15 Witnesses, Three Confessions, a Pattern of Naked Dead Bodies. All the Evidence of Hamas Rape on October 7

PALESTINE - ISRAEL, 22 Apr 2024

Liza Rozovsky | Haaretz – TRANSCEND Media Service

Allegations of rape in the October 7 attack have become a contentious topic.  (photo: EPA)

Hamas’ acts of rape on October 7 have turned into one of the massacre’s most contentious topics. Each testimony and detail that emerges is weaponized in the clash between Israel’s supporters and its opponents. Now, based on conversations with dozens of sources, a Haaretz investigation delineates which proof exists for sex crimes committed by Hamas – and what is missing.

19 Apr 2024 – It became one of the most talked-about and controversial issues relating to the October 7 massacre. New information is published on the subject weekly, sometimes daily. Every new piece of testimony that is uncovered, every new detail revealed, immediately turns volatile.

On the one hand, pro-Palestinian websites are conducting an intensive campaign of denial, endeavoring to call into question the reliability of findings and testimonies. On the other hand, Israeli spokespersons latch onto every gut-wrenching report in their efforts to persuade the world of the truth of the atrocities that were perpetrated, and in some cases also invoke them in order to excoriate the enemy and score political points. At times it seems as though the acts of rape committed by Hamas terrorists during the massacre have become almost the whole story.

The hyper-coverage, far from reducing the confusion, only heightens it. And anyone who dares to touch the topic risks encountering a media firestorm. From The New York Times, which investigated the scale of the crimes and found itself under attack, to international law specialist Cochav Elkayam-Levy, who placed the subject on the world agenda and then had aspersions cast on her work, and even all the way to Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, who was suspended temporarily from teaching in the law faculty at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and more recently detained for questioning because remarks she made publicly implied that she doubted that sexual assaults had been committed at all.

The nature of the sex crimes, the way in which they were committed and the semi-paralysis that initially assailed Israeli authorities in general, have limited – and continue to limit greatly – the possibility of arriving at a full and convincing picture of the crimes committed, beyond a reasonable doubt, so as to make any prosecution feasible. The investigation is continuing under the aegis of Lahav 433, the major crimes department of the Israel Police. However, the police and the state prosecution are refusing to reveal details about their work, and the date when the investigation might conclude is unknown.

“The real problem is the ability to go to trial on the basis of admissible evidence of a sufficient level for a court” to convict, a senior source in the State Prosecutor’s Office told Haaretz, with regard to the investigation. “The investigators are leaving no stone unturned in trying to obtain evidence, every day brings new things. The last word has not yet been said.”

Thus, with no charges regarding the sexual attacks having yet been presented to the court, Haaretz spoke with dozens of sources who are dealing with the subject, in an effort to map out the evidence, testimonies and other findings that establish that sex crimes were committed, and to understand what material is still missing.

The Haaretz report below, which includes some disturbingly graphic descriptions, is based on conversations with sources in the defense establishment, therapists who spoke with survivors, individuals who are involved in the investigation, rescue personnel who were at the different arenas of the massacre and professionals who were engaged in collecting and documenting individual testimonies, including members of “Dinah Project 7/10” at Bar-Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women. The project is an initiative of five Israelis, all women, who are expert on matters of law and gender, and who decided to take on the task of ensuring that the sexual violence file will in fact reach the courts in Israel and international tribunals.

Our investigation also drew on the two comprehensive reports compiled to date on the subject: one from Pramila Patten, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and the other by Dr. Carmit Klar-Chalamish and Noga Berger, from the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel.

In the meantime, relatives of the captives and the murdered have also launched an international legal effort to seek justice for the victims. For despite the intensive occupation with the acts of rape committed on October 7, the sex crimes did not end there.

The courageous testimony of released hostage Amit Sousanna, the first woman to speak publicly about the sexual assault she underwent in captivity, rendered the sexual violence being committed against the captives, women and men, an undeniable fact.

A high-ranking source in the health system told Haaretz that there are other women who returned to Israel during last November’s prisoner exchanges with Hamas, and who and told the medical professionals who were the first to receive them that they themselves endured sexual assault or were victims of indecent acts in captivity.

Witnesses and survivors

There are at least 15 survivors from the Nova music festival, where more than 360 people were murdered, who were witnesses to acts of individual rape and gang rape at different places on the grounds of the party, near Kibbutz Re’im. Five have already spoken about what they saw in the media.

An examination by Haaretz indicates that the SafeHeart organization, which was established in order to provide psychological support for the survivors of the massacre at the parties, has at least 10 more eyewitnesses whose testimonies have not yet been made public.

Similarly, the Secret Forest, an Israeli-owned retreat center in Cyprus that hosted survivors, has information about 13 witnesses who testified that they saw or heard sexual assaults during the attack. It’s not known whether there is an overlap between the survivors who spoke with the Secret Forest and those being aided by SafeHeart.

Of the five eyewitnesses who have already come forward publicly, at least three have also given testimony to the police. Haaretz approached several of them, but they said they did not wish to go over their testimony again.

Sapir and Yura, two young people who hid together in the area of the party, told The New York Times that they had seen a number of gang rapes and murders of women, and testified that they had witnessed acts of sexual organs being mutilated. Raz Cohen, who hid next to Highway 232, told a series of media outlets, including Israel’s Kan 11 and the Times, that he had seen gang rape and murder. Shoham Gueta provided supporting testimony of this. The Sunday Times in Britain published testimony of another individual, named Yoni Saadon, who told the paper he had seen gang rape and the murder of a woman.

According to SafeHeart, one reason that the witnesses under its care haven’t yet been made known to the public is that their psychological condition does not permit this. The organization, which was established by clinical therapists, cooperated with the UN team that examined the testimonies of sexual violence. They are now ready to relate for the first time publicly what they know from their patients, whose privacy they continue to safeguard.

Yair Grynbaum, head of emergency intervention for SafeHeart, told Haaretz what four of the witnesses saw. “Among the cases that have come to our knowledge, there is eyewitness testimony from the Nova party that an armed man raped a woman and shot her to death. Two additional witnesses saw a gang rape in which, according to their descriptions, between seven and 10 assailants took part. Another witness saw a gang rape in which five assailants took part. One of the gang rapes was in a field, the other on the grounds of the party. Both ended with the victims’ murder.”

Dr. Demian Halperin, the same organization’s head of psychiatric support, told Haaretz about six more eyewitnesses. All six are men who survived Nova and whom he is treating personally. Most of the rapes that his patients witnessed occurred on the fringes of the principal site where the massacre took place, he says, in places where few people were present.

“The stories I know occurred in relatively isolated places, with the exception of one case that happened, according to what I was told, in the party’s parking area. The other cases of gang rape occurred in far-off fields, where it was less likely that there would be witnesses. To the best of my understanding, the only situation in which a person could have been witness to rape was if they hid, as many of the Nova survivors did.”

Halperin adds that there is also one case of a survivor who saw a rape (not of a Nova attendee) during his escape, after he had managed to get about 10 kilometers from the party.

“It’s very difficult for patients to talk about these things, it touches very sensitive places,” Halperin says, and emphasizes that his work with them is not focused on the sexual assaults they saw. If the subject comes up, he says, it’s at their initiative. “Sometimes it entails a great deal of guilt, and for the most part what stands out are posttraumatic symptoms such as flashbacks and nightmares in which the sexual assault is present,” Halperin notes. “For example, hearing the voice of [a] woman asking for help.”

Rami Davidian, from Moshav Patish, who rescued many people from Nova, said that he saw women’s bodies tied to trees in the area of the party. Halperin confirmed to Haaretz that he heard similar testimonies. The UN report also mentions bodies that were tied to trees along Highway 232.

Davidian, who gave testimony both to the UN team and to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, told Haaretz what he saw. “There were trees on which there was one body, and there were cases in which a number of bodies were tied to the same tree,” he related. “There was a case of a couple who were in an embrace, naked, and tied to a tree. Both of them had been shot in the chest.”

In his testimony to the Association, Davidian said he had seen more than five bodies that had been mutilated “in intimate places… their organs were cut off, damaged. There was blood from the groin… There were also shots to breasts.”

As noted, information also reached the personnel of the Secret Forest project in Cyprus, which provided support to more than 1,000 survivors, about 13 who reported that they had witnessed sexual assaults during the attack. Maor Arieli, who established and managed the project specifically for this purpose, told Haaretz that about 700 of the survivors were asked in a telephone interview, which took place before they were flown to Cyprus, whether they had experienced or been witness to sexual assault.

Eight of them replied that they had been eyewitnesses to such assaults, and five reported that they had been earwitnesses. Two other witnesses replied in vague terms. The project is not in possession of details about these cases, because the interviewers were instructed not to pursue the subject.

The picture that arises from the absolute majority of the testimonies is that the women who were raped at the party were then murdered. However, there are a number of women who survived the rapes they underwent on October 7. Sources in SafeHeart related that one of them approached the nonprofit for help, and was referred for therapy elsewhere. The Welfare Ministry asserted that three women and one man who survived sexual assault in the massacre had put out feelers to its treatment centers.

The media has to date published one interview, anonymous, with a woman who was raped at the party. The woman was given the pseudonym “Esther” by the French daily Le Parisien, which published a brief interview with her at the end of November, in which she related, in harrowing testimony, that she had been raped and her body mutilated. She stated that a relative who was with her at the party was murdered and her corpse subjected to rape. That article did not make waves in the international media and to the best of our knowledge was not quoted in any Israeli media outlet. Haaretz was unable to crosscheck that interview with other testimonies.

The author, journalist Laura-Maï Gaveriaux, told Haaretz that she had a prior acquaintanceship with the survivor she interviewed. She added that since the interview she had received threats in France from various individuals, some of whom she terms “Hamas supporters.”

Besides the Nova testimonies, Haaretz is aware of one additional testimony of rape on October 7, one that occurred during the attack on the Nahal Oz army outpost. That testimony became known to Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, who heads Bar-Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women. It was she who first made contact with UN Under-Secretary General Pramila Patten and asked her to visit Israel, and she also accompanied the UN team during their stay in the country.

Halperin-Kaddari, who is also a participant in Dinah Project 7/10, told Haaretz that she had become apprised of the testimony during the team’s visit to the outpost. The witness, a female officer who was at the base on the day of the attack, heard a rape being committed outside the structure where she was hiding. Afterward, when she emerged from the structure, she saw the naked body of the female soldier who had been raped and murdered, and covered it. The officer also testified that she had seen on the base the body of a man whose penis had been mutilated. The officer’s testimony is mentioned in passing in the UN report, but with a comment to the effect that the team had not been able to crosscheck it with supporting testimony.

Bar of proof

In large measure, the attitude toward the testimony of the officer from Nahal Oz encapsulates the disparities between the two reports that have been compiled to date about the sexual violence of October 7: that of the UN and that of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers. For the most part the reports do not contradict one another, but there are a number of important differences between them.

The UN report is worded with extreme caution and does not assert what the scale of the sexual violence was or how systematic these acts were. Patten emphasized that her mandate was to collect information and not to conduct a legal investigation, but she also noted that the standard of proof she required was of “reasonable grounds to believe.” Halperin-Kaddari explained that in order to verify specific information, the team required testimony from at least two independent sources.

Despite the rigorous standard, the UN report arrived at clear conclusions. It stated that there were reasonable grounds to believe that multiple cases of sexual violence occurred in the course of the attack, including rape and gang rape in at least three different locations: at the site of the Nova party, next to Highway 232, and next to a bomb shelter at Kibbutz Re’im. The report states, with the same level of certainty, that the site of the party was the location of many cases of sexual violence.

A forensic pathologist on Patten’s team who went over the photographs and videos from the three sites found a number of bodies with “conspicuously spread legs.” The report notes that spread legs can be characteristic of bodies that have sustained “burn damage,” with no connection to sexual assault, but emphasized that this was not the explanation for the cases observed.

Patten found a pattern of bodies, mainly of women, which were found bound and shot, totally naked or with their lower body naked. Her report describes at least 20 bodies that were documented as naked or partially naked, and at least 10 bodies on which the hands and/or legs were bound. The phrasing Patten chose in this connection illustrates the restraint and caution she adopted in formulating her conclusions.

“Although circumstantial, such a pattern of undressing and restraining of victims may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence,” the report states. In other words, the report asserts that there was a pattern of disrobing and restraining, but backed away from an unequivocal conclusion that this indicated a pattern of sexual violence.

In addition, Patten states, “Credible information was obtained regarding multiple incidents whereby victims were subjected to rape and then killed,” and that “There are further accounts of individuals who witnessed at least two incidents of rape of corpses of women” at the Nova site.

In contrast, the ARCC report is formulated far more decisively, and states that the sexual violence was brutal, systematic and deliberate. The report is based both on direct testimonies that were collected by the association, but also on media reports that were not verified independently. The report sets forth a broad spectrum of testimonies which are not necessarily corroborated by a second source.

In addition to recounting the testimonies of sexual assault, the association’s report lists repeated patterns of sexual abuse to which the terrorists resorted: gang rape, attacks on men (several eyewitness accounts are included of bodies of men with severed sex organs), rape in the presence of family or members of the kibbutz communities, and murder in the course of rape. In addition, the association lists binding and shackling and the insertion of weapons or objects into the sex organs.

The authors of the association’s report, Noga Berger and Carmit Klar-Chalamish, explained in an interview to Haaretz that they concluded that a pattern existed only when they had at least three testimonies describing a particular method. These are not cross-checked testimonies about the same event, but their very replication attests to there being a pattern, they aver.

“Our report was based on four sources of information: journalistic investigations that were conducted internationally, testimonies that were published of first responders in the massacre arenas, interviews that we conducted with first responders and confidential information that reached the association by virtue of its role,” the authors say.

“In these circumstances, when it is not possible to verify or examine each item of open[-source] information substantively, we chose analysis according to patterns of operation. When a particular practice repeated itself a number of times in different arenas and contexts, we included it in the analysis. This method is intended to ensure that even if a question arises about a particular case that was mentioned, the analysis will hold. Unfortunately, in the time that has passed since publication [on February 21], we have received additional confirmation about the practices that were described.”

Investigation and evidence

At the end of March, a first confession of its type was made public. Manar Qassem, from Islamic Jihad, who was arrested by the Israel Defense Forces in Khan Yunis, confessed in his interrogation to having raped a young woman in her home in one of the kibbutzim on October 7. Arguably, one needs to take a filmed confession of a prisoner of war with a grain of salt, but even so, his confession constitutes an important layer in the requisite factual foundation. Now, one of the rape suspects has a face and a name.

Haaretz has learned that the security bodies have in their possession at least two additional confessions of rape, both from Hamas personnel.

Beyond this, from inquiries put to three bodies in the defense establishment by Haaretz, it emerges that the intelligence material collected by the police and the intelligence bodies, including footage from terrorists’ body cameras, does not contain visual documentation of any acts of rape themselves. Overall, the police and the State Prosecutor’s Office refuse to make public details of their investigation, which, they say, is in progress. The many obstacles in its path were present from the outset.

Haaretz has learned that a forensic pathologist, with the assistance of a resident in that same field, have in recent weeks been examining photographs and videos of bodies provided to them by the police, in order to find evidence of war crimes in general and sex crimes in particular – similar to the work done by the UN team.

As far as is known, this procedure has so far turned up documentation of three bodies whose appearances might indicate that they were victims of sexual assault. In one case, an object was inserted into the sex organ, which renders the assault certain. At the same time, in two other cases it cannot be ascertained definitively that the victims were sexually assaulted without additional examinations, which are no longer possible at this stage.

One of these latter cases is that of G., who is known as “the woman in the black dress.” Her body was documented in a video that was disseminated on October 7, naked and with her legs spread. Her story was published in The New York Times investigation at the end of December, which stated that “Based largely on the video evidence… Israeli police officials said they believed that [she] was raped.” After this was published, her relatives cast doubt on the account and said that no one had informed them of this officially. “It’s not true that she was raped,” her brother-in-law told the journalist Amnon Levy in a Channel 13 interview. “The police did not bring us evidence.”

The family’s denials spawned articles in left-wing, international media outlets, including Mondoweiss and The Intercept, which castigated The New York Times investigation and denied its finding. An examination of the matter with police sources indicates that the process that led to the report that G. was raped was indeed not free of errors. At the same time, this does not mean that the facts were incorrect.

The police sources who spoke with the newspaper’s reporters were not among the investigators who dealt with the case, but two senior spokespersons in the organization, who did so without the knowledge of the investigative team. In fact, at that stage the investigators were not in a position to confirm or deny that G. had been raped, as the Times’ interview took place even before the visual materials had been examined by a forensic pathologist.

Since then, however, the materials have been examined by an Israeli forensic pathologist, who concluded that the position of the body is consistent with sexual assault. Another forensic pathologist, who examined the video in which G.’s body appears, at the request of Haaretz, reached a similar conclusion.

The police stated in response to an inquiry from Haaretz that the police officers told The New York Times’ reporters after viewing the video that “they believe the woman in the video underwent sexual violence, and that view remains unchanged now.”

A spokesperson for the Times told Haaretz that, “Our story says that the Israeli police believe she was raped, that some family members fear that is the case, and that her case became a very public example of the horrors inflicted on women. (Our story does not claim that the police ‘confirmed’ she was raped.) The story also makes clear that the uncertainty in this case is emblematic of the uncertainty the many families of the victims feel. The police cited the video evidence and the location for their assertion. The video was verified by The Times.”

The paper’s statement concluded that, “We stand by the story and are continuing to report on the issue of sexual violence in the aftermath of the attack on Oct. 7.”

As in the case of G., then, the examination of the visual materials has been carried out only in recent months. This is because in the first weeks after October 7, the effort focused on identifying the civilian victims and burying them, and the police did not even consider investigating potential sex crimes. As Haaretz reported in November, the police had not collected any forensic evidence of the perpetration of sex crimes during the massacre.

However, at Shura Base, to which most of the bodies were taken for purposes of identification, there were five forensic pathologists at work. In that capacity, they also examined bodies that arrived completely or partially naked in order to examine the possibility of rape. According to a source knowledgeable about the details, there were no signs on any of those bodies attesting to sexual relations having taken place or of mutilation of genitalia.

At the same time, because there were only five forensic pathologists at work, they managed to oversee the examination of a quarter of the bodies at most. In other words, about 75 percent of the bodies were buried without having undergone a professional examination.

The bodies that were in the worst physical condition, and that could not be identified at Shura were transferred to the Institute of Forensic Medicine, in Tel Aviv, for that purpose. In these cases, the bodies’ conditions afforded no possibility of determining what the victims had undergone before their death. The UN report noted that there were at least 100 such cases.

According to a source who is knowledgeable about the investigation, on the night between October 7 and October 8, six police forensic investigation teams – 12 police officers, all told – worked at the site of the party, alongside volunteers of ZAKA Search and Rescue. The police worked in the dark of night, in an area where hostilities were still underway, with air force helicopters above them firing volleys.

In the course of their work, which included photographing faces only and covering the victims ahead of their evacuation, more than 200 bodies were documented. These teams did not document a single case of sexual assault or cases of genital mutilation. They did see women whose throats had been cut and men on whom “confirmation of kill” had been carried out at close range.

The mission was halted in the middle of the night, when the police and the ZAKA teams had to leave in the wake of a security alert. The police forensic teams did not operate in the kibbutzim and the army bases, where parallel work was done by the IDF.

That was not the only obstacle to gathering findings. The UN report refrained from mentioning ZAKA, but did note that some of the first responders, “often from a conservative religious background,” covered nude or partially nude corpses “as a gesture of respect for the deceased.” The commander of ZAKA’s special forces, Chaim Otmazgin, confirmed that some of the bodies were covered or dressed before being documented. The report, which notes that some of the volunteers who were first on the scene were “not trained in the collection of forensic evidence,” with the result that potential information was thereby lost.

Campaign of denial

Indeed, the reports about the atrocities perpetrated in the massacre that were published after October 7 in the media and in the social networks were based largely on accounts from the forces that arrived at the massacre zones first and moved systematically between the different sites – mainly ZAKA personnel, rescue forces and military staff – who were utterly stunned by the brutal scenes they encountered.

In some case they shared information that turned out to be inaccurate. One such testimony, which was published in a number of media outlets internationally, including in The New York Times investigation, was that of a paramedic from an IDF elite unit who recounted seeing bodies of two girls in a room in one of the kibbutzim, who, in his telling, had clearly been raped. It later turned out that residents of that kibbutz never found a scene that matched the paramedic’s description, and the newspaper retracted the testimony

The IDF says that the paramedic insists that his testimony is correct, though he may have misidentified the kibbutz. “The fighter took part in active combat in a number of locations in kibbutzim and other communities for 25 hours consecutively, and in the case in question attested to his personal experience when he arrived at the scene of the massacre, while reconstructing complex events to which he was a witness on the ground,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stated.

Another case in the same kibbutz involved a mistaken report of a location there as the scene of sexual assault. Otmazgin, who was among the ZAKA personnel who went through the homes at the kibbutz, testified to finding in one of the houses the bodies of a mother and her two daughters, with one of the daughters found in a separate room, her clothes pulled down. He concluded, mistakenly, that the girl had been raped.

It later transpired that before he entered the chosen, army explosives experts had been present, and had separated the bodies while attempting to ensure that no explosives had been planted on them. Although the bodies were clothed when the sappers had photographed them, the clothes of one of the daughters had been pulled down while her body was being dragged to another room. The discovery of this mistake led to a correction in the report of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers and the publication of a clarification on the subject in Haaretz as well.

In an interview conducted during the past week, Otmazgin told Haaretz that he was pleased to find out that he had been mistaken. “However unpleasant it is to be in a situation in which I thought something and then discovered something else, I am not ashamed or embarrassed by it,” he said. “I shared what I saw, and when I found out something new, I had an opportunity to clarify. That is my obligation. Those who want to hear the truth, will know how to receive it even if it comes later.”

Otmazgin is the person responsible today for speaking on behalf of the organization about members’ testimony and reports of evidence of sex crimes in the Hamas attack. He undertook the task after cases were discovered in which ZAKA personnel (as well as rescue forces and IDF officers) spread false rumors. Haaretz reported in December that Yossi Landau, from ZAKA, disseminated two horror stories that never happened – one about 20 bound and burned bodies of children that were supposedly found on a kibbutz, and the other about the body of a pregnant woman he found whose belly had been slit open.

The story of the pregnant woman, which included the distribution of a false video that had been shot at a different time and a different place, was echoed afterward by Israeli spokespersons.

Cochav Elkayam-Levy, for example, who worked intensively to raise awareness of the subject internationally and is being awarded the Israel Prize this year in the field of “social solidarity” (arevut hadadit, in Hebrew), shared the story in interviews and international forums. Pro-Palestinian media, who pounce on every inaccurate report relating to the Hamas sex crimes, went so far as to accuse her of “fraud.” A response on behalf of Elkayam-Levy stated, “The case was reported in the name of female experts on the subject in Israel, and we were all relieved to find out that it didn’t happen. The case exposed the difficulty of giving a voice to victims in times of war.”

Michal Herzog, the wife of Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, also referenced the case of the pregnant woman in a column she published in Newsweek in November. The President’s Residence stated that she had based herself on Elkayam-Levy, and that as soon as she realized that this detail was incorrect, she requested that the article be corrected. (It was not.)

ZAKA, in any event, has significantly limited which members of the organization are authorized to speak publicly about the massacre sites. Patten refers to this in the UN report: “Witnesses and sources… adopted over time an increasingly cautious and circumspect approach regarding past accounts, including in some cases retracting statements made previously.”

Indeed, Otmazgin is now willing to talk only about cases that were documented, as he says, by his personnel. In other words, about those instances in which the bodies were photographed in stills or in video. There are few such cases. The UN report refers to the reasons for this. Out of respect for the dead, the report says, the volunteers took only a limited number of photographs, sometimes only of the victim’s face, for purposes of identification only. In some of the cases, as already mentioned, the victims were photographed only after being covered or dressed.

Otmazgin recounts the following cases that were documented in the area of the Nova rave: three women who were shot in the groin, the remains of a young woman who had obviously undergone serious abuse, and two bodies of young women who were found with legs spread and the upper part of their pants torn. He also tells of three cases in a kibbutz: a woman’s body with nails in her groin, and two other bodies of naked or partially naked women. As for other kibbutzim, he said he does not have documentation of bodies with signs of sexual abuse.

Otmazgin testified before the UN team and presented his findings. It was concluded that evidence in this regard could not be verified because of the paucity of visual proof and the poor quality of the photographs that were shown to the team. Otmazgin showed several of the photographs in his possession to Haaretz, including the one said to show nails having been inserted into the groin. The photograph was taken almost a week after the massacre and is definitely of poor quality. The possibility that what is depicted is indeed nails seems reasonable, certainly in combination with his testimony, but it’s impossible to determine this unequivocally.

Generally speaking, the visual materials do in fact support the testimonies of the first responders, but the quality and angles of the photography, as well as the condition of the bodies, in some cases makes it impossible to reach an unequivocal conclusion. Haaretz saw part of the documentation in Otmazgin’s possession during an in-person meeting – but he said he did not want to share the rest of out of respect for the dead and their families.

The denial campaigns are also fueled by irresponsible remarks made by senior Israeli officials and representatives. One such comment, which was repeated on various occasions, was that the Hamas terrorists received explicit orders from those who dispatched them to rape their victims. “The sex crimes were planned in advance,” Israel’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, asserted in December.

That assertion also found its way into The Washington Post – via Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. An article from November contains a quote by Gallant, who said that Israel knows from interrogations that Hamas’ plans for the October 7 attacks also included detailed instructions on “which commander should rape which [Israeli] soldiers in different places.”

A spokeswoman for Gallant told Haaretz that the quote had been distorted and that Gallant had never said that. The quote was indeed removed from the online version shortly after publication, but an editor’s note explains that the deletion was made it was published without permission – meaning it had been said off the record. The incident didn’t escape The GrayZone, a site associated with the radical left in the United States, which termed the quote “outlandish.”

However, contrary to what Erdan and Gallant did or did not say, a check by Haaretz among a number of security bodies shows that, as of now, Israel has no proof that the terrorists of Hamas or other organizations received explicit orders to commit acts of rape.

The Israeli UN mission issued the following statement to Haaretz: “The fact that Israel is now immersed in combat, and not in collecting all the orders given by commanders in Hamas to the monsters who were sent to slaughter Israel’s citizens, does not reduce Hamas’ responsibility for its rapists and murderers who committed on its behalf multiple sex crimes, both on the day of the massacre and also against the male and female captives.”

Going to trial

What does all this mean in terms of bringing any terrorists to trial for committing sex crimes? Retired District Court Judge Nava Ben-Or, who also served as the assistant state prosecutor for criminal affairs, believes that even if no clear evidence is found that any received explicit orders to commit rape, both they and their commanders – both military and political – can be charged with sex crimes on the basis of collective responsibility.

“In a trial,” Ben-Or, who is also a member of Dinah Project 7/10, explained, “there is a doctrine of collateral accountability of partners. When you enter into a ‘project’ to commit a certain offense, and other offenses were committed which you anticipated or could have anticipated, then you are accountable for them – even if there was no prior directive.

“According to this doctrine, there is no need to link the assaulter and the assaulted specifically, because the responsibility for all the actions is that of the mob. The mob embarked on a rampage whose motivation and intention was to commit mass atrocities. Everything that is compatible with this scheme, including sexual violence, even if there was no prior directive, is part of the pattern.”

Ben-Or adds that, “Even if proof is not found that meets the judicial criterion regarding many acts of rape, it will be possible to determine, on the basis of the information that already exists about many bodies that were found completely or partially naked, that multiple sexual assaults were committed during Hamas’ attack.”

The investigation, then, is still underway. The police are calling “on those who have not yet done so to provide testimony or evidence that can help in investigating the truth, in doing justice and in sounding the voice of the victims.”

The survivors, the witnesses and the families of the victims – and Israeli society generally – need closure, which can only be achieved if and when the case is brought before an Israeli court.

In the meantime, the families of those murdered and of the hostages have launched a legal effort in the international arena. Attorney Shelly Aviv Yeini, who is coordinating that effort for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, told Haaretz that the forum has filed a general complaint with the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which includes arguments regarding genocide, abduction, sexual assault and torture.

At the conclusion of the UN report, Patten recommended both to the enforcement agencies in Israel and to international bodies “to bring all perpetrators, regardless of rank or affiliation, to justice based on individual, superior and command responsibility,” and she urged Israel to sign a cooperation framework with her office in order to improve the mechanisms of justice dealing with sexual violence. “Patten came with clean hands and courage,” Ben-Or says. “I think we should extend a hand and grab this help.”

The politicians in Israel did exactly the opposite. Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz chose to attack “the silencing of the sex crimes” by the UN precisely after the report was submitted and resonated widely in the world media.

Indeed, in her conclusions, Patten referred to irresponsible behavior by politicians, activists and journalists in regard to the sexual assaults. She urged that sensational headlines and media pressure be avoided, that the victims’ identities not be made public and that the sexual violence should not be exploited for political purposes. In other words, she enumerated all the sins that were committed in this context over the past six months.

An echo of these sentiments can also be heard in an interview that Haaretz conducted with a woman from one of the kibbutzim toward the end of the investigation for this article. The woman, who identified a large number of the bodies of the murder victims on her kibbutz, cast a different light on the incessant search for evidence of rape and sexual assault. In her eyes, the discourse over the acts of sexual violence on and after October 7 has become distorted.

“To find bodies in their home is an invasion of privacy,” she said. “To find bodies in their beds is an invasion of privacy. It’s to enter into people’s most private place. I saw bodies in the bathroom, too. Some were in a condition that made identification impossible. I found bodies of men and women who were not dressed in a natural way, with clothing pulled down. Did terrorists do that? I don’t know, I wasn’t there.

“But sexual assault is not only whether someone was raped or committed an act of sodomy. People who were touched physically – were touched. We lost our privacy, our homes were violated and our souls, too. I don’t see any of that in the discourse.”

Go to Original – rsn.org


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