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From #MeToo to blanket denial



On 7 October 2023, an apocalypse of sexual violence was unleashed by Hamas terrorists on Israeli citizens in the south of Israel. The immediate visceral response of the world was one of horror and repugnance.

Sadly, this was short lived as the narrative quickly turned in favour of Hamas in its “fight for freedom”. In a puff of smoke, the progress made by women’s organisations in fighting gender-based violence across the globe disappeared into thin air.

The #MeToo movement’s core message of “believe the victim” was silenced. However, this didn’t apply to all women, only to certain women. “#MeToounlessyouareaJew” became the lived reality for Jews everywhere.

When it comes to the Israeli victims of Hamas’s sexual atrocities, there’s default disbelief. In fact, the message conveyed was that without rape pictures or a viewing of dead bodies, one must believe there was no rape. Never in history has the burden of proof for rape been set so high. The denials border on the absurd.

As one would do in any criminal case, let’s look at the evidence. Hamas terrorists proudly and gleefully shared videos of the rapes and sexual assaults across all social media platforms on 7 October. They even went so far as to send videos to the family members of their victims. Pictures of women with bloodied crotches have become an iconic symbol of these sexual crimes.

The recent report by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel provides evidence of systematic and widespread sexual crimes. As quoted in the report, “several survivors of the massacre provided eyewitness testimony of gang rape, where women were abused and handled between multiple terrorists who beat, injured, and ultimately killed them”.

Personnel who treated and removed the bodies testified about “many bodies arriving partially clothed or unclothed, heavy bleeding from the pelvic area, and mutilation of genital organs”.

Many of the victims were raped, tortured, and then murdered, so the full extent of the brutality will never be known. Add to this that most survivors of sexual violence take on average 20 to 30 years to talk about their ordeal while many will take their secret to the grave.

What the #MeToo movement gave to the world was the empowerment of survivors of sexual assault and rape to come forward with a higher chance of being believed and reaching a successful outcome in a criminal prosecution. Israeli victims, however, have had the bar of the burden of proof raised to impossible heights. Meeting this insane burden of proof has been almost impossible due to the entrenched narrative of denialism and refusal to engage with the facts.

This burden of proof is further complicated by the cultural and religious norms that govern the handling of Jewish bodies for burial. In Jewish law, the body is considered to be holy, and is treated accordingly, with burial taking place as soon as possible. Once the forensic examinations had been completed, the bodies were returned to the families for burial.

The denial of these atrocities is evident in the macabre demands to view the bodies, which flies in the face of international protocols. Mutilated bodies are never released to the public to be viewed.

In fact, in South Africa, bodies generally are examined and buried on the same day or a day or two after they have been brought to the morgue. In the Hindu tradition, cremation is carried out on the same day, and in Islam, burial is usually within 24 hours of death.

This denialism is clearly seen in the assertion by Basem Naim, a Hamas official, that “using rape or assault as a weapon of war would go against founding Islamic principles. Any sexual relationship or activity is considered completely haram – forbidden by Islam”.

Here we see a complete unwillingness to contemplate the idea that Hamas could have perpetrated these heinous crimes. It becomes clear that this is a case of cognitive dissonance, which is the mental discomfort which results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. Hence, accepting the reality of these acts by Hamas may cause an internal struggle for those who align themselves with its cause.

In addition, we live in a country where people identify with a victim mentality, where only those disadvantaged and historically oppressed can be seen as legitimate victims. Israeli citizens, be they men, women, or children, who don’t fit this description, can simply never be victims. This is competitive victimhood, and there’s no winning side.

As we know, no person’s suffering should be measured against any other person’s suffering. It can be extremely destructive and dehumanising to make comparisons.

Meanwhile in South Africa, Department of International Relations and Cooperation Minister Dr Naledi Pandor never ceases to surprise us with her theatrics – namely her recent about-turn, stating that Hamas should be tried for war crimes.

We ask which war crimes she’s referring to specifically? This past Monday, 4 March, a report was released by United Nations Special Representative Pramila Patten detailing the rapes, gang rapes, sexual assaults, and sexualised torture of Israeli citizens on 7 October, as well as the ongoing sexual crimes being committed against female and child hostages.

Do these systematic and premeditated acts fall under the banner of Pandor’s definition of war crimes, and will there be a blanket condemnation?

Furthermore, will our government push for the prosecution of these war criminals in the same way that it has determinedly pushed its case against Israel in the International Court of Justice?

It would be dangerous to hold our breath.

  • Wendy Hendler is the co-founder and director of Koleinu SA, the helpline for victims of abuse in the South African Jewish community. The helpline number is 011 264 0341, operating on Sunday to Thursday, from 09:00 to 22:00, and after Shabbat until midnight.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Michael Rosenberg

    Mar 14, 2024 at 10:58 am

    I’m shocked that no one finds this very convenient
    7 October 2023 Will be come Israel’s 9/11. Already questions are being asked as to how could this happen
    Quite simply it had to happen, or at least be made to happen, and for various reasons
    The reason that has had the biggest impression on me, relates to how quickly the planneddemic is being forgotten
    Even the Jewish Report was complicit in the biggest crime in human history, giving their platform over to so called experts in their field convincing as many of us as possible to put pins in our own eyes
    Why have I not seen any information on excess deaths, misarrange rates, surge in cancer and tumours
    I find it horrifying that the supposedly highest IQ populace is nothing but a heard of blind sheep
    Don’t worry before anyone has time to comprehend that they are being played, we will be into the next crisis
    I can’t wait to see what the next headlines will read, WWW3 or more likely a major internet or banking crisis
    Lets see what can exceed the anger and fear of 7/10

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