update deskIsrael at War

Will sexual violence be a recurring form of Palestinian terror?

The true scope of the Oct. 7 rapes may never be known because most of the victims and witnesses were murdered.

Destruction caused by Hamas terrorist on Oct. 7 when they infiltrated Kibbutz Be'eri and slaughtered civilians, Oct. 17, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Destruction caused by Hamas terrorist on Oct. 7 when they infiltrated Kibbutz Be'eri and slaughtered civilians, Oct. 17, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

In the wake of Israeli officials’ graphic testimony at the United Nations of widespread rape and mutilation by Hamas terrorists during the Oct. 7 onslaught on Israeli communities, and the continuing revelations of atrocities, one women’s rights activist fears that sexual violence will become a recurring theme of Palestinian terrorism.

“I think once this element of sexual violence enters the arena of the conflict, we will have a really hard time rolling it back,” Yael Sherer asserted. “I am very, very afraid of the sort of violence we will see in the future. Before this such things were taboo here.”

Sherer is the founder and director of the Survivors of Sexual Violence Advocacy Group, which seeks change in Israeli laws regarding sexual violence.

In the aftermath of Oct. 7, she was frequently contacted by badly shaken first responders and medical examiners who dealt with the mutilated remains of victims. These first responders, who had gotten to know Sherer through her work, needed someone “to hold their hands through the phone,” she said.

The testimonies of the medical workers were reinforced by video footage of naked and bloodied women paraded through Gaza. Images on GoPro cameras found on the bodies of terrorists proved so harrowing that the Israeli government will only show them in private screenings.

Yael Reichert, a chief superintendent at the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 unit, shared explicit testimony at the U.N. on Monday of her investigation’s findings.

“Everything was an apocalypse of corpses. Girls without any clothes on, without tops, without underwear. There were girls with a broken pelvis due to repetitive rapes. Their legs were spread wide apart,” Reichert said.

Stressing the widespread nature of the sexual violence, she said, “They carried out a massacre against innocent civilians without—massive destruction of every living soul that stood in their way.”

Fears for remaining captives

When asked what changed on Oct. 7, Sherer said: “I think the terrorists wanted to humiliate, wanted to disgrace people, their sanctity. It may have been because they know how much it would hurt the victims’ families—Jews in particular—because of the Jewish concern for the treatment of the dead. I don’t know any other culture or religion that would be able to tolerate such cruelty. No sane human being would do that, you need to be a psychopath.”

The true scope of the rapes may never be known, because most of the victims and witnesses were murdered, Sherer noted.

Meanwhile, fears continue for the well-being of the women still being held captive by Hamas in Gaza. Of the 137 hostages, 20 are female.

The Associated Press reported that one doctor who treated several freed captives said that at least 10 men and women had been sexually assaulted or abused, but did not elaborate.

In a briefing for journalists on Monday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller suggested that sexual violence may have been one reason that a week-long temporary ceasefire and prisoner exchange collapsed.

“The reason this pause fell apart is they don’t want those women still being held captive to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in custody. There is very little that I would put beyond Hamas when it comes to its treatment of civilians and particularly its treatment of women,” said Miller.

Sherer, herself a victim of sexual assault, voiced concern that rape will increase because many Palestinians will see it as a legitimate form of attack.

“This sort of attack was so different than anything that happened in this region before. It must have been imported by other groups,” Sherer said, referring to Islamic State.

“We never expected this. We won’t accept it.”

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