PA envoy: Report shows 'no evidence of rape' by Hamas

‘Face to face’: Mother of Hamas hostage confronts UN rights officials in Geneva

Meirav Leshem Gonen, whose daughter Romi was kidnapped on Oct. 7, says report by rights council ‘trivializes the severity of sexual violence experienced by women in captivity’

Meirav Leshem-Gonen, mother of Hamas hostage Romi Gonen, speaks about Hamas atrocities on October 7 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 19, 2024. (Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations in Geneva)
Meirav Leshem-Gonen, mother of Hamas hostage Romi Gonen, speaks about Hamas atrocities on October 7 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 19, 2024. (Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations in Geneva)

GENEVA — Her voice shaking with emotion, Meirav Leshem Gonen described to the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday the agony of listening over the phone as Hamas terrorists seized her daughter on October 7.

Her daughter, 23-year-old Romi Gonen, “was terrified, and I felt utterly helpless as I listened to her suffering,” she said.

“Please help me hug my daughter again.”

Her appeal came as the top UN rights body in Geneva convened to debate a scathing report that held Israel responsible for crimes against humanity in its offensive in Gaza, launched in response to the October onslaught in which Hamas-led terrorists killed some 1,200 people and took 251 hostages.

The independent commission of inquiry claimed there was a “widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population in Gaza.”

It also found that Palestinian terrorists had committed war crimes, including in connection with Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack and the seizing of hostages.

The report highlighted in particular sexualized violence, as “women and women’s bodies were used as victory trophies by male perpetrators.”

“The enormity of this tragedy overwhelms us, and we are deeply disturbed by the immense human suffering,” commission chair Navi Pillay told the council.


Israel has slammed the report and has long been vehemently critical of the commission, whose mandate began several years before the October 7 atrocities.

Demonstrators gather during a protest decrying sexual violence against women in the October 7 massacre, outside of United Nations headquarters in New York City, on December 4, 2023. (Yakov Binyamin/Flash90)

It has consistently refused to interact with the commission, but on Wednesday the country offered its speaking slot to Leshem Gonen, something commissioner Chris Sidoti hailed as “a note of hope.”

“That was the first time we had an opportunity to talk and hear directly face to face from one of the family members of hostages,” he told reporters.

Leshem Gonen meanwhile did not withhold her disdain of the commission’s work.

“I was angry,” she told AFP after the session, standing in the square in front of the UN headquarters amid a sea of more than 400 portraits of those killed and taken hostage in Hamas’s attack.

“They are talking only on one side.”

Romi Gonen, who was taken captive in Gaza by Hamas terrorists on October 7, as they assaulted the Supernova desert rave (Courtesy)

Before the council, she charged that the report “trivializes the severity of sexual violence experienced by women in captivity.”

She described the agony she felt on October 7 as she listened to her daughter being taken, “hearing her helplessness and frustration without being able to help my baby.”

“That was 257 days ago.”

“We owe all hostages still held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza to do all in our power to release them immediately,” she said.

Meirav Leshem Gonen, whose daughter Romi Gonen is held hostage by Hamas, addresses a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 13, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

After her testimony, Palestinian Authority Ambassador Ibrahim Mohammad Khraishi told the council it would be “difficult to bring in witnesses of over 150 families that were totally decimated in Gaza.”

He also maintained that the report showed “there is no evidence of rape” during Hamas’s October 7 attack.

‘Deeply traumatic’

Pillay told reporters afterward that both speakers had “clearly not looked at the details” of the report, rejecting the “criticism that we had not investigated sexual violence sufficiently.”

She also rejected that the commission had not focused enough on the hostages, saying Israeli “obstruction” had blocked it from Israel or Gaza and from accessing the released hostages.

“We have been obstructed in our capacity to collect evidence,” she said.

“Our report barely scratches the surface,” Sidoti acknowledged, saying he understood “how deeply traumatic the events on and since October 7 have been for Jewish people… and for Palestinian people.”

Chairwoman of the ‘The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel,’ South Africa’s Navi Pillay speaks during a briefing to UN member states about ongoing investigations of the Commission at the UN offices in Geneva, on April 16, 2024. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Pillay, a former UN rights chief and former International Criminal Court judge, said her experience from the end of apartheid in her native South Africa gave her “hope” that a way out of the entrenched Middle East conflict could be found.

Asked about the root causes of the conflict raging in Gaza, the investigators said the October 7 attack “did not occur in a vacuum,” echoing a claim UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made in the wake of the massacre that was vociferously denounced by Israel.

“One person’s freedom fighter could be another terrorist,” Pillay said, noting that even Nelson Mandela “was classified as a terrorist… until he was freed.”

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