Israel slams United Nations for 'silence' over Hamas rape allegations

Israelis embrace next to photos of people killed and taken captive by Hamas militants during their violent rampage through the Nova music festival in southern Israel.
Israelis embrace next to photos of people killed and taken captive by Hamas militants during their violent rampage through the Nova music festival in southern Israel. Copyright Ohad Zwigenberg/AP
By Katy Dartford with AP, AFP
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Israel presented at a UN conference evidence it claims shows Hamas carried out systematic sexual violence against women during the 7 October attacks.

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Israel has accused the United Nations of hypocrisy over its response to accounts of rape and brutal treatment of Israeli women by Hamas fighters during the 7 October attacks at the Nova music festival.

At a meeting on sexual and gender-based violence in New York on 4 December, Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan said the UN Women agency claims to fight against gender-based violence, yet has remained silent about women and girls held by Hamas in Gaza. 

"UN women ignored all of the proof and were blind to all the evidence, including video footage of clear testimonies of sexual crimes."

"Instead of immediately supporting the victims, UN women brazenly suggested that Hamas's gender-based violence be investigated by a blatantly anti-Semitic UN body."

"The investigation that truly must be carried out is an investigation of UN women's indifference to the heinous crimes against Israeli women," he added.

Erdan was referring to the Israeli diplomatic mission in Geneva's accusation on 30 November that the UN Commission of Inquiry had pre-existing biases and prejudices against Israel. 

The mission said it would not cooperate with the body and its commissioners.

Hamas has denied the accusations, but women's rights campaigners believe it was a premeditated plan to use sexual violence as a weapon of war.

"These were not merely spur-of-the-moment decisions...to defile and mutilate Israeli women and girls to parade their naked bodies in the street while onlookers cheered. This was premeditated. This was planned. This was instructed," Erdan stated.

A spokesperson for UN Women said it's publicly expressed alarm at reports of gender-based violence on 7 October and that the numerous accounts must be “vigorously investigated and prosecuted”.

The criticism of UN Women’ comes over a week after the group posted and then deleted an Instagram condemnation of “the brutal attacks by Hamas on October 7.”

The UN agency has since been criticised over its failure to specifically call out Hamas.

On her X account, Sarah Hendriks, deputy director at UN Women has not once mentioned the militant group or the allegations against it.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who spoke out two days before UN Women, has also been criticised for taking eight weeks to speak about the allegations.

World must respond to weaponised sexual violence

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former chief operating officer at Meta, Sheryl Sandberg also spoke at the UN event in New York.

They are demanding that women’s groups and women everywhere condemn Hamas’ acts of sexual violence against Israeli women and girls at the Nova music festival.

"The world has to decide who to believe. Do we believe the Hamas spokesperson who said that rape is forbidden, therefore it couldn't have possibly happened on October 7th? Or do we believe the women?” Sandberg said.

"The silence on the crimes committed by Hamas is dangerous because it threatens to undo decades of progress to confront sexual violence against women," she added.

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Clinton, who attended the conference remotely, said: "We must respond to weaponised sexual violence wherever it happens".

US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, also on the panel, called on the UN to condemn “these evil crimes.” She said the international community “must demand accountability for these intolerable crimes”. 

What evidence does Israel have to back up its claims?

Israeli police say they have so far collected “more than 1500 shocking and distressing testimonies” from witnesses and first responders who were present during or after the atrocities.

At a recent Israeli parliamentary hearing, senior police officer Shelly Harush provided horrific details of the 7 October attack, citing "girls stripped naked above and below the waist" and reporting testimony of the gang rape, mutilation and murder of a young woman.

She cited another witness reporting gunshot wounds to the "genitals, in the abdomen, legs and buttocks (...), breasts cut or with gunshot wounds", while rescuers found the body of a woman bleeding from the genital areas."

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Yael Richert, head of the Israeli Police Logistics Centre is part of the Israeli government’s probe into these sex crimes and also attended the UN event. 

She presented newly released video testimony from first responders and a survivor of the Nova music festival attacks.

"Shooting was targeted at sexual organs. We saw that a lot," a paramedic testified to Israeli national police. 

'Like a second Holocaust'

On Sunday, Richert also presented shoes, clothes and documents from the more than 20 sites attacked by Hamas.

She said they had been collected by Israeli police to put names to dozens of still-unidentified victims and return to grieving families.

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"The first impression that you see all these shoes and the big bags with all the clothes is directly to the Holocaust," said Richert.

"For me, it's like a second Holocaust. I cannot, I cannot find any other words to describe what we see in the back," she added.

More than 1,200 people in Israel have been killed, most of them in the 7 October Hamas attack that started the fighting. 242 hostages were also taken from Israel into Gaza by the militant group.

Nearly 16,000 Palestinians - mostly women and children - have been killed by Israel, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.

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