At the UN, a call to recognize Oct. 7 victims of rape
The “Hear Our Voices” special session hosted by Israel on Dec. 4, 2023, brought attention to sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas since Oct. 7.

Rally-goers said that far too many have ignored or excused Hamas’ rape of women and girls in Israel

By Camillo Barone
December 4, 2023

(Forward) — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and tech executive Sheryl Sandberg addressed a special session at the United Nations Monday to raise awareness of Hamas’ sexual violence on Oct. 7, along with former Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton and first responders from Israel, who addressed the session in videos.

“You can’t unsee once you see those images,” said Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, of the evidence of Hamas’ massacres.

Protesters gathered outside the UN against sexual violence against Israeli women. Photo: Courtesy Camillo Barone

Before the session, about 300 pro-Israel protesters gathered outside the UN building to demand justice for victims of sexual violence during the terrorist attacks. “Me too, unless you’re a Jew” and “rape is rape,” they chanted, and held posters that read: “UNbereable silence,” and “UNbelievable, UNacceptable, UNbearable.”

Critics have blasted UN Women — a branch of the body that advocates for gender equality — for waiting eight weeks until, under pressure, it condemned Hamas’ attack on Israel, in which the militants killed 1,200 and kidnapped 240. Strong evidence of sexual violence was also found, including in videos taken by Hamas militants themselves.

“You’re not a feminist if you have to be convinced that raping Israeli women is wrong,” Sheila Katz, CEO of National Council of Jewish Women, said at the rally. “Rape is not resistance. Rape is never excusable. You’re either against all rapes or you support it.” 

She and Gilan Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, also criticized UN Women during the special session, convened by Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, with the World Zionist Organization and the National Council of Jewish Women. 

“These brutal sexual abuses were premeditated and instructed. I sent two letters with photos as evidence to UN Women, but we’ve been ignored,” Erdan said. “If the UN chooses to remain silent, this does not mean the world will. The stories of Israeli women won’t be silenced and truth will prevail.” 

The UN session, called “Hear Our Voices,” was attended by about 250 mostly female activists and founders of Israeli and international women rights groups.

Via video, first responders and police officers detailed what they saw on Oct. 7 and in the days following the Hamas attack. Shari Greenwald Mendes, an architect from New Jersey who moved to Israel in 2011 and founder of a women’s organization in Jerusalem, said the bodies of many women raped and killed on Oct. 7 were almost unrecognizable. 

And an Israeli national police officer, among the first witnesses to the devastation at a kibbutz attacked by Hamas, told the gathering: “My life as a police officer, as a woman, as a mother, will never be the same after Oct. 7.”

Camillo Barone is an editorial intern at the Forward. You can reach him by email at barone@forward.com or follow him on Twitter at @camillobarone97.

This article was originally published on the Forward.

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