Mirit Ben Mayor, an Israeli Police Chief Superintendent, recounted the eyewitness’s horrifying testimony at an event at the House of Lords on Wednesday as reports of sexual violence committed by the militants mount.
Mayor said the woman was at the Nova music festival on 7 October when Hamas launched its bloody assault on attendees. The eyewitness was forced to pretend to be dead while seeing women “brutally and continually raped”, said the Ch Supt. “She saw a woman raped by a number of terrorists. The last one shot her in the head while still raping her.”
Israeli Police are leading its biggest-ever national investigation into the militants’ attack on that day, including into the reports of sexual offences committed. Eyewitness accounts from survivors, first responders and police officers are key to the body of evidence they are building, said Mayor, as the vast majority of the victims of alleged sexual crimes are dead. “There is evidence that rape and sexual violence occurred,” she said, describing its use as a “weapon of war”.
Hamas has denied all allegations its militants committed sexual violence.
It comes as UN experts earlier this month called for full accountability for the alleged crimes committed against civilians in Israel in the 7 October attacks, including sexual torture, such as rapes and gang rapes, sexual assaults, mutilations and gunshots to genital areas. The experts said female bodies were found with their clothing pulled up to their waists, with underpants removed or torn or stained with blood.
“These acts constitute gross violations of international law, amounting to war crimes which, given the number of victims and the extensive premeditation and planning of the attacks, may also qualify as crimes against humanity”, the experts said.
Speaking of how forensic evidence of sexual offences can quickly disappear, Alicia Kearns MP told The Independent: “Sexual war crimes are the oldest war crimes in history, and they always take place because men know they can get away with it. Our job is to end the impunity.”
Sheryl Sandberg, former chief operating officer of Meta and founder of LeanIn.org, told reporters at the event on Wednesday: “There should be one thing we all agree on – rape can never be used as an act of war, ever, under any circumstances. We have to make sure this happens to women nowhere, anywhere on the globe.
“It is almost impossible to fathom how these Israeli women spent the last moments of their lives. The intention of sexual violence is to generate fear – instead, we must generate justice.”
Another survivor of the deadly Nova music festival attack recounted a testimony from a police officer who said they were unable to drive down a road because the bodies of a baby and a naked woman were blocking their way. Hundreds of bodies were arriving at identification centres with their genitals cut off, she said, with witnesses having seen Hamas cutting off people’s body parts.
Cherie Blair told reporters on Wednesday she felt “humbled” by the brave women sharing testimonies, while also feeling “ashamed” by the lack of response from countries like Britain. “We cannot just put this to one side and say it doesn’t matter,” she said. “We are going to make sure this is not ignored, not justified, not set to one side.”
Alex Davies-Jones MP, the UK’s Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding, said Jewish Women’s Aid had told her it had seen a 70 per cent decrease in women coming forward to report sexual assault “due to the issue of women not being believed”. She said, “If we don’t bear witness, it has far-reaching consequences.”