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Hamas Committed Sexual Violence in October 7 Attacks and Against Hostages – Mother Jones

Hamas Committed Sexual Violence in October 7 Attacks and Against Hostages – Mother Jones
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A UN inquiry led by Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, found that Hamas perpetrated sexual violence against Israelis, and also heard allegations of sexual violence perpetrated by Israeli officials and settlers against Palestinians.Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Sipa/AP

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A United Nations inquiry found that Hamas perpetrated sexual violence against Israelis in its attacks on October 7, as well as against its Israeli hostages, according to a report released today, following a group of experts’ weeks-long trip to the region.

The experts—led by UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten—also visited the city of Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, and heard concerns about allegations of sexual violence perpetrated by Israeli officials and settlers against Palestinians in detention, in their homes, and at checkpoints, according to the UN statement. (The UN team didn’t visit the Gaza Strip due to “the ongoing hostilities” and the fact that there are other UN teams there that address sexual and gender-based violence, their statement said.)

The news comes as reports of sexual violence on October 7 have become a source of controversy in the context of Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza, which the Hamas-run Health Ministry says has killed more than 30,300 Palestinians, the majority of whom are women and children, according to the latest figures reported by the Associated Press. As I reported last month, protesters confronted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a Columbia University event focused on sexual violence in conflict, alleging that they were “exploiting sexual violence” to justify Israel’s military actions. The UN also previously came under fire by critics—including former Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg—who in December alleged that the body wasn’t adequately confronting reports of sexual violence on October 7.

The UN visit to the region doesn’t count as a formal investigation, which will fall to other UN bodies, according to Patten’s office. 

The visit lasted from January 29 to February 14, and consisted of a group of experts who held more than 30 meetings with Israeli officials and security forces and visited four locations that were sites of the October 7 attacks and the morgue that held victims’ bodies, among others, according to information provided by the UN. The team also conducted 34 confidential interviews with survivors and witnesses of the October 7 attacks, as well as released hostages, first responders, and health and service providers, and reviewed more than 5,000 images and about 50 hours of footage. 

“The mission team spared no effort to gather information and to encourage victims/survivors and witnesses to come forward and share their stories,” said the statement from Patten’s office.

That effort found that “clear and convincing information that sexual violence, including rape, sexualized torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment has been committed against hostages,” and that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred” in at least three locations during the October 7 attacks. “In most of these incidents, victims first subjected to rape were then killed, and at least two incidents relate to the rape of women’s corpses,” the UN added. 

The team also found “a pattern of victims, mostly women, found fully or partially naked, bound, and shot across multiple locations” that they said may indicate “some forms of sexual violence.” 

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There were also some reported alleged rapes that the team could not verify, and there were at least two allegations of sexual violence that had been “widely reported in the media” that the team said were unfounded, including one “highly publicized allegation of a pregnant woman whose womb had reportedly been ripped open before being killed, with her fetus stabbed while still inside her,” according to the report.

The UN team also noted that, in spite of its efforts, “the true prevalence of sexual violence [on Oct. 7]…may take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known,” due to various challenges to gathering evidence of sexual violence, including the large number of casualties; the quick burials of the dead; the loss of evidence; “inaccurate and unreliable forensic interpretations by non-professionals”; the difficulty of getting in touch with survivors; and “the intense media scrutiny of individuals whose accounts have appeared in the public domain, increasing trauma and fears of social stigmatization.”

Though the statement didn’t mention specific media reports, a December New York Times report purporting to examine allegations of sexual violence on October 7 has attracted significant controversy from inside the Times and from readers, who pointed to discrepancies in some of the accounts the story was based on, according to the Intercept. The Times writers addressed some of the critiques in a follow-up story. But another story published by the Intercept last week cast more doubt on the reporting, alleging that an Israeli freelancer who was one of the three reporters who authored the piece had no prior reporting experience, struggled to find corroborating evidence for the claims presented in the story, and had previously “likedposts on X calling for Gaza to be turned into a slaughterhouse, which she subsequently claimed was an accident. (A Times spokesperson told the Intercept that “those ‘likes’’ are unacceptable violations of our company policy.” The paper has also previously said it stands by its reporting.) 

In its coverage of today’s UN report, the Times said its prior reporting “did not refer to the specific allegations that the U.N. said were unfounded.” 

The UN said that, during its visits to the West Bank on two separate days, officials described various forms of sexual violence facing some of the nearly 9,000 Palestinians detained in Israeli custody, including invasive body searches, forcing women to remove their hijabs, threats of rape, prolonged forced nudity and sexual harassment. The UN team said it raised those allegations of harassment and sexual violence in Israeli detention with Israeli officials, who claimed that “to date, no complaints of sexual violence by members of the Israeli Defense Forces have been received,” according to the report.

Scholars and journalists have previously documented similar allegations, chronicling Palestinian men and women’s experiences of sexual violence while detained by Israeli forces, and sexual harassment of Palestinian women at Israeli checkpoints

The report also notes that while officials in the occupied West Bank did not report any incidents of rape, “Palestinian women’s organizations consistently stressed that in addition to intimidation and insecurity, the high level of stigmatization, conservative cultural norms and the power imbalance in the context of occupation impedes reporting of sexual violence.” 

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In issuing the summary of the findings, Patten called for a ceasefire—which Vice President Kamala Harris also called for yesterday—as well as the release of all hostages held by Hamas. Patten also said Israel should support the UN’s “fully-fledged independent investigations into all alleged violations.” 





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