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, issued a similarly equivocating statement on October 27, condemning “the escalating violence in the Middle East” and calling “upon all parties to systematically address the gender dimension of the conflict.” Hamas is not mentioned. Neither is rape. Like UN Women, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women calls for “peace talks” and a ceasefire.

Ms. Halperin-Kaddari is a former vice president of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. At a Harvard Medical School symposium over the weekend, a group of Israeli panelists, including Ms. Halperin-Kaddari, called out these international women’s rights organizations for their failure to recognize and condemn gender-based war crimes committed by Hamas.

“I could never understand how Holocaust denial could actually take place. And what we are now experiencing is a denial of the most atrocious events that took place only a month ago, and were filmed in real time and broadcast in real time,” Ms. Halperin-Kaddari said at the Harvard event.

“By turning a blind eye to the October 7 massacre, and to the unprecedented and premeditated extreme cruelty of the sexual violence committed by Hamas, these UN bodies not only fail us, but they undermine the purpose for which they were established, and in fact undermine the whole International Human Rights system,” Ms. Halperin-Kaddari tells the Sun.

One panelist at the Harvard event, Cochav Elkayam-Levy, a human rights and international relations professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, detailed the evidence of gender-based war crimes committed by Hamas. She tells the Sun she only listed the sexual crimes her organization, the Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas Against Women and Children, has independently verified through video evidence, eyewitness testimonies of survivors, reports from examinations of bodies at morgues, captured Hamas terrorist interviews, and first responders’ reports.

The list is exhaustive and difficult to read, but the panelists stressed the importance of informing the world that these crimes occurred. Already, leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and other Palestinian rights supporters are denying Hamas committed sexual violence.

The evidence Ms. Elkayam-Levy has seen proves otherwise: Footage released by Hamas shows a dead woman at the Nova music festival, her clothes stripped from the waist down, legs spread apart, and her body partly burned. Another photograph from the festival shows a dead woman stripped from the waist down, her underwear torn and hanging on one leg. Another video shows terrorists torturing a pregnant woman, cutting off her breasts and slashing open her stomach to remove the fetus — all while she is still alive, bound and gagged.

Testimonies from survivors also recount gang rapes. Morgue reports detail “many mutilated corpses” with “genitals cut off, heads cut off.” Several bodies were so brutally raped that their pelvises were broken.

A paramedic who responded to Kibbutz Be’eri reported finding the body of a 14- or 15-year-old girl lying on her stomach with her pants pulled down, legs spread apart, and sperm still visible on her back. This is just one of multiple accounts from first responders detailing evidence of sexual-based violence.

Interviews with captured Hamas terrorists show that rape was part of the plan. A notebook found on a dead Hamas terrorist contains a translation key for how to say “take your pants off” in Hebrew.

In a video of an interrogation released by the Israeli Defense Forces, a Hamas terrorist says, “The plan was to go from home to home, from room to room, to throw grenades and kill everyone, including women and children. … Hamas ordered us to crush their heads and cut them off, [and] to cut their legs.”

In another interrogation video, a Hamas terrorist is asked what the plans are for the abducted women. “I’m telling you, to whore them, rape them, hurt them … interrogate them, whatever they feel like doing,” the terrorist responds.

“They made sure it will be the most brutal possible. Burning women alive. Burning women with their children. Murdering kids and families in shelter,” Ms. Elkayam-Levy tells the Sun. “The atrocities are well documented, well known. And the investigation is important, but it doesn’t need to confirm that there were war crimes and crimes against humanity that happened here. That is already obvious.”

Ms. Elkayam-Levy, Ms. Halperin-Kaddari, and more than 100 academics, human rights activists, and members of non-governmental organizations from multiple countries signed a letter to UN Women calling on the organization to “condemn and investigate Hamas’s gender-based war crimes committed against women, children, and babies as well as heinous wide-spread sexual violence offenses committed against women and girls.” The letter also calls for the immediate release of the hostages.

Although Ms. Elkayam-Levy worked with UN Women prior to October 7 — advocating for Israeli and Palestinian women’s rights — she says she didn’t get a response from the group for weeks. “UN Women is just not even reporting on what happened, not even referring to the information,” she says.

UN Women did not return the Sun’s request for comment.

This was one of several letters, petitions, and in-person appeals to UN Women, CEDAW, and other United Nations committees calling for recognition and condemnation of gender-based war crimes committed by Hamas. Ms. Elkayam-Levy says there are three stages international human rights organizations undertake where there are war crimes: recognition, condemnation, and action. The problem here is that these groups seem unwilling to even engage in step one.

When asked whether she thinks UN Women’s or CEDAW’s statements would look different were the attack on any country other than Israel, Ms. Elkayam-Levy responded, “Of course.” She says Unicef and other organizations for the rights of children are also responding with the same downplaying of atrocities committed by Hamas and forced equating of October 7 with the struggle of Palestinians in Gaza.

The Israeli government is collecting evidence of sexual assaults committed by Hamas. Yet Palestinian supporters may doubt whatever evidence they collect. A prime example of this is what happened after reports were released that the IDF found 40 beheaded babies at a kibbutz. That spawned a week of online fights and media skepticism over whether it was 40 babies, whether the babies were beheaded or just murdered, or whether any babies died at all. When photos of charred infant bodies were released by the Israeli government, instead of remarking on the sheer barbarity of such violence, the response in many corners was that the heads of the infants pictured were still connected to their bodies.

Ms. Elkayam-Levy founded the Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas Against Women and Children to document, verify, and distribute evidence of gender-based crimes against women and children so that these crimes don’t get lost to history. 

This group of academics, women’s rights activists, and international human rights professionals is picking up the slack where they say the international community is now failing. Survivors of October 7 may later use this information for prosecutions in the International Criminal Court.  

“International standards and norms are rendered meaningless if they don’t apply to all victims and enforced upon all perpetrators. Such silence is not just deafening, it is damning,” Ms. Elkayam-Levy says.

“For years, I am teaching my students to believe in the human rights system, to explain the procedures, to explain their importance,” Ms. Elkayam-Levy says. “And now it really feels like they failed us. They failed us.”

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use