Will anything make the world take Hamas’ sexual violence seriously?

Dec 29, 2023 | Voices

A new report painstakingly documents a campaign of coordinated sexual violence by Hamas in graphic detail. Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late.

The New York Times published a lengthy investigation on Dec. 28 detailing dozens of cases of rape, mutilation and torture by terrorists who infiltrated Israel on Oct. 7. The authors concluded that the targeting of women, men and children “were not isolated events but part of a broader pattern of gender-based violence.”

Although the investigation described specific and horrifying incidents in graphic detail, the general picture that emerged was not a new one. We have known for months that terrorists conducted a coordinated campaign of sexual violence as part of the devastating Oct. 7 attacks that were designed to traumatize and humiliate the Israeli public.

[The Forward Op-Ed continues]

Israeli pain as a threat to Palestinian suffering
To some, the centuries of conflict in the Middle East can be reduced to a story of oppressor and oppressed.

To one camp, the Palestinians are the world’s ultimate victims, permanent refugees whose entire existence is defined by the Israeli occupation.

To the other, it is the Israelis who must be forever on guard, ever-victimized by Palestinian terrorists and the many states that materially support them.

[The Forward Op-Ed continues]

To acknowledge Israeli pain and suffering in particular threatens the reductive worldview in which victim and oppressor are the only categorizations that really matter. Because if individual Israelis can be victims as well as members of a nation that has occupied another’s territory for decades — and if individual Palestinians can be at once suffer under occupation  and be capable of committing horrific acts of terrorism — then the entire house of cards collapses on itself.

It is true that the extent to which sexual violence featured in the Oct. 7 attack was at first unclear. In the attack’s immediate aftermath, authorities’ focus was on identifying and burying the dead with dignity, not fastidiously documenting evidence sexual violence. Delays in reporting the evidence that did emerge allowed bad actors and skeptics alike ample time to spread disinformation and denial.

But even after ample reports concretely proved that Hamas had engaged in planned, systematic sexual violence against Israelis, the reductive victim-oppressor mindset pushed the world to ignore it.

[The Forward Op-Ed continues]

Those who view one group of people as a perpetual victim and the other as the embodiment of evil are bound to ignore any evidence of suffering that does not align with one’s idea of who is the ultimate victim. This erases the complicated experiences of the nuanced individuals who comprise both sides and gets us nowhere closer to a resolution. Reducing one side to “oppressor” and the other to “oppressed,” as the Harvard poll demonstrates, leads to justifying violence extremism, not dealing with the messy business of peacefully solving the problem.

Mirit Ben Mayor, an Israeli police chief superintendent quoted by the Times, chalked the sexual violence of Oct. 7 up to “the hatred for Jews and the hatred for women.”

So, too, is the denial of their suffering. Acknowledging the carnage of Oct. 7 won’t bring any of the victims back, ease the suffering of survivors or do anything to change the fact that war is worse than hell. It will not get us closer to solving the conflict.

But if we can’t acknowledge the documented suffering of innocent victims, even when we find their pain to be inconvenient to our view of the world, we’re in for a very dark future indeed.


View this Forward Op-Ed from December 29th