FM recalls Ambassador Erdan over 'silencing' of matter

UN finds evidence of rape on Oct. 7 and after; Israel: They tried to downplay issue

Sex crimes official also says there’s ‘clear evidence’ hostages faced and continue to face sexual assault in Gaza, says Oct. 7 victims suffered ‘torture and other horrors’

File - The site of the Supernova music festival near the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel is seen on October 12, 2023. At least 360 Israeli festival-goers were killed during the assault by Hamas terrorists on October 7. (Ohad Zwigenberg/ AP)
File - The site of the Supernova music festival near the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel is seen on October 12, 2023. At least 360 Israeli festival-goers were killed during the assault by Hamas terrorists on October 7. (Ohad Zwigenberg/ AP)

The United Nation’s envoy on sex crimes during conflict presented a report Monday at the UN indicating that rape and gang rape likely occurred during the October 7 Hamas onslaught against southern Israel, that “clear and convincing” evidence shows that hostages were raped while being held in Gaza, and that those currently held captive are still facing such abuse.

The 24-page report, based on more than two weeks of meetings on the ground, states that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that Hamas committed rape and sexual abuse during its murderous rampage on October 7, and that there is an even higher standard of evidence to indicate that hostages kidnapped by Hamas that day were subject to rape in captivity.

Israel in response accused the UN of playing down the report and dragging its feet on looking into the allegations, while trying to silence the accusations — something the UN secretary general swiftly denied.

Presenting the report at a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York, Pramila Patten, the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said that there was “clear and convincing information that sexual violence including rape, sexualized torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” was committed against hostages being held in captivity in the Strip by Hamas.

In addition, she said, there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that such violence is still ongoing against those hostages still in captivity in Gaza.

“The mission was a difficult one in terms of what we heard and the details,” said Patten at the press conference. “We saw a catalog of the most extreme and inhumane forms of torture and other horrors,” she said, noting that her mission “was neither intended nor mandated to be investigative in nature.”

UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict Pramila Patten (center) meets with First Lady Michal Herzog (left) and President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem on January 29, 2024. (Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO)

The team said a “fully-fledged investigation” would be required to establish the overall magnitude, scope and specific attribution for the sexual violence.

Patten said that she visited Israel and the West Bank for 2.5 weeks, meeting with representatives of 33 Israeli institutions as well as 34 individuals, including survivors and witnesses, released hostages, first responders and others. She noted that she did not meet with any survivor of sexual violence, saying that she was told the small number of living survivors are undergoing “specialized trauma treatment” and are unable to discuss their experiences.

Her team also viewed 5,000 photographic images and “some 50 hours of footage” of the attacks. Due to the ongoing conflict, she said, she did not request to also visit Gaza.

Patten said that based on her evidence-gathering, there are reasonable grounds to believe that “rape and gang rape” occurred during the October 7 attacks in at least three locations: the Supernova music festival site, Kibbutz Re’im, and along the nearby Route 232.

In most such instances, she said, evidence shows that victims were “first subjected to rape and then killed,” noting as well “two incidents” pointing to the rape of women’s corpses.

The music festival grounds, Patten said, was the site of “brutal mass murders,” noting that many bodies were found extensively burned or disfigured, and that there was also a “recurring pattern of victims found fully or partially undressed, bound and shot.”

Patten noted that “some allegations” of sexual violence from Kibbutz Be’eri were determined to be unfounded, including a story about a pregnant woman’s fetus being cut out of her body, while other allegations could simply not be verified.

Illustrative: The destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Re’im on October 7, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/ Flash90)

She added that interviews in the West Bank of both male and female Palestinian detainees, pointed to “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment by Israeli security forces, including “sexual violence in the forms of body searches [and] threats of rape.”

In response to the report, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan lambasted the international body for taking so long to recognize what happened on the Gaza periphery.

“It took the UN five months to finally recognize the horrifying sex crimes that occurred during the Hamas on onslaught of October 7,” Erdan said in a statement. “Now that the report of the sexual atrocities and abuse that our hostages are going through in Gaza is being released, the shame of the silence of the UN — which is not even holding one hearing on the issue — is crying out to the heavens.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he was calling Erdan back to Israel for discussions on how to move forward, due to the UN’s “silencing” of the issue.

Katz slammed UN chief Antonio Guterres for not calling for a meeting of the UN Security Council “to declare Hamas a terror group and place sanctions on its supporters.” He said Israel had yet to hear “one word” from the UN chief over the report, adding: “Guterres, wake up.”

Guterres’s spokesman denied that he was attempting to suppress the report.

“The work was done thoroughly and expeditiously. In no way, shape, or form did the secretary-general do anything to keep the report ‘quiet.’ In fact, the report is being presented publicly today,” Stephane Dujarric told AFP.

Israel has railed at international women’s groups that ignored evidence of Hamas’s weaponization of sexual violence during the attacks.

It took about eight weeks for UN Women, a women’s rights group under the tutelage of the UN, to post, and shortly thereafter delete, a condemnation of the October 7 onslaught itself.

Another week would go by before the agency registered the existence of “disturbing reports of gender-based and sexual violence on October 7.”

The delayed response sparked outrage among Jewish and Israeli feminist groups, rallying to the hashtag “#MeToo_UNless_UR_A_Jew” and charging the UN body’s silence was motivated by antisemitism.

The campaign gained traction by December, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States President Joe Biden both publicly castigating international women’s groups for ignoring mounting evidence that Hamas had used rape as a weapon of war. Later that month, the New York Times ran a damning report on the extent of sexual violence during the October 7 attacks.

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