7 October rape allegations

Letter by Miriam Moss, Leeds

I refer to the following article ‘The evidence Israel killed its own citizens on 7 October’ (PN 2669) by Asa Winstanley. There are number of issues I could raise in relation to its content, but I will focus predominantly on the one which I find most disturbing.

This is embedded in the following quote: ‘Israel made no effort to collect forensic evidence from bodies supporting its allegations of rape and sexual assault by Palestinians.’

Where to start? Let’s note that the author states specifically that the accusation is made against Palestinians. No – the accusation is made against Hamas. Hamas cannot and should not be equated with all Palestinians.

Indeed, many Palestinian journalists make a point of stating this, time and time again, each of them pointing out that to do otherwise feeds into the apologist narrative of the Israeli government and the bulk of the Western media that all Palestinians are terrorists.

This narrative, in turn, is used to exculpate the horrendous civilian casualties accrued during the ongoing Israeli military action and indeed the equally appalling violence being meted out by extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

I take it as given that the author has no wish to make such an equation, therefore I am unclear as to why they wish to employ wording, which appears to suggest otherwise.

Secondly, there is the clear doubting of the reality of the sexual violence in question. I read only that the author considers the sexual violence of 7 October to be a potential fabrication of the Israeli government/military.

Why the doubt? Rape as a weapon of war, is not new as a means to pacify and terrify the opposing citizenry. It has been used this way for millennia and the last century is replete with multiple examples, including but not restricted to the Second World War and the Balkan Wars in the 1990s.

It is noteworthy that it took far longer than it should before this reality began to percolate into the annals of international law and indeed it took until 1995 at the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women, when rape by armed groups during wartime, was designated a war crime.

These are facts and presumably not in dispute by the author of this article. However, what does appear to be in dispute, is the fact that there is ample evidence of sexual violence committed by Hamas on 7 October.

The implication, as I read it, is that the Israelis have invented these claims, purely for propaganda purposes: hence their supposed reluctance to let outside bodies access the evidence.

I wish to direct the attention of the author and PN readers, if they are not already aware, of the paper by Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), a body that is independent of the Israeli government. This paper noted that there was sufficient evidence to indicate that acts of sexual violence were committed by Hamas on 7 October.

The sources of evidence utilised in this report included interviews and testimonies of representatives of professional organisations, including independent information from senior medical sources, who are experienced in recognising the signs of rape and other forms of violent sexual assault, on deceased victims. The victims of 7 October are no longer alive to confirm their stories. They were murdered. They cannot provide survivor testimony.

Ignoring or dismissing the evidence cited above and additional evidence that is being collected, as I write, serves only to silence these women, and lets their attackers off the hook. We owe it to these women and girls, those that love and cared for them and all sexual violence survivors worldwide, to accept the evidence that exists of such crimes, no matter the culprit, no matter the political or social context.

This article appears to take the opposite tack, preferring to doubt, diminish or dismiss the overwhelming evidence pointing to the culpability of Hamas as regards the acts of sexual violence outlined above as well as significantly downplaying their responsibility for the acts of murder on that self-same day.

Accepting this fact, does not, in any way condone the terrible violence inflicted on Palestinians, in the past, present or, as I fear, the future, whoever those responsible. It is a simple statement, borne out by evidence and cannot and should not be wished away by those whose political position in respect of this ongoing conflict, is so completely binary, that they cannot accept anything which undermines their standpoint.

The ongoing violence over the decade as experienced by ordinary people, whose only crime was to live in such a volatile location, cannot, and must not, go on indefinitely. Acknowledging the suffering of all victims and the culpability of both sides, is the only way, those of us fortunate enough to be distant from its epicentre, can move the discussion forward and ensure our compassionately informed political discourse becomes common currency among the decision makers and the powers that be.

Editor response:

Thank you for your letter, Miriam. On the first point you raise, we should recognise that, while Hamas organised the breakout from Gaza on 7 October and sent over a thousand of its fighters into Israeli territory that day, at least five other armed Palestinian groups also took part (according to BBC Verify), and a large number of armed civilians from Gaza are also thought to have crossed into southern Israel.

Given these facts, I don’t think it is possible to know at this point in time, and I haven’t heard anyone claim, that all the allegations of sexual assault are traceable to Hamas fighters as opposed to other armed Palestinians who entered Israel on 7 October.

On your larger point, it is of course sadly possible that there were large numbers of sexual assaults on 7 October; it is also possible that many of these may have been perpetrated by Hamas fighters, as is widely believed. I think the one thing everyone can agree on is that the question deserves investigation by independent experts.

The PHRI, who you quote, actually campaigned for the Israeli authorities to ‘to prevent the burial of any unidentified bodies and remains collected from the 7/10 Attack until receiving approval from the Institute of Forensic Medicine.’ (The PHRI tweet from 30 October can be found on the Electronic Intifada website, in the article that you are referring to.)

The government refused to do this.

It does seem to be the case that ‘Israel made no effort to collect forensic evidence from bodies supporting its allegations of rape and sexual assault by Palestinians.’

If you have evidence that this is not true, please do share it with us and we will print it.

It is unfortunately the case that not all of those claiming to have witnessed sexual assaults on 7 October are reliable witnesses, and the claims of mass rape come against the backdrop of other atrocity allegations which have been disproven.

One unreliable witness, according to Twitter activists Propaganda and co, is Raz Cohen, who claims to have witnessed rape at the Supernova festival on 7 October, even though he didn’t mention any sexual assaults in his first three press interviews on 9 October (or on his own social media feed on 7 October itself).

Cohen then told several journalists he saw many women at the festival raped and slaughtered, before changing his story again to say that he had seen just one woman raped by a group of five Palestinian fighters (who then slaughtered her).

Cohen was taken as a credible witness, including by the New York Times, despite this worrying set of inconsistencies.

The most eye-catching atrocity allegation was that Hamas fighters had beheaded Israeli babies on 7 October.

However, the Israel defence forces refused to officially confirm that this had happened, and the story eventually withered away (with White House officials having to withdraw comments made by US president Joe Biden).

On 27 October, there was a final gasp of this story when Israeli colonel Golan Vach, head of the army’s search and rescue unit, told a group of journalists, including one from the AFP news agency, that he ‘personally’ transported ‘a decapitated baby’ found in the arms of his mother in Kibbutz Be’eri.

AFP consulted the Israeli social security agency, Bituah Leumi, and discovered that only one baby was killed in Be’eri: 10-month-old Mila Cohen, whose mother survived. This undermined Vach’s story.

‘Army spokespersons did not respond to queries’, AFP later reported.

I would urge readers to seek out the material Electronic Intifada have put together to challenge many of the claims being made in this area.

I don’t think Electronic Intifada are downplaying Hamas’ responsibility for the killing of Israeli civilians on 7 October. I think they are, rightly, raising a legitimate question of how many Israeli civilian deaths Hamas is actually responsible for, given that we now know that Israeli security forces used lethal force indiscriminately against hundreds of targets on that day.

The question of Israeli state responsibility for Israeli civilian deaths on 7 October is becoming more and more of an issue in Israel itself, as we report on p8 – ed