‘A horror story that you see live’: Hamas raped women on October 7 and forced their families to watch

After near silence from feminist bodies, Israel’s Association of Rape Crisis Groups is urging the world not to look the other way


Evidence of Hamas's extreme and targeted sexual violence of women during and following the October 7 massacre has been widely ignored by many women's organisations (Photo: Getty)

During Hamas’s October 7 massacre, Israeli women and girls were brutally raped while their friends, family members and partners were forced to watch on in horror, powerless to intervene. That is just one of the chilling findings detailed in a landmark report submitted by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers (ARCC) in Israel two months ago.

Now, as the the organisation, which brings together nine rape crisis centres across the country, prepares a second report outlining evidence of Hamas’s sexual crimes, the organisation is urging the world – and especially women’s rights groups – not to look away from what the it has found to be the “systematic” and, “targeted” sexual abuse of women and girls by Hamas during the terror group’s October 7 massacre, and the war that has ensued.

Sexual and gender-based violence occurred systematically in four arenas, according to the findings: at the Nova Festival, survivors of which provided testimony that indicate severe sexual assaults including accounts of gang rape; across kibbutzim – testimonies from first responders and corpse-handling personnel reveal signs of sexual assault in the scenes of the massacre, with many cases involve shockingly depraved attacks, including a case of a knife embedded in a victim’s genitals; at IDF bases, where bodies of female soldiers exhibited signs of sexual violence; and in captivity - testimonies from freed hostages describe instances of sexual assault and rape.

The initial 35-page report contains chilling details of the bodies of a mother and daughter found in their home following Hamas’s onslaught of the Gaza envelope kibbutzim. Chaim Otmazgin, leader of the Jerusalem-based Zaka International Rescue Unit, which operates a specially trained team of volunteer paramedics and search and rescue teams, discovered the mother with her hands cuffed behind her back with clear signs of struggle, while her daughter was found in the adjacent room with her trousers and underwear rolled down.

Elsewhere, the naked bodies of a man and a woman - a couple - were discovered tied together in their home by Zaka volunteer Itzik Itach. The woman’s body, he said, showed clear signs of rape.

“It’s about humiliation, not just for women raped, but for all the others standing and sitting watching, they used her to humiliate and to frighten everyone,” said Dr Carmit Klar-Chalamish, the head of the research department at the ARCC and co-author of the report. “Sometimes, they even forced the other to watch.”

When Zaka volunteer Nachman Dyksztejna entered kibbutz Be'eri, where more than 100 residents were slaughtered, he found the bodies of two women with their hands and feet tied to a bed. One, he reports, had been sexually abused and had a knife inserted into her genitals.

“It frightened everyone and froze them,” said Klar-Chalamish. “In the kibbutzim, people were together, so they took one and they raped her, and all the others were frightened. If they tried to help her, the terrorist killed the one who tried to help the raped woman,” she added.

Israeli women and girls weren’t only raped and mutilated in front of their loved ones, but also in the presence of several perpetrators in acts of gang rape. Twenty-six-year-old accountant Sapir witnessed Hamas terrorists dressed in uniform, passing injured women between them.

From her hiding place near the Negev highway, Route 232, she saw “a young woman with a back injury, her pants pulled down below her knees, being pulled by one terrorist from her hair while another terrorist was penetrating her".

Klar-Chalamish said she gathered several eyewitness testimonies detailing this instance of gang rape: “A lot of people saw it, it’s like a horror story that you see live, and you can do nothing because then you’ll risk your own life. You’re watching it while doing nothing.”

In another case, at the site of the Nova massacre, Hamas raped a woman in front of her partner, she said: “I know it’s very hard for him to cope with the consequences, because he couldn’t help her, and they’re both alive.”

Following October 7, evidence of sexual assault and rape flooded social media, from videos filmed by first responders to Hamas body camera footage and CCTV. It took 57 days for the UN women’s agency, UN Women to condemn Hamas’s brutal acts in an official statement.

“We deeply regret that military operations have resumed in Gaza, and we reiterate that all women, Israeli women, Palestinian women, as all others, are entitled to a life lived in safety and free from violence,” the statement began.

It continued: “We unequivocally condemn the brutal attacks by Hamas on Israel on 7 October. We are alarmed by the numerous accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence during those attacks.”

For many, the statement, issued on 1 December, was too little, too late.

“At the beginning, we anticipated them to support us, and we were very disappointed to find out that feminist solidarity is really nothing, but people are people I guess,” Klar-Chalamish said.

She has given up hope of relying on solidarity from global feminist organisations, saying “we’re not looking at the outside, international world, we are focusing on our world and the missions we had to do”.

After experiencing antipathy from aid and rights agencies in the days following October 7, Klar-Chalamish said it was like “revealing a truth that we didn’t want to reveal”.

She said: “We were very disappointed. It wasn't only feminists, but organisations all over the world.”

Klar-Chalamish is now working on a follow-up report, detailing the ongoing instances of sexual assault and rape to which she said Israeli hostages in captivity are being subjected: “It’s not something that happened and ended. We are talking about right now, today, maybe someone is going through sex abuse and torture”.

Every day that the hostages remain in captivity is “like a little death for them,” she added.

The report, due to be published on 7 October this year will co-incide with the one year anniversary of the terrorist attack, and Klar-Chalamish said, will outline the sexual violence being committed against the hostages, where Hamas are “using more of the same practices in a different setting”.

She said: “You’re not chasing after women and drugging them, you already have them in the tunnel. You use different tools, but it’s the same horrible sex offence, the setting is different, but the acts are similar.”

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