Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 5 December 2023

 

Silence Is Violence — but Not When It Comes to Israeli Rape Victims

Two white roses lie on the ground.
Credit... Ofir Berman

Opinion Columnist

On Sunday, CNN’s Dana Bash asked Representative Pramila Jayapal why so many progressive women have been silent about the extensive reports of widespread rape and sexual assault carried out by Hamas against Israeli women during the massacres of Oct. 7.

What followed was a master class in evasion, both-sidesism and changing the subject from the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

“I’ve condemned what Hamas has done,” Jayapal allowed, briefly, before moving immediately to condemn Israel. Bash persisted: “I was just asking about the women, and you turned it back to Israel. I’m asking about Hamas.”

“I’ve already answered your question, Dana,” Jayapal replied, adding that while rape was “horrific,” it “happens in war situations. Terrorist organizations like Hamas obviously are using these as tools. However, I think we have to be balanced about bringing in the outrages against Palestinians.”

A day after the CNN interview, I attended a conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York, organized by the Israeli mission and Jewish groups, in which Hamas’s “tools,” to use Jayapal’s term, were described. Sheryl Sandberg, Hillary Clinton and Kirsten Gillibrand were among the headline speakers. But the important testimony came from Israelis who bore witness to what they had seen firsthand or heard from eyewitnesses of Oct. 7.

Here is some of what I heard, which people like Jayapal would do well to hear also. It’s extremely graphic.

Yael Richert, a chief superintendent with the Israeli national police, quoting a survivor of the Nova rave massacre:

Everything was an apocalypse of corpses. Girls without any clothes on. Without tops. Without underwear. People cut in half. Butchered. Some were beheaded. There were girls with a broken pelvis due to repetitive rapes. Their legs were spread wide apart, in a split.

An unidentified survivor of the rave, shown in a video with her face obscured:

They laid a woman down, and I understood they were raping her. He was basically shifting her around and passing her to another person. She stood on her feet; she was bleeding from her back. He’s pulling her hair. She’s not dressed, and he cuts her breast, throws it on the road, and they are playing with it.

Shari Mendes, an architect and army reservist who helped identify and prepare female corpses for burial as part of the Israel Defense Forces morgue staff, describing what she saw:

It seems as if the mutilation of these women’s faces was an objective in their murders. Some heads were bashed in so badly that brains were spilling out.

She added:


Many young women arrived in bloody shredded rags or just in underwear, and their underwear was often very bloody. Our team commander saw several female soldiers who were shot in the crotch, intimate parts, vagina, or shot in the breasts. There seemed to be systematic genital mutilation of a group of victims.

Simcha Greinman, an emergency medical worker with ZAKA, Israel’s volunteer identification, extraction and rescue teams:

I was called down on Oct. 7 to collect bodies and remains from the terror attack. On one of the days, I was called into a house, told there were a few bodies there, and I walked into the house. I saw in front of my eyes a woman; she was naked. She had nails and different objects in her female organs. Her body was brutalized in a way that we cannot identify her, from her head to her toes.

He went on:

On a different day, we got a mission to go into another house. I walked into this house, into the bedroom; there was a woman leaning on her bed. She was half-naked, from the waist down. She was shot in the back of her head. When we turned her around she had an open grenade in her hand. Thank God no one on our team got hurt.

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.

Why not?

In a remarkable floor speech last week, Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, spoke of “the sting of the double standard,” which, he said, “is at the root of antisemitism.” He also recalled a talk he heard in college by Abba Eban, then Israel’s foreign minister, who confronted left-wing hecklers at an event at Harvard.

“We have lived with the double standard throughout the centuries,” Eban told the protesters, Schumer said. “There are always things the Jews couldn’t do. Everyone could be a farmer but not the Jew, everyone could be a carpenter but not the Jew, everyone could move to Moscow but not the Jew, and everyone could have their own state, but not the Jew.”

To which one can today add: Every victim of sexual violence should be heard; no condemnation of rape should ever come with qualifiers; “Silence Is Violence.”

But not when it comes to Jews.

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