From the first days after the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, Israel has accused Hamas terrorists of committing widespread sexual violence.
The Israeli authorities say they are investigating reports of sexual assault and have compiled considerable evidence — from witnesses, emergency medical workers and crime scene photographs — that they took place.
But they say it has been extremely difficult to collect the evidence because most of the victims are dead.
Many activists say that too little credence has been given to what they believe was a pattern of widespread rape during the attacks by Hamas.
The activists have complained that some news outlets questioned the veracity of the allegations and that international organizations like the United Nations were too slow to speak up about the issue.
Jewish women’s groups have organized a conference to take place at the United Nations on Monday to focus attention on the issue.
Hamas officials have denied the reports of sexual violence and said that any atrocities were committed by other armed groups that poured into Israel after Hamas fighters breached the barrier fence surrounding Gaza. But extensive witness testimony and documentary evidence of killings, including videos posted by Hamas fighters themselves, support the allegations.
This is what we know.
Israel Accuses Hamas of Mass Rape
Meni Binyamin, the head of the International Crime Investigations Unit of the Israeli police, has said that “dozens” of women and some men were raped by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.
“We are investigating sexual crimes against both women and men perpetrated by Hamas terrorists,” Mr. Binyamin said in an interview with The New York Times. “There were violent rape incidents, the most extreme sexual abuses we have seen, of both women and men. I am talking about dozens.”
“This is an ongoing investigation,” Mr. Binyamin added. “I cannot get into details.”
Mr. Binyamin said a team of investigators had gathered “tens of thousands” of testimonies from survivors and witnesses of the attack, as well as from soldiers and emergency medical workers. He said intelligence officers were combing through banks of video imagery and photographs of the Hamas incursion. They have not shared any information about interviewing victims of rape.
Autopsies, forensic evidence and confessions from captured Hamas fighters also corroborate that sexual crimes were committed, he said.
The Israeli authorities have released little information about specific crimes and victims but in mid-November, police officials shared a video of an Israeli woman who said she had watched Hamas terrorists gang raping a young woman whom they captured during a music festival in the Negev desert. The witness, whom police did not identify, said she had been hiding during the festival and had seen Hamas terrorists taking turns raping a young woman, mutilating her and then shooting her in the head.
Her testimony was consistent with other witness accounts from the music festival.
Top Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have accused Hamas of using rape as part of a broader campaign of atrocities.
“We’ve had hundreds massacred, families wiped out in their beds in their homes, women brutally raped and murdered,” Mr. Netanyahu said in early October.
Activists Seek Broader Condemnation
Women’s rights activists have expressed dismay about what they see as a lack of credence given to claims that sexual assault was widespread on Oct. 7. So far, no survivor of rape or assault has spoken publicly about their experience.
“We have come so far in believing survivors of rape and assault in so many situations,” wrote Sheryl Sandberg, the former Meta executive and a leading voice on women in the workplace, in an opinion piece for CNN. “Yet this time, many are ignoring the stories that these bodies tell us about how these women spent the last moments of their lives.”
“Not loudly condemning the rapes of October 7 — or any rapes — is a massive step backward for the women — and men — of the world,” Ms. Sandberg said.
Many people in Israel and elsewhere have complained that it took too long for organizations like the United Nations to issue condemnations, a delay that they took to imply that the initial reports of sex crimes had not been believed.
U.N. Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and female empowerment, issued a statement last week calling for all accounts of gender-based violence that occurred on Oct. 7 to be investigated and prosecuted.
“We are alarmed by the numerous accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence during those attacks,” the organization said.
The statement came a day after the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, acknowledged “numerous accounts of sexual violence during the abhorrent acts of terror by Hamas on 7 October that must be vigorously investigated and prosecuted” in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, posted on X on Nov. 29, “In every other massacre in which such heinous sexual crimes were committed,” U.N. Women had “issued an immediate and harsh condemnation.”
“But when Israeli women are the victims,” he added, the organization “casts doubt on the allegations.”