Violence Against Women and International Law – Updated December 2023

LLRX is curating research sources for their relevance and relationship to this site’s Israel-Hamas War Project articles. The first article on this topic is here. There was a dearth of publicly available information about the scope of sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas until recent weeks. Please be advised that some of the abstracts and the content of the full articles I have included in this update contain graphic details about the nature of the violence committed against women and girls on October 7, 2023.

It is essential to acknowledge the following facts: an as yet unknown total number of women, girls and infants were murdered and mutilated beyond recognition. For some, their names were established using DNA testing, forensic archeology and dental identification that took weeks to accomplish after the location and recovery of their remains. The process of identifying many individuals continues as their bodies or remains are recovered from sites in Gaza and in Israel. The remains of Israelis who were burned alive at the kibbutz massacre may never be recovered but the work proceeds. The actual number of atrocities that occurred may never be established, and Jewish families, as is the tradition, buried their loved ones within 24 hours after the return of their bodies, and no autopsies were completed. Witness statements, videos, social media, radio communications and text messages continue to be gathered. Witnesses and survivors fear for their safety, and many are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In addition to the articles I reference in this guide, a very important source of eye witness accounts of the massacre is available on which “was founded for the sole purpose of confronting the entire world with accounts from survivors of the massacres perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th, 2023. The project collects written eyewitness accounts from survivors, and with their approval translates them into a range of languages, for worldwide exposure. The world has to know. presents the authentic voices of survivors, from across the political spectrum, from different religious and ethnic groups, and of different ages. is not the edited press. There is no editing. No agenda. Just real survivors. Real people. They each have a name and a face and a heart wrenching account to tell, in their own unique voice. All accounts are translated, upon the survivor’s approval, from the original Hebrew, in order to ensure the survivor’s voice is authentic. The full names of the survivors have not been included in order to protect their identities. The website and its content is maintained by a group of dedicated volunteers who willingly donate their time and skills. Together, our purpose is to make sure the stories of the survivors who endured these unimaginable horrors are never forgotten. It is our mission that the world bears witness to these atrocities.” This site also has an RSS feed [h/t Pete Weiss].

This updated guide also includes documentation of violence against female hostages who were subsequently released by Hamas. Quoting from the New York Times investigative report published December 28, 2023 and abstracted in the News below, “at least three women and one man who were sexually assaulted and survived … therapists said they were working with a woman who was gang raped at the rave [the Re’im music festival massacre – also called the Nova music festival] and was in no condition to talk to investigators or reporters.”

Propaganda or defiant silence has been operationalized unremittingly across social media and main stream media platforms and among NGO/IGO organizations around the world, [examples include: members of the U.S. Congress, the UN, UNRWA, Amnesty International, the National Organization for Women, the Red Cross] denying that the October 7th massacre occurred, and also claiming the indefensible violence committed one on one, or many on one, against civilians in their homes and the slaughter of the 360 victims, women and men, at the Nova Music Festival, is uncorroborated. As the murders wore GoPro cameras and live streamed their atrocities on social media [Telegram, Facebook] the irony is appalling, shameful and revolting.

In light of expanding sources of investigative reporting, medical evidence, eye witness testimonies, survivor statements, emergency medical workers and morgue staff descriptions of victim recoveries, the goal of this guide is to contribute to the accurate chronicling of this attack and its aftermath. It is an effort to assist in articulating the experiences of the victims so that if, and when, legal proceedings are undertaken respective to crimes against humanity, genocide and femicide committed by Hamas on October 7, 2023, the facts will irrefutable. I am under no illusions however that international law violations will be applied to achieve accountability, or justice.

NEWS – Sources from around the world

Wall Street Journal, December 31, 2023. Months have passed since the day Israelis call Black Sabbath, when Hamas-led militants rampaged into Israel from Gaza, an attack that officials say killed some 1,200 people and included acts of torture, mutilation and sexual violence (read this article free). Israeli investigators are now using some 200,000 photographs and videos and 2,000 witness testimonies to reconstruct what happened, with an eye toward building a legal case against those responsible that would meet international standards and provide a definitive historical accounting of the attack. Hamas officials have denied their fighters killed children and raped women.

The New York Times, December 30, 2023. On Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists made attacking Israel look easy. [read free] Warning: This article has videos containing graphic imagery and violence. Where Was the Israeli Military? A Times investigation found that troops were disorganized, out of position and relied on social media to choose targets. Behind the failure: Israel had no battle plan for a massive Hamas invasion.

The National Post, December 29, 2023. Sabrina Maddeaux: Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack wasn’t only an antisemitic slaughter, it was a mass femicide. Torturing women to death while raping them is not resistance, nor a political statement. It is evil you can’t negotiate with.

The New York Times, December 28, 2023. ‘Screams Without Words’: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7 [read free].

A Times investigation uncovered new details showing a pattern of rape, mutilation and extreme brutality against women in the attacks on Israel. What Palestinian terrorists did to Israeli women on October 7. “…you can see her, lying on her back, dress torn, legs spread, vagina exposed. Her face is burned beyond recognition” — “more than 30 bodies of women and girls in and around the rave site and in two kibbutzim in a similar state[] — legs spread, clothes torn off, signs of abuse in their genital areas” — “one woman’s corpse … with dozens of nails driven into her thighs and groin” — “two dead Israeli soldiers at a base near Gaza who appeared to have been shot directly in their vaginas” — “One man pulled her by the hair and made her bend over. Another penetrated her, Sapir said, and every time she flinched, he plunged a knife into her back.” — “she then watched another woman ‘shredded into pieces.’ While one terrorist raped her, she said, another pulled out a box cutter and sliced off her breast. ‘One continues to rape her, and the other throws her breast to someone else, and they play with it, throw it, and it falls on the road’ … the men sliced her face and then the woman fell out of view.” — “she saw three other women raped and terrorists carrying the severed heads of three more women” — five men, wearing civilian clothes, all carrying knives and one carrying a hammer, dragging a woman across the ground. She was young, naked and screaming. “They all gather around her. She’s standing up. They start raping her. I saw the men standing in a half circle around her. One penetrates her. She screams. I still remember her voice, screams without words. Then one of them raises a knife and they just slaughtered her.” — “four men step out of the van and attack the woman, who ended up ‘between their legs.’ He said that they were ‘talking, giggling and shouting,’ and that one of them stabbed her with a knife repeatedly, ‘literally butchering her.’” — discovered bodies of dead women with their legs spread and underwear missing — “Her hands were tied behind her back. She was bent over, half naked, her underwear rolled down below her knees.” — “a young woman, on her stomach, no pants or underwear, legs spread apart. He said her vagina area appeared to have been sliced open, ‘as if someone tore her apart.’” — “at least 24 bodies of women and girls naked or half naked, some mutilated, others tied up” — “the bodies of two teenage girls… boxer shorts ripped, bruises by her groin. The other was sprawled on the floor face down, he said, pajama pants pulled to her knees, bottom exposed, semen smeared on her back… sisters, 13 and 16” — “seen four [bodies of IDF soldiers] with signs of sexual violence, including some with ‘a lot of blood in their pelvic areas.’” — “at least 10 bodies of female soldiers from Gaza observation posts with signs of sexual violence” — “she had seen several bodies with cuts in their vaginas and underwear soaked in blood and one whose fingernails had been pulled out” — “video of the two soldiers shot in the vagina, which he said was recorded by Hamas gunmen” — “at least three women and one man who were sexually assaulted and survived … therapists said they were working with a woman who was gang raped at the rave and was in no condition to talk to investigators or reporters.”

Newsweek. Opinion. December 26, 2023. I Saw the Children Hamas Beheaded With My Own Eyes. Shame on Queen Rania. “…Days after the attacks, as a Muslim woman committed to combating Islamism and a physician, I traveled at my own expense to the Gaza envelope to view the aftermath of Hamas’ butchery. I examined the cadavers of the murdered and defiled; the corpses of the decapitated and immolated. I spoke with the victims of Hamas, including a former hostage—a Muslim physician—and numerous witnesses to Hamas’ express barbarity against women, children, girls, and infants, brutally violated in life, in utero and in death.”

Washington Post, Opinion – Lipstadt: ‘Antisemitism is like a virus for which there is no cure’. “…Similarly, she noted that with regard to the horrific sexual violence against women and girls (as well as men) on Oct. 7 and in captivity, many groups that had insisted “believe the women” during the #MeToo movement in this case reacted with a different standard. “We don’t know … We don’t have evidence …” She repeated: “Why the different standard?”

i24news. December 22, 2023. Israeli doctors: Many of 30 released female hostages were assaulted in Gaza. All released female hostages of childbearing age were subjected to pregnancy tests and screening for sexually transmitted infections Two Israeli doctors who treated freed hostages, as well as an Israeli military official familiar with the matter, confirmed to American newspaper USA TODAY that some released women revealed that they had suffered violent sexual assaults in captivity. All three spoke on condition of anonymity.  One of the doctors said that among those aged 12 to 48, man of the 30 suffered sexual assault during their captivity at the hands of Hamas in Gaza. The doctor chose not to detail the specific nature of the assaults, while emphasizing that victims of sexual abuse generally have a four times higher risk of mortality than people who have not suffered such abuse.

Vox, December 23, 2023. Why sexual violence in war is so widespread — and under-covered How to understand Hamas’s alleged sexual attacks on October 7. As Israeli officials piece together the attacks of October 7, evidence is mounting that Hamas committed crimes of sexual violence against the people it attacked in Israel — both women and men, both dead and alive. UN testimony delivered earlier this month implicates Hamas and other militants in potential sexual crimes during the rampage in Israel, including shooting at the genitals of the victims, inserting foreign objects into sexual organs, as well as, potentially, rape and other forms of sexual violence. But as the testimonies shared before the UN indicate, investigations into what happened on that day are ongoing and will be complicated by the fact that many of the victims and witnesses are dead. Sexual violence is horrific in any context, and is always connected to power and domination. But it takes on a different dimension when it is utilized as a tool of war — as it has been for centuries. And even though it is an unfortunately common feature of broader conflict, it’s often misunderstood and is difficult to prosecute — as all war crimes are — making justice for victims a complicated prospect at best.

The Atlantic Council, December 21, 2023 – The Big Story – Distortion by Design. Emerson T. Brooking, Layla Mashkoor, Jacqueline Malaret: “The first declaration of war came via Telegram. On October 7, at 7:14 a.m. local time, Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades used its Telegram channel to announce the beginning of a coordinated terror attack against Israel. Posts on Hamas’s press channel followed several minutes later. The press channel then posted a brief video clip of what appeared to be Israeli buildings in flames at 7:30 a.m. At 8:47 a.m., al-Qassam Brigades released a ten-minute propaganda video seeking to justify the terror attack, which was then shared via the press channel four minutes later. At 9:50 a.m., al-Qassam shared the first gruesome images of the actual attack; at 10:22 a.m., a grisly video collage. In both cases, the press channel followed suit. Then came many more graphic posts, propelled to virality by both Hamas Telegram channels and a constellation of other Hamas-adjacent paramilitary groups. Within a few hours, the al-Qassam Brigades channel’s distribution grew by more than 50 percent, rising to 337,000 subscribers. Within a matter of days it would surpass 600,000 subscribers. Three other Palestinian militant groups rushed to release self-congratulatory statements about their own roles in the attack, not wanting Hamas to get all the credit. All told, Hamas and Hamas-adjacent groups would produce nearly 6,000 Telegram posts in the first seventy-two hours of the war.”

927 Magazine, December 17, 2023 [this article reference multiple sources in Hebrew]: “…Two intelligence sources also said they now have concrete evidence that some female Israeli hostages were sexually assaulted by their Hamas captors while in captivity, corroborating testimonies published by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum and elsewhere. The sources said that some are still in danger of sexual abuse, and that the window of opportunity to release them is getting smaller….The source also detailed how even Israel’s strikes on known Hamas leaders can endanger the lives of hostages. “One of the things that is not discussed by the Israeli public is that there are female hostages held next to senior Hamas figures all the time. They’re using them as human shields. So to try to kill the senior Hamas figures is to know that you will sacrifice a female hostage.” These comments seem to be in line with what Hanegbi said in another interview last week: “If we receive information about [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar’s location, and we know that he is surrounded by Israeli hostages, it will be a heartbreaking dilemma … In the end, we will have to make a decision.”

The New York Times, December 13, 2023. Opinion. Denying the Gender-Based Violence of Oct. 7 Helps No One. “In Israel and Gaza, war is being fought as wars have long been: with bodies and steel, on land and from the sky.Around the rest of the world, though, the Israel-Hamas war is being waged with propaganda, protest and social media posts, declarations and dismissals, all too often by ideologues speaking to an audience primed to believe them. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the too-long silence about, downplaying and even outright denial of the sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas. Allegations of sexual violence on Oct. 7 were raised early on. But the attacks that day were so shocking and the casualty figures so high and the mission to figure out who was dead and who was kidnapped so urgent that it seems Israeli investigators prioritized identifying victims over in-depth forensic examinations. Stunned recovery teams made every effort to offer dignified treatment of the dead, often failing to photograph the bodies as they were found. Many victims, in accordance with traditional Jewish funeral customs, were buried as soon as possible. The very work of identifying people was complex and time-consuming: Many bodies were in pieces or charred beyond recognition. As forensics teams were doing their work, desperate families waited outside the forensic center where truck after truck brought in more and more victims for identification. In some areas, fighting went on for several days, delaying the retrieval of bodies. Some evidence of sexual assault and rape degrades over time, and obviously, it’s difficult to recover material like semen from a badly burned body.”

The Times of Israel, December 12, 2023. ‘One girl was given ketamine’: Israeli doctor says hostages abused, drugged in Gaza. Psychiatrist cites ‘physical, sexual, mental, psychological’ torment, says one freed Hamas captive was held in total darkness for days, others still experience dissociative states.

The New York Times, Opinion, December 5, 2023. Silence Is Violence — but Not When It Comes to Israeli Rape Victims. …Following the testimonies, Yifat Bitton, an Israeli law professor, noted that the victims had been “silenced twice”— first by Hamas on Oct. 7, and then “by the silence of the very U.N. organizations that were entrusted with the mandate of protecting them.” There were clear signs of sexual abuse from the first moments of the attack, and by mid-November there were authoritative reports of Hamas’s widespread sexual assaults. Yet it took U.N. Women, the agency that has that mandate to look out for women’s rights globally, eight weeks before issuing a perfunctory statement saying it was “alarmed” by accounts of gender-based atrocities during the attacks of Oct. 7. As for other so-called human-rights organizations, the website of Human Rights Watch — which includes a page ostensibly devoted to women’s rights — has dozens of news releases about the war in Gaza. Not a word about the rapes. From Amnesty International: nothing that can be found on its website. The National Organization for Women denounced the Oct. 7 attacks on the day they occurred and last week issued a news release condemning “rape as a weapon of war.” But it contained no mention of Hamas.

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