Outcry over UN silence on Hamas’ rape and torture
The depraved rape, barbaric acts of torture, and gender-based violence in Israel perpetrated by Hamas terrorists on 7 October was so shocking, it has left the nation wounded and broken. However, as the country reels from the impact, the world stays silent about it.
After more than 50 days, women’s rights organisations around the world have said nothing about it, “failing even to recognise the heinous crimes many of the women faced on black Saturday”, according to Dr Cochav Elkayam-Levy, the founder of the Civil Commission on 7 October Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children.
Elkayam-Levy is an expert in international law, human rights, feminist theory, and the role of the United Nations’ (UN) human rights system, especially in relation to women’s rights during conflicts.
She points out that on the eve of the global 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, that United Nations Women and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, didn’t reveal what happened to Israeli women. In fact, over seven weeks, the Israeli civil commission received support from 160 international law and human rights experts, but there wasn’t one word from UN Women, CEDAW, or the #MeToo movement.
Chances seem slim that this will change considering their stance of indifference and, in many cases, denial, over the past seven weeks.
“The failure to condemn these shocking acts undermines the legitimacy of global institutions and allows for further violations, not just in Israel, but globally. It has left thousands of survivors behind,” said Elkayam-Levy in a recent international webinar addressing “The Unspeakable Terror: Gender-Based Violence on October 7”.
“Hamas might now be denying these war crimes, but during the attack and immediately afterwards, Hamas and its terrorists released horrific visuals of its brutal crimes. The evidence is undeniable. Yet, we find ourselves fighting a dual battle: one against these atrocities and another against global silence. As Israeli women, we feel we’re all the subject of a collective international denial,” Elkayam-Levy said.
The UN’s silence is clearly in opposition to the UN Security Council’s adoption on 31 October 2000 of resolution 1325 and the six subsequent resolutions on women, peace, and security, which made clear that women’s human rights and gender equality are central to the maintenance of international peace and security.
In these, UN agencies publicly condemn the crimes, expressing solidarity with the victims and the affected country.
As for taking concrete action, which includes supporting survivors and reiterating international standards and best practices, “this is where specific mechanisms relevant to women’s rights, such as UN Women and CEDAW are meant to play a significant role”, Elkayam-Levy said.
Elkayam-Levy and her colleagues established the commission on the eighth day of the war as more and more evidence of gruesome crimes against women and children emerged.
“Footage and videos broadcast on social media by Hamas in real time during 7 October, showed clear violations of international law and brutal crimes committed against women and children,” she said.
“To our deep surprise, in spite of what we already knew, no international recognition or condemnation specific to the crimes committed against women and children were published. Therefore, we took it upon ourselves to call for recognition and action. We also realised that these crimes must be documented and brought to the attention of the international community,” said Elkayam-Levy.
The commission is in the process of creating a credible database that will translate into several reports to ensure that the 7 October victims of sexual and other violence against women are never forgotten and that their stories are adequately told.
“Another important aspect of our work is to provide guidance to the Israeli authorities regarding the gender-based violence aspects of the investigation, including trauma-informed investigation, response to survivors, and gathering testimony on war crimes against women.”
The evidence of the magnitude of the brutality emerged as early as the morning of Saturday, 7 October, as Hamas proudly posted live images and videos of the attack on social media. Some were sent to the families of the victims using the victims’ own phones.
There’s a wide variety of sources of evidence of sexual violence and horrific gender-based crimes: videos from survivors; eyewitnesses; first responders; news reports; testimony from investigations of captured terrorists; forensic evidence from hospitals; morgues; and crime scenes.
“Sadly, we understand that the vast majority of victims of rape and other sexual assaults on 7 October, including genital mutilation, were murdered and will never be able to testify to what has been done to them,” said Elkayam-Levy.
The Israel Police has announced that the events of 7 October have resulted in the largest criminal investigation of gender-based crimes in the country’s history. The details of the police investigation have mostly not yet been released to the public.
“We predict that it will take many more months and maybe years until all relevant information is collected. We also must be mindful of the fact that due to the nature of gender-based crimes, some witnesses or survivors may find the courage to tell their stories only years later.
“Never in my life could I imagine that I would be standing in front of my academic peers to talk about gender-based war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against Israeli women and girls on such a large scale – and we expect much more to come up in the future,” Elkayam-Levy said.
“What we’ve seen in Israel were rape and gender-based crimes under clear orders and under full control. It was rape unto death, rape as massacre, rape and crimes made to kill and torture women, using them and their bodies as an instrument to force exile of those communities in Israel. It was rape to be seen and heard by others – women’s and girls’ bodies used as spectacles of victory, trophies of war. As feminist legal historian Catharine Mackinnon clearly articulated, this is rape as genocide,” she said.
“The weak, if any, response by the international community provides fertile ground for the continuing weaponisation of women’s and girls’ bodies in warfare, as we have witnessed in an unimaginable scale on 7 October. International standards and norms are rendered meaningless if they don’t apply to all victims and are enforced upon all perpetrators.
“As I said before, members of the CEDAW committee: ‘It raises the haunting question: Are Israeli women and girls protected under international law? Is there international law for them?’”
The lack of condemnation of Hamas from groups like UN Women and CEDAW and especially the #MeToo movement has resulted in a new hashtag – #MeToo_Unless_Ur_A_Jew or #metoounlessurajew.
It’s a global campaign founded by Danielle Ofek, the chief executive of P51, a social-impact venture that advocates for equal opportunities for women in the workplace, and Nataly Livski, senior marketing and business development marketer at Deloitte.
“When it comes to being a global champion for gender equality and raising awareness of human rights violations against women, it’s clear that for UN Women, and the UN as a whole, Jews simply don’t count,” the campaigners say.
The campaign’s petition aims to reach one million people.