*Trigger Warning: This column contains a discussion of sexual assault and sensitive details about gender-based violence. Reader discretion is advised.
On the morning of October 7, 2023, Israel woke up to a living hell when the perpetrators of evil took over the lives of thousands of citizens. The disturbing videos and testimonies continue to flow, and indicate that the incidents of rape that occurred were systematic, widespread and unceasing - not isolated incidents, but a military strategy that Hamas took against Jewish Israelis, but not only – among the victims were Americans, Europeans, Thais, Philipinos and Arabs.
The shocking evidence of the rape of women and the desecration of their bodies reminded me of the famous quote by Navanethem "Navi" Pillay, a South African jurist: "From time immemorial, rape has been regarded as spoils of war. Now it will be considered a war crime. We want to send out a strong message that rape is no longer a trophy of war.״
Pillay made this statement while serving on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), established by the United Nations in 1994. Four years later, the tribunal declared rape a war crime of the most serious nature. Today, Pillay chairs the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.
Systematic rape of women: The core of Hamas' terror strategy
Historically, sexual violence has been an ongoing component of warfare. For several decades, rape was not specifically defined and prosecuted within the framework of international law. With the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998, the international community declared rape and other types of sexual violence war crimes.
The genocide that took place in Rwanda was carried out by the Hutu government, which massacred, raped and abused the Tutsi population. Sexual violence was often directed against Tutsi women, making them the main target of the Hutu extremists. The mutilation of their genitals, rape, forced pregnancies, the spread of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, sexual slavery and birth obstruction have become the main elements of this genocide. It was not only intended for the wholesale destruction of an entire ethnic group but also to impose psychological dominance on them.
Based on the horrifying testimonies of survivors of October 7 in Israel, we learned that the terrorists systematically raped Israeli women, desecrated their bodies (especially their female and intimate organs), and mutilated their bodies while causing terror, all to break their spirit. It can be concluded that the goal of Hamas was not only to occupy Jewish communities and spread fear and terror, but also to try to erase the future of the Jewish people, both symbolically and physically.
Brutal sexual assault: Propaganda against Jewish women
Jewish women, similar to the Tutsi women in Rwanda, were targeted for a heinous purpose. The Hutu propaganda focused on inciting deep hatred toward the Tutsis and emphasized the superiority of the Tutsi over the Hutu.
This propaganda, which had a brutal sexual aspect, mainly focused on demonizing the image of women from the Tutsi tribe. This was based on the perception that they were more advanced and modern than Hutu women. The result was catastrophic: rape, sexual torture and sexual humiliation.
Similarly, Hamas' propaganda against Jewish women emphasized the supremacy of the Jewish people over the Palestinian people, the desire to extinguish their future and of course their dignity.
So dear Navi, if you protect women's rights you must also protect Israeli women's rights.
- Nitzan Fux Shovaly is the CEO and founder of Israeli startup sPReader - an AI platform for public relations and brand management; she is a former spokeswoman for the LGBT Association in Israel and has an M.A. in Public Diplomacy