A young girl living in a hotel for Israelis displaced by the war was sexually assaulted by a man living in the same hotel, a welfare expert told a Knesset panel on Tuesday, during a special session on the sexual and physical abuse of women and minors evacuated to hotels at the start of the war against Hamas in Gaza.
“There was a 23-year-old man who was in a relationship with a 13-year-old girl, and her mother wasn’t aware at all because she was in the chaos of the evacuation,” Miri Frank, the welfare director for Jerusalem’s evacuee hotels, recounted to the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women and Gender Equality.
The account of the sexual abuse of the young evacuee was one of several such stories heard by the committee, as representatives of the government’s evacuee programs and other officials spoke about the issues faced by vulnerable populations living in hotels.
“An evacuee resident exposed himself and urinated in front of children at the entrance of a hotel,” Maya Oberbaum of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel told the committee, chaired by MK Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid).
“An elderly evacuee hit a young girl in the elevator and he was transferred to another hotel in Tel Aviv. An evacuee called and said that she was raped by a man who was evacuated to the hotel with her. A girl said that she was hit by a 15-year-old,” Oberbaum continued, recounting several more examples of sexual and physical violence encountered by women and children inside the hotels. “A girl reported that someone exposed himself to her in an elevator.”
In addition, she said, there have been reports of sexual abuse in educational settings inside the systems established for displaced people, and a security guard was accused of assaulting a young girl.
Tens of thousands of people from communities close to the Gaza border have been displaced since October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed through the Gaza border, slaughtering some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages.
Immediately after the massacre, dozens of communities in southern Israel were evacuated, followed by dozens more communities in the north of the country, as Hezbollah began launching near-daily attacks from across the Lebanon border.
In total, close to 200,000 people were evacuated in the immediate aftermath of October 7 and the subsequent war. Four months later, an estimated 56,000 evacuees remain displaced, living in 380 hotels across Israel.
The police have opened 116 cases involving evacuees living in hotels, a police representative told the panel on Tuesday. Of that number, 40 are cases of domestic violence.
In at least one instance, “they let a husband and wife into the same complex, even though the husband had a restraining order,” the deputy head of the government organization for evacuees, Shai Kahan, told the committee.
Warning that the hotels are becoming a “pressure cooker,” Kahan told the committee that women living in the hotels often feel harassed by groups of men, who sit in hotel lobbies for hours on end due to the lack of structure in their everyday lives. “Youths are sitting in the hotel in Eilat or in Haifa and it creates a bad feeling,” he said.
“[There are] struggles between the hotel management and the evacuees at the hotel who feel — and it’s important not to underestimate the difficulties — feel like they are at home, and are violating the hotel’s rules,” he added. “There are children who are waking up in the morning and simply not going to school.”
Addressing the committee, Tamano-Shata instructed government and police representatives to collect accurate data from each hotel in order to address the rising violence.
“You must know what the exact situation is in each hotel,” she said. “If you don’t know how many complaints there are and where the violent climate is that needs to be addressed, we won’t be able to move forward anywhere.”