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Israel’s obstruction of investigation into 7 October rape allegations risks truth never being found, advocates warn

June 9, 2024 at 9:14 am

Israeli police stop Palestinian vehicles outside of the Western Wall on December 12, 2023 in Jerusalem [Spencer Platt/Getty Images]

Israel’s leadership is pushing the allegations that Hamas fighters raped Israeli women during the October 7 attacks for its own political objectives while the government’s ongoing refusal to allow the United Nations to conduct a full investigation into the matter threatens to hinder any evidence, advocates have warned.

Following Hamas’s operation into Israeli-held territory on 7 October, Israel has accused the Palestinian resistance group of not only massacring Israelis in the areas surrounding the besieged Gaza Strip, but also of raping Israeli women.

While some reports have asserted that those acts and other reported atrocities were committed by civilians and those not affiliated with the group, Tel Aviv has insisted that it was directly ordered by Hamas’s leadership as a weapon of war.

According to The Times newspaper, Israeli advocates for the female survivors of the alleged sexual assault are now warning that the government’s obstruction of a full and legal investigation risks the possibility of ever reaching the truth about the allegations and the events.

One of those advocates is Orit Sulitzeanu, the executive director of ARCCI (Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel), highlighted the lack of expertise that many of the first responders on Octover 7 had, with members from the ultra-orthodox volunteer organisation Zaka – who were amongst those first responders – not being trained in forensics nor doing anything other than retrieving the remains found at the kibbutzim and effected areas.

“They are all religious guys; most of them are ultra-religious. They never saw a woman except their wife”, Sulitzeanu is quoted as saying. “So to see all these bodies, how did they deal with that?”

The report stated that forensic assessments were also made by women who were far from qualified, as well as repeating stories even after being proven false. Israeli legal expert Cochav Elkayam-Levy, for example, who formed a “civil commission” to collect evidence of the alleged sexual violence and is apparently a close associate of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had repeated debunked stories of a pregnant Israeli woman and her foetus, as well as having circulated photos of dead female Israeli soldiers who then turned out to be Kurdish fighters killed in Syria.

READ: Israel’s use of rape against Palestinian detainees from Gaza exposed

Those inaccuracies and inconsistencies led to Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, a jurist and specialist in international women’s rights, disassociating herself from that campaign. “I realised that I cannot accept the way she’s handling things — talking at some points irresponsibly without checking the credibility of information, repeating questionable accounts,” Halperin-Kaddari said. Instead, she then appealed to the UN for assistance in finding and assessing evidence of the allegations.

That was where Pramila Patten, the UN secretary-general’s special representative on sexual violence, came in and wrote her report, which she then explained to journalists on 4 March. While saying that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that sexual violence did take place during the 7 October attacks, the veracity and details of it could not be assessed nor could it be concluded that Hamas was directly behind it or ordered it.

She further explained that the investigation was not a legal one, as that could only be fulfilled by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which Israel has refused to work with. Patten also revealed that in all the Hamas video footage her team had watched and in all the photos they had seen, there were no depictions of rape.

The UN representative additionally asked that Israel investigate “credible allegations” of rape and sexual violence against Palestinian women and girls, which has been gathered by the UN’s legal mandate mission in the Palestinian territories. Israel rejected that request, however, and branded it “a derisive and deliberate Palestinian manoeuvre aimed at creating an intolerable equivalence between the horrific crimes that were committed, and continue to be committed, by Hamas and malicious and baseless claims made against Israel and Israelis”.

The primary problem now, according to Dr Sarai Aharoni – an academic at Ben-Gurion University who is assisting the compilation of a historical archive of the events – is the Israeli government’s use of the allegations for its own political objectives and to continue justifying the offensive in Gaza.

Political leaders and others linked to the Netanyahu’s Likud party “have used the feminist agenda in a very opportunistic way for a very specific political narrative associated with the Netanyahu government”, she said. “The politicisation of rape by the Israeli government was part of the political agenda of this government”, Aharoni warned. “The question of believing the survivors has become a test of your loyalty to the nation.”

READ: ‘Women in Gaza are being raped and this is not being investigated or reported’