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October 7: Rape as an instrument of genocide

Extreme violence against Jewish women were a part of Hamas's strategy that Black Shabbat, as necessary for the fulfilment of their aims as the murders and other atrocities.

Freed hostage Ofir Engel and families of Israelis still being held by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip attend a press conference for the foreign media at Kibbutz Be'eri, Dec. 20, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Freed hostage Ofir Engel and families of Israelis still being held by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip attend a press conference for the foreign media at Kibbutz Be'eri, Dec. 20, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen writes a weekly column for JNS on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Haaretz and many other publications.

As the world marked International Women’s Day on March 8, the various social-media platforms lit up with posts from pro-Israel celebrities and influencers demanding the release of the female hostages who remain in the captivity of the Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

In the depths of the sewer that is social media—with X/Twitter at the head of the pack when it comes to antisemitic and anti-Zionist barbs—these posts were a welcome tonic, providing us with a glimpse of humanity amid all the hatred and dehumanization. But what they won’t achieve is the defeat of the Oct. 7 denial trend that is being actively stoked by far-leftists (and a few far-rightists, too), Islamist sympathizers and fellow travelers, assorted minor academics, virtue-signaling Gen Z’ers and many more of the sub groups encountered on these platforms.

I was struck, as I surveyed these outpourings, by a simple realization. We—the Jewish community and the non-Jewish allies we cling to—have been stuck at the first hurdle in telling the terrible story of Oct. 7. Too many people don’t believe us. Too many people won’t believe us. The atrocities—the mass rapes and decapitations, the orgy of slaughter—are, in their fevered minds, a cynical Zionist fabrication designed to do what Zionists always do: Change the subject and shift the world’s attention from the situation on the ground in Gaza.

Just as there is no point in debating Holocaust deniers—all of whom are predisposed to the belief that the Holocaust was fabricated for the purpose of winning sympathy for Jews and Israel, but who nonetheless would embrace the opportunity to finish what Hitler started (or didn’t start!)—there is no point in debating Oct. 7 deniers. These are not people who sift through evidence with an open mind. They come from an ideologically fixed position. They are unbending.

To my mind, there is a more important task than arguing with these useful idiots. And that is securing the recognition that the bestialities carried out by Hamas were war crimes and crimes against humanity. The pogrom was a necessary, integral component of its bid to destroy what the Hamas charter calls the “Zionist project” it characterizes as “the enemy of the Arab and Islamic Ummah … a danger to international security and peace and to mankind and its interests and stability.” In other words, a program of genocide.

That perhaps explains why so many commentators sympathetic to Israel hailed the recent U.N. report confirming many of the accounts of sexual violence committed by the Hamas monsters on Oct. 7. The United Nations, a thoroughly anti-Zionist body despite the fact that Israel is a member state, not only authenticated these claims but opened the door to a legal process targeting the Hamas leadership and its key operatives.

It is that latter goal that we need to focus on: The creation of an international tribunal to prosecute Hamas for its crimes in the legal tradition established by the post-World War II Nuremburg trials, as well as more recent international courts to try the atrocities committed in Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda.

By the United Nations own legal calculus, the foundations for such a tribunal are firm. Witnesses interviewed by the world body’s investigative team during its visit to Israel effectively described Oct. 7 as an “indiscriminate campaign to kill, inflict suffering and abduct the maximum number possible of men, women and children—soldiers and civilians alike—in the minimum possible amount of time. People were shot, often at close range; burnt alive in their homes as they tried to hide in their safe rooms; gunned down or killed by grenades in bomb shelters where they sought refuge; and hunted down at the Nova music festival site as well as in the fields and roads adjacent to the Nova music festival ground. Other violations included sexual violence, abduction of hostages and corpses, the public display of captives, both dead and alive, the mutilation of corpses, including decapitation, and the looting and destruction of civilian property.” At the Nova site, as well as on Road 232, the artery used by some festival-goers to escape the onslaught, and at the kibbutzim overran by the terrorists, the U.N. team found that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred … including in the form of rape and gang rape, during the 7 October 2023 attacks.”

When it comes to prosecuting these horrors, there is a clear precedent set by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when 850,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were slaughtered by the loathed Interahamwe militias. One of the perpetrators, a former schoolteacher named Jean-Paul Akayesu, was prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on 15 counts that included rape. Through its deliberations, the tribunal determined that rape and sexual violence “constitute acts of genocide insofar as they were committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a targeted group, as such. It found that sexual assault formed an integral part of the process of destroying the Tutsi ethnic group and that the rape was systematic and had been perpetrated against Tutsi women only, manifesting the specific intent required for those acts to constitute genocide.”

These words apply to the Oct. 7 atrocities with the same degree of legitimacy. Hamas is dedicated not just to the destruction of Israel as a sovereign state, but the physical destruction of its Jewish citizens as well. The rapes on Oct. 7 cannot be explained as the consequence of high spirits, ease of access to young, defenseless women by armed men or the effect of the amphetamines ingested by some of the terrorists. Rape was a predetermined part of their genocidal strategy, as necessary for the fulfilment of their aims as the murders and other atrocities.

Not surprisingly, the United Nations has given little indication that it intends to act on the findings of its own report. Both the Israeli government and the Jewish organizations present at the United Nations in both New York and Geneva need to hold the organization to account. The global agency now recognizes that the accounts of mass rape were genuine, and it recognizes, too, that rape is a key instrument for the execution of a genocide. We learned that in the Balkans and in East Africa, and now we’ve seen the same phenomenon in Israel as well. So, let’s worry less about what the deniers think and more about securing justice for the victims.

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