Special Testimonial Session at the United Nations on Sexual-Based Violence War Crimes on October 7, 2023.
On December 4, 2023, Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations (UN), in collaboration with the World Zionist Organization, Interwoven/Shazur, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Schusterman Family Philanthropies, convened a special session at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to unequivocally condemn the acts of rape and sexual violence committed by Hamas terrorists against Israeli women and girls during the attack on October 7—and to give voice to the women who were silenced.
ICJW was represented by the UN team: Carole Benson, Joan Lurie Goldberg, Judy Mintz, and Sara Winkowski (not pictured). This is their report.
For 90 minutes, the audience of more than 700 supporters of Israel and defenders of Israeli women and girls heard testimonies and viewed horrific videos-one after another- depicting the war crimes of the terrorist organization Hamas on October 7. The Session gave voice to those who were brutally silenced.
The evidence was damning and hard to believe, except that we know it was the truth. Until this event, no other special session had been held at the UN and no UN organization had taken a strong stand to protest these sexually-based crimes. Specifically, UN Women was called out repeatedly for their silence and lack of condemnation. On October 7, of the 1,200 murdered victims, 300 were women and girls. Many were murdered three times-once when raped, tortured and mutilated; again when shot; and finally when the UN agencies failed to recognize their suffering. We were asked: Where was the UN Women’s voice, the organization responsible for protecting women?
The speakers’ messages were loud, clear, heart-felt and undeniable. Each presenter was consistent in their desire to take a stand and to condemn the silence. One after another, they shared their particular experience on that life-changing day and the days that followed. Others are now dedicated to ensuring that silence will not be tolerated and hard stands must be taken. There must be accountability.
It was a privilege to hear from moderator Tal Heinrich, US journalist and news anchor; H.E. Ambassador Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Permanent Representative to the UN; Sheryl Sandberg, the founder of Lean-In; NCJW (US) CEO Sheila Katz; US Senator Kristen Gillibrand from New York; a member of Israel’s first responder teams; an IDF reservist whose job it was to prepare female bodies for burial; a volunteer with ZAKA, the organization dedicated to collecting and identifying bodies and remains; and Linor Abargil, the former Miss Israel and Miss World, who was raped 25 years ago and is now an advocate fighting sexual violence. A message from Hillary Rodham-Clinton was screened.
Each speaker added their own voice and experiences to the presentation. Their repeated messages were powerful and called for action.
- October 7 events were the most brutal since the Holocaust.
- Hamas is more barbarous than even ISIS and possibly even worse than the Nazis.
- Hamas must be eliminated; they have no place among humanity.
- The world cannot remain silent in the face of these crimes against humanity.
- There can be no denial about the mutilation and atrocities of this gender-based violence.
- The acts of sheer terror were pre-meditated and pre-planned. No one was spared.
- World indifference is not acceptable. Silence is complicity.
- The world must stand up to this immorality. If not from the top down, then from the bottom up, trust and justice must prevail.
- Rape is a weapon of war. Rape is a deliberate form of torture. No circumstances can justify rape.
- Rape is a crime against humanity. While some progress has been made, this silence is undoing it.
- Global leaders must step up. These murders go beyond politics. All must speak out. Hearts must not be closed to violence.
- Who should be believed? Hamas or the women. The monsters must be held accountable.
- People must see the images which are similar to those in Yad Vashem.
- We must lift up our voices for those who have been silenced.
- Hamas must be unequivocally condemned.
- Justice must be done and the victims must never be forgotten.
- Jews fought to protect democracy and for those who needed support-the blacks, the gays, the immigrants -but where were the champions for women and girls after 10-7?
- The UN must do its job and summon up the courage and compassion to speak up.
- Eyewitness accounts described the mutilation to faces and heads, the pools of blood, the broken pelvises from repeated rapes. Often corpses could only be identified by DNA.
In conclusion: A simple statement might explain the silence: #Metoo-Unless You are a Jew”
We were thanked for our brave voices. The session ended with the singing of Hatikvah.
Result: Since the event, there has been extensive coverage of this special session in newspapers, online and on television. In Bret Stephens’ article in the New York Times “Silence is Violence – but Not When It Comes to Israeli Rape Victims”, he ascribes the lack of attention to these atrocities and the lack of accusations against Hamas as simple antisemitism.