Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 7 December 2023


The Rape of the Israeli Women

The Abduction of the Sabine Women by Nicolas Poussin, painted circa 1633-34. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art

At first I didn’t understand. Among Hamas’s crimes of 10/7: little children and babies murdered, some burned to death; children forced to watch parents chased, beaten and shot. Old couples murdered in their homes; families who’d taken refuge in safe rooms burned out and killed. Hamas attempted to behead a kibbutz worker, and killed old women standing at a bus stop. Women were abused—raped, it seemed certain. But I didn’t understand why, from day one, the last received such emphasis. Defenders of Hamas kept demanding proof and claiming there was no evidence. It was as if they were saying: Sure we behead people and kill infants but raping someone, that’s crossing a line!

But now I understand what was done. It was grim and dreadful, but it was also systematic and deliberate. And since there’s going to be a lot of 10/7 trutherism—there already is—we have to be clear about what happened.



In the days after the attack, chaos reigned in the attack areas. At least 1,200 people had been murdered, their bodies scattered through kibbutzim and on the site of the Nova music festival. The crime scene was huge; the priority was identifying the dead and informing their families. Documentation of crimes was incomplete, forensic evidence not always recorded, evidence perishable. The testimony of witnesses, body collectors and morgue workers came in unevenly. It has built and is becoming comprehensive.

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A stunning report appeared last weekend in London’s Sunday Times, by reporter Christina Lamb. Bar Yuval-Shani, a 58-year-old psychotherapist treating the families of victims, told Ms. Lamb she has been told by several witnesses of rape at the music festival. A police commander told Ms. Lamb, “It’s clear now that sexual crimes were part of the planning, and the purpose was to terrify and humiliate people.” Ms. Lamb quotes Yoni Saadon, 39, a father of four and shift manager in a foundry who was at the music festival. He said he hid as a young woman was raped, and saw Hamas fighters capture another young woman near a car. “She was fighting back, not allowing them to strip her. They threw her to the ground and one of the terrorists took a shovel and beheaded her.”

“We didn’t understand at first,” Ms. Lamb quoted Cochav Elkayam-Levy, a Hebrew University expert on international law, who heads a commission into the Hamas crimes. She said survivors arriving at hospitals weren’t asked about sexual abuse or given rape kits, but those who volunteered to collect bodies started reporting that many of the women were naked and bleeding from the genitals. The commander of a unit of a volunteer religious organization that collected the remains of the dead told Ms. Lamb they collected 1,000 bodies in 10 days from the festival site and the kibbutzim. “No one saw more than us. . . . It seemed their mission was to rape as many as possible.”

Israel Defense Forces sources told the paper that Hamas fighters caught in Gaza reported in police interrogations that they had been instructed by superiors to “dirty” and “whore” the women.

A few days after the Sunday Times report came one on the mounting evidence of violent sexual abuse from BBC correspondent Lucy Williamson. Several of those involved in collecting and identifying the bodies of the dead told the BBC that they had seen “multiple signs of sexual assault, including broken pelvises, bruises, cuts and tears, and that the victims ranged from children and teenagers to pensioners.” Video testimony of an eyewitness to the music festival, shown to journalists by Israeli police, “detailed the gang rape, mutilation and execution of one victim.” The BBC saw “videos of naked and bloodied women filmed by Hamas on the day of the attack.”

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The gallant gents of Hamas were filming their own war crimes.

Israeli police have privately shown journalists filmed testimony of a woman at the music festival. She describes Hamas fighters gang-raping a woman and then mutilating her. The last of her attackers shot her in the head. She said the men cut off parts of the woman’s body during the rape. In other videos, Ms. Williamson writes, women carried away by the terrorists “appear to be naked or semi-clothed.”

Reuters on Dec. 5 quoted an Israeli reservist who worked at a makeshift morgue. “Often women came in in just their underwear,” she said. “I saw very bloody genitals on women.” Reuters spoke to seven people, first responders and those dealing with the dead, who attested to the sexual violence. Reuters quotes written testimony from one volunteer, who said he saw dozens of dead women in shelters: “Their clothing was torn on the upper part, but their bottoms were completely naked.”

This Monday a meeting at the United Nations laid out proof of the violent abuse. In the New York Times, reporters Katherine Rosman and Lisa Lerer quoted the testimony of Simcha Greinman, a volunteer collector of remains at the kibbutzim. He said the body of one woman had “nails and different objects in her female organs.” A person’s genitals were so mutilated “we couldn’t identify if it was a man or a woman.” Other women had mutilated faces. The head of the International Crime Investigations Unit of the Israeli police was asked how many women were abused. He said, “I am talking about dozens.”

If half of this testimony is true, then what was done to the women at the music festival and in the kibbutzim wasn’t a series of isolated crimes. It happened at scale, as part of a pattern, and with a deliberateness that strongly suggests it was systematic. The rape, torture and mutilation of women looks as if it was part of the battle plan. Hamas used sexual violence as a weapon.

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Why has the progressive left in the West, for two months now, been disbelieving, silent or equivocal about what Hamas did to women? One answer is that the progressive left hates Israel and feels whatever is done to Israelis is justified. Another is that the sick brutality of Hamas’s actions undercuts its position in the world, undercutting too the cause they falsely claim to represent, that of the Palestinian people. Why have women’s groups of the progressive left been silent? Because at bottom they aren’t for women; they are for the team.

All of this makes more remarkable the exchange between Dana Bash of CNN and Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Seattle. Ms. Bash pressed Ms. Jayapal on why she wasn’t condemning what had been done to women on 10/7. Ms. Jayapal was evasive, tried to redirect, said rape is “horrific” but “happens in war situations.”

“However,” she said, “I think we have to be balanced about bringing in the outrages against Palestinians.”

Balanced? How do you balance a story like the horrors of Oct. 7? You don’t, you just find and tell the truth. Some stories don’t have two sides. This is one of them.

Why is it important? Because it happened. Because it reveals something about the essential nature of Hamas and reflects its ultimate political goals. Progressives admiringly quote Maya Angelou’s advice that when people show you who they are, believe them. Oct. 7 was Hamas showing you who they are. Believe them.

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