This is a post I don’t want to write. But I have to.
Anyone reading this blog long enough knows of my commitment to victims of rape and sexual abuse. I’ve written at least a score of such stories. They are hard to write. They take a toll. Anyone who does so, takes on a small bit of the suffering of the victim; though not nearly as much as the victim herself.
But when I do write a such a story, I have to know that what I’m reporting is precise and accurate. Of course, I always believe her. I never believe the perpetrator. But still the stakes are so high that you must be certain of what you write.
That’s why I’ve not wanted to confront the issue of sexual violence during the Hamas 10/7 attack. Though I always believe rape victims, the accounts were so muddled by propaganda and what seemed like manufactured outrage, that I wasn’t sure who or what to believe.
Rape in War
Rape during war is unfortunately a common phenomenon. The victors, the perpetrators, want to humiliate the the enemy, the vanquished. Abusing their women is one way to do so. It humiliates, it corrodes self-respect, it asserts dominance of the perpetrator and powerlessness of the victim–that is the goal of the abuser.
Israeli historians have documented that the Haganah used rape in such a way during the Nakba. Israel needed to degrade Palestinians through victimization of women. It was a way to show the Jews were going to take everything they valued, and never let them forget who was the lord of the land. These were all inconvenient truths for Israelis and denied it for decades till historians delved into historical archives and found documentary evidence to support the claim.
Whatever acts of sexual violence happened on 10/7 (if any), they are the same acts by Israeli forces in 1948. In a more recent example, the IDF chief rabbi told the troops that they would be permitted under Jewish law to “satisfy their urges” by raping Palestinian women. It was, he asserted, a way to strenthen their morale as fighters for the nation.
Sometimes the losers, the ones who’ve suffered under the boot-heel of their oppressors–its killers, thugs, and arsonists–get an opportunity to take vengeance. They do so in the same way the victors do. They make the enemy suffer some of the same shame they have endured. That may be what happened on 10/7.
The IDF soldiers interviewed in the video says that while Hamas only attacked IDF targets, Palestinian civilians engaged in what he termed “slaughter and rape.” Further, that because civilians participated in those crimes, that they represent all of Gaza; making them all guilty of these crimes. Keep in mind that collective guilt is a violation of the Geneva Convention, not that this matters to Israelis:
Hamas did not commit atrocities. They breached the fence, killed Israeli soldiers, and moved on. | Israeli reservist pic.twitter.com/vVLahfirfW
— André Levy (@RealAndreLevy) November 15, 2023
Shortly after the attack, I began hearing about rapes and asked an Israeli security source about it. He said that Hamas had mostly military objectives. The rapes were committed, he told me, by Palestinians who followed after the Hamas fighters through the breaches in the fence.
In the past days, I’ve asked an Israeli security source the same question, and he now says that some of the sexual violence was committed by Hamas fighters. But I believe the truth may lie in both accounts: that the alleged rapes could have been committed by both the militants and the civilians. Hamas, however, has denied the charges:
Hamas denies that its fighters use rape or assault against women as a weapon of war. To do so, Hamas official Basem Naim said, would go against its founding Islamic principles. The group, he said, considers “any sexual relationship or activity outside of marriage to be completely haram” — forbidden by Islam.
“Whoever does this kind of act is committing a major infraction and would be punished both legally and on Judgment Day,” he told The Washington Post. “So our soldiers would not go close to this forbidden” act.
While this doesn’t confirm his claims, it makes clear that Hamas’ overall objectives were attacking military targets and not sexual assault. As well, historically Hamas has maintained a disciplined approach to its military operations. It’s difficult to say that in this attack that disciplined approach was abandoned by its fighters. So while Naim’s statement isn’t decisive proof, it does offer a credible rebuttal. Keep in mind also, that Islamic Jihad and other groups participated in the attack; and that Hamas did not have control of what they did.
Another troubling aspect regarding Israeli claims is that authorities did not perform autopsies on any of the purported rape victims. If they had, and these brutal acts were confirmed by forensic evidence, it would vastly strengthen the case they are making. It’s not clear whether this was a deliberate decision, in which case it would be damning; or it was something that no one thought to do in the confusion and shock of the 10/7 attack. I find it difficult to believe the latter explanation.
All of that being said, I object to the propaganda exploitation of these victims. Showing these videos to influential leaders throughout the world (including showings in the US Congress) violates the victims a second time. Their identities should always be protected. Making their degradation a public spectacle is disgusting. But the Israeli propaganda machine does so because rape stirs horror.
Israel wants the world to hate not only Hamas, but everyone in Gaza, as Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland wrote in his Yediot column. Just as referring to the Holocaust arouses sympathy for Israel while it targets Hamas as Nazis, accusations of sexual violation play the same role. They distract the world from the genocide in Gaza. And that’s the purpose–not sympathy for the victims. They are mere tools to promote an Israeli narrative of victimization.
Israeli women were raped according to the Israeli narrative, But it’s important to understand this distinction: Palestinian women were murdered. Though there has not been a report on how many such victims there were, I guarantee it was far less than the 4,000 women (and 6,000 children) murdered by Israel. While rape is a heinous act, murder is an entirely different level of magnitude.
The UN Human Rights Council has announced an inquiry into the Israeli claims, yet the country’s UN ambassador has angrily rejected it and declared Israel will not cooperate:
The antisemitic Commission of Inquiry, established by the morally distorted Human Rights Council which recently appointed Iran as Chair of the Council’s Social Forum, is 100% biased against Israel.
Therefore, Israel has zero trust in its findings and its illegitimate… pic.twitter.com/oaZp0ZqqYj
— Ambassador Gilad Erdan גלעד ארדן (@giladerdan1) November 30, 2023
If the Israeli allegations are correct, it should welcome the inquiry so that it can present its evidence. If they are borne out, that will strengthen their claims. Rejecting it looks like you have something to hide and that the accusations are concocted or exaggerated. Israel is cutting off its nose to spite its face. This is part of a decades long hatred of everything to do with the UN. In this case, the hatred has blinded them to their actual interests.