JUSTICE - No. 71

4 No. 71 JUSTICE wo days after the horrific Hamas attack of October 7, I met Rotem, a young mother of two small children from a Kibbutz on the Gaza border. I held my breath as she recounted how she ran with her children to hide while terrorists rampaged through their home, how they made it to the safe room and desperately held the door, praying the terrorists wouldn't enter. Her terror echoed accounts I've heard from abused women, except now the threat was not from a violent husband. And Rotem was not alone; she is one of many Israeli women who simultaneously faced murder and rape by Hamas terrorists on that fateful day. At the President of Israel's Residence in Jerusalem, we are preparing for the day the United Nations General Assembly has designated the International Day for the Prevention of Violence against Women, which is observed every November 25. Every year, I host victims, civilsociety leaders, activists, and scholars committed to women's rights and safety on this day. But this year will be different. Many things changed on October 7 when thousands of Hamas terrorists massacred Israeli families, burnt children and the elderly, and kidnapped hostages. This deeply impacted our visceral understanding of the cruelty of gender-based sexual violence—and our faith in the international organizations that claim to care about women. It took me several days to grasp the monstrous nature and scale of violence suffered specifically by women on October 7. My first realization came when meeting volunteers of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers who discreetly told me of conversations with survivors. They heard testimonies that shocked them to the core. At the Nova music festival, where more than 350 young people were slaughtered and dozens kidnapped, witnesses hiding in the bushes saw terrorists gang-rape, then murder and mutilate women. Those of us unlucky enough to have seen video evidence broadcast by the terrorists themselves witnessed the body of a naked woman paraded through Gaza, and another, still alive, in bloodied pants held captive at gunpoint being pulled into a jeep by her hair. This evidence, along with the explicit recorded confessions of captured terrorists, makes abundantly clear that mass rape was a premeditated part of Hamas's plan. And this crime is ongoing: The hostages held in Gaza include young women and only when they are released will we know what they have endured. In the 1990s, international agencies and legal experts finally began to see violence against women as a particular category of war crime. Organizations like UN Women exist to protect women from such crimes, while Israeli experts and activists have been involved in these international efforts. Thus, our second shock: The inconceivable and unforgiveable silence of these organizations when faced with the rape and murder of Israeli women. It is not that condemnations of gender-based violence by Hamas have been weak or insufficient – there have been none at all. Statement after statement by The Battle of Israeli Women Michal Herzog A version of the following article was published by the First Lady of Israel, Adv. Michal Herzog, in the international news outlet NEWSWEEK, November 22, 2023, under the headline, "The Silence From International Bodies Over Hamas' Mass Rapes Is a Betrayal of All Women," six weeks after the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7. At the time, the international women’s and human rights organizations remained deafeningly silent on the abhorrent sexual gender - based violence carried out by Hamas against women in Israel. Following this article, and the unrelenting dedication of so many leading activists in Israel, the world finally began to take note, condemn, investigate, and speak openly about these terrible crimes. Mrs. Herzog was also instrumental in hosting in Israel the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Mrs. Pramila Patten, and convening, together, the leading voices and experts in Israel on the issue of gender-based violence. Mrs. Patten’s visit resulted in a very important and harsh report presented to the UN Security Council establishing that sexual violence was committed by Hamas on October 7 in multiple locations. As courageous victims who are able to speak out have come forward, we look back at this article as a vital step in this ongoing fight for justice for the victims, and for the world to understand the true horrors that Hamas have committed and continue to commit, while the hostages remain held in brutal captivity. T