WORLD NEWS Israel presents evidence, witness testimonies of Hamas's sexual violence...

Israel presents evidence, witness testimonies of Hamas’s sexual violence in Oct. 7 attacks | CBC News


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WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced​ ​​​sexual violence or know someone affected by it.

Hamas-led militants and assailants raped women and carried out other heinous acts of sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, according to the testimonies of survivors, witnesses, first responders and forensics investigators. 

The search for answers and any pursuit of justice is complicated by various factors. Many victims were killed and were buried in the clothes they were wearing when they died, in line with Jewish burial law, before investigators could examine them. Although police have arrested and detained hundreds of suspects, linking them to specific crimes will be challenging as a result. 

“All the women who were murdered and may have suffered sexual violence cannot tell us,” Hila Neubach, director of legal affairs at the Association for Rape Crisis Centres in Israel, told Reuters. “Witnesses perhaps too did not survive.”

Images and videos, in some cases captured by the militants’ own cameras, emerged in real time as the attack unfolded and now help demonstrate the extent of that brutality.

“[This] is one of the most documented atrocities in history,” said Cochav Elkayam-Levy, head of Israel’s Civil Commission on Oct. 7 Crimes by Hamas Against Women.

She’s part of a team of international law and human rights experts who have been gathering evidence and testimonies to inform international bodies on the crimes perpetrated against women that day. Elkayam-Levy says it’s going to be a long and difficult investigation to fully understand all of the horrific violations of human rights that took place. 

Witnesses detail atrocities

On the day of the attacks, the Israeli military set up an impromptu morgue of refrigerated shipping containers at the Shura defence base, in central Israel, to identify and prepare the dead for burial. Of the 1,200 people the Israeli government says Hamas killed, authorities said at least 300 were women.

Forensic team members said signs of torture and rape were found on some of the bodies.

WATCH | Witness accounts describe sexual violence carried out on Oct. 7:

Witness accounts describe sexual violence by Hamas during Oct. 7 attacks on Israel

WARNING: This video contains graphic content. Israeli police published video footage of eyewitness accounts, with identities blurred, describing sexual violence carried out by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

Several weeks later police published video footage of witness accounts, with interviews translated from Hebrew with English subtitles. 

One unnamed witness of the Nova festival attack said she saw gunmen gang rape one woman and cut off the breast of another and throw it on the street.

Later, police added, she saw a gunman shoot the woman in the head while raping her. 

Reuters could not independently verify the accounts and police declined to name the witnesses or make her available to the news agency.

Nachman Dyksztejn, a volunteer for Zaka Search and Rescue who was at the festival, wrote in testimony shared by Zaka with Reuters that he saw dozens of dead women in shelters. 

“Their clothing was torn on the upper part, but their bottoms were completely naked,” it read.

Concert producer Rami Shmuel, who helped in the searches for casualties at the Nova music festival in southern Israel not far from the Gaza border, said he saw the bodies of three women: one naked and the other two stripped from the waist down. One was clearly shot in the back of the head, he said, and torched.

Paths to justice

Witness accounts alone cannot always secure an indictment or conviction, said legal expert Neubach. 

But overall, she said, the information already accumulated is reliable enough to determine that sexual and gender-based violence has likely been perpetrated.

Even without war, justice ministry data shows roughly 80 per cent of sexual offence cases in Israel are closed every year because prosecutors see insufficient evidence. 

Prosecuting the Oct. 7 cases will require a different approach.

WATCH | Relatives hopeful family taken hostage still alive: 

Relatives of Israeli hostages visit family home, holding onto hopes they’re still alive somewhere

Jimmy Miller and Yosi Shnaider are cousins of Shiri Bibas, who was kidnapped by Hamas along with her husband and two children. Visiting the Bibas home for the first time since Oct. 7, the cousins saw the wreckage left by the violence, though they remain hopeful the Bibas family is still alive in captivity. Hamas has stated Shiri Bibas and her two children were killed during an Israeli airstrike, but the Israeli military said the statement has not yet been verified.

“In a criminal case, a specific defendant is convicted of harming a specific victim,” said Dana Pugach, law professor at Ono Academic College. “They will have to look at an entirely different legal construct in this case.”

If prosecutions in Israel prove challenging, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague was set up to prosecute those responsible for war crimes. It has already said it has jurisdiction over atrocity crimes committed by Palestinians on Israeli territory that day.

The tribunal can step in if states are unwilling or unable to prosecute war crimes committed by nationals of its members, or on the territory of its members. The ICC says its prosecutor has collected a significant volume of information and evidence.

But for the Israeli state, the ICC is problematic: Israel does not recognize its jurisdiction, although Israeli individuals and the state itself are free to submit evidence.

“That brings us to sort of, I’ll call it, the Israeli dilemma,” Tel Aviv-based lawyer Yael Vias Gvirsman said, referring to where such cases could be judged.

Israel may hold some perpetrators but does not have reach of the aiders, abetters, instigators or commanders that the ICC could bring to trial, she said.

For anyone who has been sexually assaulted, there is support available through crisis lines and local support services via this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.


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