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We cannot continue to fail the women Hamas raped and tortured

This International Women’s Day, we cannot forget the women who have died and suffered at the hands of Hamas.

Israeli women who were captured by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, dragged into the Gaza Strip and held in captivity before being released months later, hold press conference in Tel Aviv on Feb. 7, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Israeli women who were captured by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, dragged into the Gaza Strip and held in captivity before being released months later, hold press conference in Tel Aviv on Feb. 7, 2024. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Carol Ann Schwartz. Credit: Courtesy.
Carol Ann Schwartz
Carol Ann Schwartz is the 28th national president of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, the largest Jewish women’s organization in the United States with nearly 300,000 members and supporters in America and many more all over the world.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme, “Inspire Inclusion,” is meant to emphasize the importance of diversity and empowerment in creating a society in which women are treated equally. Yet today, we are living in a world where international institutions have, through their silence and inaction, completely failed the women and girls who were—and continue to be—kidnapped, tortured, sexually violated and murdered by Hamas. For the sake of women everywhere, we must come together around the world to speak the truth, end the silence and demand action.

It has been five months, 150 days, since Oct. 7, when Hamas invaded Israel and went on a rampage, killing, raping, mutilating and kidnapping civilians and anyone else in their path. Hamas is still holding more than 100 of the 250 hostages they abducted, including 19 women and girls. Thirty-three hostages have reportedly died in captivity. There is irrefutable evidence that Hamas systemically planned and executed these vicious acts. And this week, a U.N. report confirmed what we already knew—that the remaining hostages are likely being sexually abused and perhaps even tortured.

Rape should never be used as a weapon of war. Not in Israel. Not anywhere. We cannot let the world ignore what happened, and we cannot let our international institutions bury the evidence and undermine efforts to pursue justice. We must insist on documenting these war crimes and pursuing justice. And to do that, we need an unbiased, independent and thorough investigation. Yet in the face of overwhelming evidence, our international institutions are effectively repudiating their missions by working to minimize and even disregard Hamas’s war crimes.

Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, released a new report on March 4 finding “clear and convincing information” of rape and sexualized torture against hostages and “reasonable grounds” to believe that conflict-related sexual violence took place in multiple locations on Oct. 7.

Despite this—despite videos taken by some of the terrorists themselves showing them gleefully committing savage, sadistic acts—headlines and social-media posts around the globe continue to accuse Hamas’s victims of lying. We’re talking here about women and girls who have had the courage to speak up about deeply traumatic events. Just this week, at the press conference at which the new report’s findings were presented, journalist after journalist asked why the report was “advancing the Israeli narrative” and “furthering propaganda.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is one of the many international institutions that has apparently reneged on its mission. No one from the ICRC has visited the hostages to assess their health and the conditions in which they’re being held or to bring much-needed medicine. This is a complete departure from the group’s response to every other armed conflict. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch do not mention Hamas’s weaponization of sexual violence anywhere on their websites.

UN Women, the organization the United Nations itself created to speak for women, waited almost two months before condemning Hamas’s use of rape as a weapon of war and only came forward after pressure from women’s organizations and the media. By comparison, within three days of learning about the sexual violence in Ukraine, UN Women had issued a statement condemning it.

As for the world body’s leadership, its continued recommendation is for Israel to allow the biased U.N. Commission of Inquiry established in May 2021 (COI), to formally “investigate” these crimes.

Let’s be clear: This can only be interpreted as a disingenuous move designed to bury evidence of Hamas’s crimes and undermine justice.

The COI and its commissioners have a clear history of antisemitism. Commission chair Navi Pillay has repeatedly declared Israel an “apartheid” state and has promoted boycotts against it. Commission member Miloon Kothari has questioned Israel’s right to be a member of the United Nations, made statements attempting to justify terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and suggested that Jews control social media. The COI’s multiple reports have been widely criticized for the bias they have displayed in downplaying or failing to mention Hamas’s missile attacks against Israel and blaming Israel for the entire history of the conflict.

To suggest that this biased group be put in charge of an “independent” investigation into Hamas’ war crimes—to suggest that Israeli women who were raped and abused should have to tell their stories to an antisemitic, biased commission wrongfully given the power to silence them—is outrageous. The wolf, in this case, is not even bothering to wear sheep’s clothing.    

This International Women’s Day, we cannot forget the women who have died and suffered at the hands of Hamas. We cannot fail the women Hamas continues to hold captive and abuse.

That is why Hadassah, where I am national president, has launched End The Silence, a global campaign to unite and amplify the voices of those who believe the world must take notice of Hamas’ horrific sexual violence and demand justice for its victims. Today, in cities around the world, Hadassah members and supporters are holding events that draw attention to Hamas’s heinous crimes and asking fellow citizens to sign our grassroots petition demanding that the United Nations take action to hold Hamas accountable.

Over the next two weeks, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women will host its annual meetings. Weaponization of sexual violence in Israel, Ukraine and other places around the world isn’t on the formal agenda. However, Hadassah leaders are working to make this issue front and center by delivering our petitions to U.N. leaders and hosting an event featuring international leaders working to document these crimes and hold Hamas accountable.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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