American envoy to UN also critical: 'Where is the outrage?'

First Lady Herzog decries ‘unforgivable’ silence of rights groups over Hamas rapes

Writing in Newsweek, president’s wife says unwillingness of international organizations to believe Israeli women and speak up about sexual assaults by terrorists is ‘devastating’

First Lady Michal Herzog, wife of President Isaac Herzog, attends a special prayer for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, seen in Tel Aviv, November 2, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
First Lady Michal Herzog, wife of President Isaac Herzog, attends a special prayer for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, seen in Tel Aviv, November 2, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

First Lady Michal Herzog denounced international human rights organizations for not speaking out against the multiple rapes and other violence perpetrated by Hamas terrorists against Israeli women during their October 7 onslaught, saying the silence is “devastating” and a failure for women everywhere.

The lack of condemnation from rights groups has been a second shock to the country after the unprecedented Hamas attack, the worst in Israel’s history, President Isaac Herzog’s wife wrote on Wednesday in Newsweek.

“The silence of international human rights organizations, and the unwillingness to believe Israeli women in the face of overwhelming evidence has been devastating,” she wrote.

The Hamas attacks “deeply impacted our visceral understanding of the cruelty of gender-based sexual violence — and our faith in the international organizations that claim to care about women,” Herzog said.

Wednesday also saw US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield rap fellow UN Security Council members for minimizing or ignoring the crimes committed by Hamas, including sexual violence.

“Where is the universal condemnation? And where is the outrage?” Thomas-Greenfield asked during a Security Council session focused on the plight of women in the Israel-Hamas war.

On October 7, over 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists burst through the border from the Gaza Strip and rampaged murderously through southern areas, killing over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Attackers overran communities, slaughtering entire families as they huddled together in their homes, including some who were burned alive. Victims — including children — were tortured and mutilated. Some 360 people were killed at an outdoor music festival. At least 240 people of all ages, including infants, were abducted and taken as hostages to Gaza.

The attackers raped some female victims, with evidence — forensic and eyewitnesses — indicating gang rape and other sexual violence in multiple incidents and at different locations.

Women rally November 12, 2023, urging global women’s organizations worldwide to take note of the atrocities committed against women by Hamas terrorists (Courtesy Galit Sabag)

Herzog noted that in the 1990s, international agencies and legal experts began viewing violence against women as a specific type of war crime.

“It is not that condemnations of gender-based violence by Hamas have been weak or insufficient – there have been none at all,” she said. “Statement after statement by organizations like UN Women, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) have failed to condemn these crimes. They failed us, and all women, at this critical moment.”

After the shock of the initial deadly Hamas attack, came a second shock, Herzog lamented: “The inconceivable and unforgivable silence of these organizations when faced with the rape and murder of Israeli women.”

For Israelis, who have long supported the fight for women’s rights around the world, the attitude of international organizations to the Hamas attack “was a moment of crushing disappointment,” she wrote.

Herzog recalled speaking with volunteers from the Association of Rape Crisis Centers who had talked with survivors of the attacks. “They heard testimonies that shocked them to the core,” she said.

A woman’s body, found on October 7, 2023 with a partially burned head and unclothed from the waist down; video was uploaded to social media and screened by the IDF as part of a raw footage compilation of Hamas atrocities (Screenshot)

At the Nova music festival where over 360 people were murdered, survivors who hid in bushes to escape the gunmen saw “terrorists gang-rape, then murder and mutilate women,” she said.

“A Hamas video from a kibbutz shows terrorists torturing a pregnant woman and removing her fetus,” Herzog wrote. “Our forensic scientists have found bodies of women and girls raped with such violence that their pelvic bones were broken.”

Evidence, along with confessions from captured terrorists, make it clear that “mass rape was a premeditated part of Hamas’s plan,” she said.

Police have begun building several sexual assault cases against terrorists, citing eyewitnesses, video evidence, testimony from terrorists, and photographs of victims’ bodies that all point toward such offenses.

Earlier this month, some 1,000 women gathered in Tel Aviv to demand that women’s groups worldwide take a stand against Hamas’s crimes.

The crimes, Herzog said, are ongoing, as many of the hundreds of hostages abducted from Israel and held in Gaza are women and girls.

“Only when they are released will we know what they have endured,” she wrote.

Israel responded to the attack with a military campaign aimed at destroying Hamas and removing it from power in Gaza, where it has been the de facto regime since 2007, and bringing home the hostages. The IDF has carried out relentless airstrikes against terror infrastructure along with a ground incursion into the northern Gaza Strip.

Herzog stressed that she is empathetic to the women and children of Gaza “suffering the consequences of the war started by Hamas” and deserving of aid. But, she continued, that does not mean “the erasure of the atrocities committed by Palestinian terrorists on October 7.”

For international organizations to ignore the Hamas atrocities meant not only failing Israeli women but failing the entire international human rights system, she charged.

Herzog noted that on November 25 the President’s Residence will mark the annual United Nations-designated International Day for the Prevention of Violence against Women.

“We will meet in the lingering shock of the violation of our rights, and with the profound sense that all of us who believe in those rights have been betrayed,” she said. “Yet we will persist in presenting the truth to the world and to every human rights organization. We owe it not only to our own victims, but to all women who will face these crimes in the future and must know that they are not alone.”

In her comments to the UN Security Council, Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador, said, “It has been less than two months since Hamas carried out its barbaric terrorist attack against Israel, but many members of this council seem to have forgotten or attempted to erase the horrors of that day. And many still cannot bring themselves to unequivocally condemn Hamas’s acts of terror.

“The children who were executed in front of their parents. The families who were burned alive. The young people who were gunned down with glee. We have also seen horrifying footage that points to Hamas’ rape and sexual assault of innocent civilians. Where is the universal condemnation? And where is the outrage?” she asked.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, addresses members of the UN Security Council at United Nations headquarters, on October 30, 2023. (AP Photo/ Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

On Monday, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights published an expert opinion that found women are disproportionately suffering from the Israel-Hamas war.

Reem Alsalem, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, wrote, “Women and girls of all ages are among those held hostage and killed by Hamas, as well as those injured and killed by Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of the Gaza Strip.”

Israel says it is targeting terrorist infrastructure while working to avoid civilian casualties, and has repeatedly urged residents of the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate southward, away from the heavy fighting. At the same time, it accuses Hamas of deliberately embedding missile launchers, weapons depots and command centers among hospitals, residences, mosques and schools.

Regarding the alleged incidents of rape by Hamas terrorists, Alsalem “expressed concern about reports of sexual violence that may have occurred since 7 October committed by State and non-State actors against Israelis and Palestinians.”

It was unclear what alleged incidents of sexual violence against Palestinians she was referring to.

Alsalem also accused Israel of “reproductive violence” against Palestinian women, newborn babies, infants, and children, and also of “war crimes, crimes against humanity, and an unfolding genocide” in the Gaza Strip.

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