LFI parliamentarians raise Hamas sex attacks at Westminster Hall Debate

LFI vice-chair Sharon Hodgson MP and LFI parliamentary supporters Margaret Hodge MP and Alex Davies-Jones MP

At today’s Westminster Hall Debate on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, three LFI parliamentarians spoke about the sexual assaults carried out by Hamas against Israeli women and girls on 7 October and the international community’s reluctance to recognise them as such.

Having applied for the debate to take place, LFI vice-chair Sharon Hodgson MP said:

“Perhaps the most well-known example of our failure to tackle sexual violence in conflict in the past year is the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli women and girls on 7 October. Most of the victims of that violence were subsequently murdered, so we may never have a full account of what actually took place.

What happened on 7 October was a well-documented case of mass sexual violence, in part because the terrorist perpetrators proudly filmed and advertised their crimes. A first responder at kibbutz Be’eri reported finding “piles and piles” of dead women “completely naked” from the waist down, and there have been horrifying reports of sexual mutilation. A survivor of the Supernova music festival massacre, Yoni Saadon, recalled:

“I saw this beautiful woman with the face of an angel and eight or ten of the fighters beating and raping her…When they finished they were laughing and the last one shot her in the head.”

Tragically, Hamas’s use of rape as a weapon of war may not be over yet. Reports indicate that female and male hostages have been sexually assaulted and abused during their incarceration. The fact that sexual violence was committed at multiple locations suggests that it was part of a systematic effort. As the Israeli women’s rights campaigner Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari told the BBC, such a concentration of cases in a relatively short span of time left her in “no doubt” that there was a “premeditated plan to use sexual violence as a weapon of war”.

For months after the 7 October attacks, there was a deafening silence from many organisations and international agencies that are supposedly dedicated to addressing these kinds of crimes. The best that the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls could respond with initially was a very evasive expression of “concern” about “reports of sexual violence that may have occurred since 7 October, committed by State and non-State actors against Israelis and Palestinians.”

Another organisation, UN Women, which is supposedly “dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women,” issued multiple statements following 7 October, none of which addressed Hamas’s sex crimes.

It is deeply concerning that that has been mirrored in the response of some progressive groups, some of which have refused to believe the testimony of eyewitnesses and sought to characterise evidence as “unverified accusations”, even though the evidence of organised and systematic planned attacks in different locations at the same time is clear. The choice made by many to downplay the testimonies of survivors and ignore the evidence about those who were murdered, which we have seen in conflicts around the world, shows just how far we still have to go to change attitudes, even among groups that purport to believe all women.”

Making an intervention, LFI parliamentary supporter Margaret Hodge MP asked:

“Does my hon. Friend share my anguish at the fact that the United Nations chose not to recognise that sexual violence took place during the attack on 7 October? Does she further share my horror at the testimony I heard from a woman who was responsible for looking at the bodies when they came into the mortuary? That woman talked about the greyness that confronted her, adding that every now and then there was a bit of shining colour, which was the nail varnish left on the bodies of people who had been sexually abused and then killed.”

Later, LFI parliamentary supporter Alex Davies-Jones MP said:

“I want to briefly comment on the abhorrent acts of sexual violence committed by Hamas in its attack on southern Israel on 7 October. As we have heard, those were acts of exceptional brutality. As Meni Binyamin, head of the international crime investigations unit of the Israeli police, has suggested, they were “the most extreme sexual abuses we have seen”—truly horrifying acts of rape, sexual mutilation and torture.

An extensive investigation was carried out by The New York Times in December, which utilised video footage, photographs, GPS data from mobile phones and interviews with over 150 people, including witnesses, medical personnel, soldiers and rape councillors. They all identified at least seven locations where Israeli women and girls were sexually assaulted and mutilated. They included the site of the Nova music festival, kibbutz Be’eri and kibbutz Kfar Aza. The attacks against women were not isolated events, The New York Times concluded, but part of a broader pattern of gender-based violence. That confirms the analysis made by Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, an expert on family law and international women’s rights who works with Israeli women’s groups, that those were atrocities that the world, including those supposedly committed to human rights and the safety of women and girls, had decided to downplay and ignore. It took over seven weeks for the UN Secretary-General to call for an investigation into Hamas’s campaign of rape. It took UN Women, which says it is dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, 50 days to even acknowledge that these crimes had occurred. Where was the sisterhood? Where were the feminists? “Me too, unless you’re a Jew.” Let the call come from this House today directly to those women: we are here to tell you that we see you, hear you and believe you.

I had the privilege of being present at the sitting of the UN Security Council where special representative Pramila Patten presented her report on the sexual violence that took place on 7 October. Describing her experience as unlike anything she had witnessed elsewhere in the world, Patten said: “The world outside cannot understand the magnitude of the event”. Her report outlined the desperate need and moral imperative for a humanitarian ceasefire to end the unspeakable suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages.

If the conflict and violence overseas were not bad enough, we know that this has had a knock-on effect on the levels of violence against women and girls here in the UK, where Jewish Women’s Aid stands virtually alone among charities dedicated to combating violence against women in speaking out about those brutal events. I know from my discussions with the charity as the shadow Minister for domestic abuse and safeguarding that the accusations levelled at Israeli women—that they were lying about the brutal rapes and sexual violence that took place on 7 October—served to undermine confidence in the services that Jewish Women’s Aid offers.

As Deborah Lipstadt, the US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, and Michelle Taylor, the US permanent representative to the UN Human Rights Council, have argued, this reaction is in stark contrast to the global gender-based violence movements’ typical emphasis on the importance of listening to, and believing, survivors’ accounts.”

You can read the full debate here.