On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched an indiscriminate and murderous attack. In the weeks since, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR) collected information regarding the events of that horrific Saturday. “In doing so, we seek to piece together a complete picture of the violence perpetrated,” they said.
Abandoned and damaged cars parked after the massacre in Reim festival. During the massacre Hamas militants raped women attendees (Photo: GPO)
PHR published on Monday a position paper that surveys the sexual and gender-based violence committed during the attacks. The document aims to highlight the urgent rehabilitation needs of survivors and those who witnessed the violence on their long journey toward healing – while urging an investigation of the incidents as crimes against humanity. The position paper relies on testimonies by survivors of the attacks, descriptions by security and emergency personnel, and visual evidence that was circulated online.
According PHR. “While the information published to date is only partial, it is our duty to address the events urgently, call for their investigation as crimes against humanity, and highlight the importance of health care system preparedness to offer adequate, professional, and informed treatment to all individuals who have experienced or witnessed sexual and gender-based crimes.”
“In addition, we reiterate the urgency – including within this context – of releasing the hostages currently held in Gaza. Those among them who experienced or witnessed sexual violence require urgent medical and mental health care within spaces and conditions that can allow them to heal.” The authors of the paper conclude that Hamas used sexual violence as a means of warfare and a psychological weapon, “the objectification of both living and deceased victims is a horrific and brazen violation of human dignity.”
The document also raises serious concerns that the individuals currently held captive in Gaza face an ongoing threat of violence and neglect. These concerns are based on the nature of the collected accounts and reports, scientific literature on the vulnerability of hostages, and accumulated experience from armed conflicts in other regions, including women of the Yazidi community in Iraq and detainees at the US military prison of Abu Ghraib.
PHR emphasizes that while the full scale of the assault is yet to be uncovered, it is essential to present the information that is currently known. In doing so, the organization hopes to encourage the reporting and documentation of violations of international humanitarian law by all sides. “As members of the health and human rights communities, it is our duty to stand with the victims. As a society, we must be willing to acknowledge the sexual violence perpetrated on October 7, 2023. We must break the cycles of silence and shame and foster the space and conditions to support the healing of survivors.”