Horrified witnesses to Hamas’s October 7 massacre have been left suicidal, with at least one person already taking their own life, it has been reported.
It comes amid the release of testimonies given by those who saw the terror attack first hand – or were among the first at the scene in the days that followed.
Survivors and witnesses to October 7 have said Israeli women were raped – whether they were alive or dead – and tortured in unimaginably cruel ways.
One man who hid in a pit during the attack on the Nova music festival said he heard someone nearby screaming as she was raped, while a combat paramedic said they saw the body of a young woman with her legs open and pants pulled down.
A volunteer tasked with finding and collecting bodies also said in written witness testimony that he found women in their homes tied to the bed. One had been tortured, ‘a knife stuck in her vagina and all her internal organs removed’, he wrote.
Horrified witnesses to Hamas ‘s October 7 massacre have been left suicidal, with at least one person already taking their own life, it has been reported. Pictured: Festival goers are seen fleeing on October 7 as Hamas terrorists stormed across the border from Gaza
The accounts and first assessments by Israeli rights groups suggest sexual assault was part of an atrocities-filled rampage by Hamas and other Gaza militants who killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took more than 240 hostages.
With Israel calling on the international community to recognise the massacre as a crime against humanity, one investigator said Hamas stormed across Israel’s border with Gaza with a ‘clear order’ – to use ‘rape as genocide’.
One horrific video testimony came from a woman who was at the music festival, and was shown privately to journalists by Israeli police, according to the BBC.
In it, the woman – named only as Witness S – describes seeing Hamas fighters rape a woman and mutilate her, before the last of her attackers shot her in the head.
The gunmen then continued to rape her after she was executed, the witness said.
During the assault, Witness S told police that the attackers cut off parts of the victim’s body, such as her breast, and ‘threw it on the street.’
The woman in the video described watching the terrorists as she pretended to be dead. ‘I couldn’t understand what I saw,’ she said.
Her testimony was released last month, and was presented by Israel’s police chief.
Another man, who was also at the festival site on October 7, said he heard a woman scream as she was raped by Hamas terrorists.
Ron Freger fled the music festival when Hamas attacked and said he heard a woman screaming for help. ‘I was lying in a pit (and) I heard (a girl) yelling: ‘They’re raping me, they’re raping me!’ he told the Associated Press.
Several minutes later, he heard gunshots close by and she fell silent, he said.
‘The feeling in that moment is one of complete powerlessness. I’m lying in this hole and I have no ability to do anything. I have no weapon, I have nothing, I’m surrounded by other people who are hiding with me and we’re completely powerless,’ said the 23-year-old from the northern Israeli town of Netanya.
The BBC also spoke to a man who said he heard the ‘noises and screams of people being murdered, raped, decapitated.’
In a statement released through a support organisation, he said: ‘Some women were raped before they were dead, some raped while injured, and some were already dead when the terrorists raped their lifeless bodies.
‘I desperately wanted to help, but there was nothing I could do.’
The accounts and first assessments by Israeli rights groups suggest sexual assault was part of an atrocities-filled rampage by Hamas and other Gaza terrorists who killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took more than 240 hostages
One eyewitness, who was at the festival, spoke of how a woman was gang raped before she was mutilated
One serving Israeli soldier, only using her first name Avigayil, told the BBC it was hard to know how many victims had been raped, as some of the bodies had been burnt
A Hamas gunman is seen on CCTV camera footage during the October 7 attack
In further testimony, a combat medic told the Associated Press that he came across half a dozen bodies of women and men with possible signs of sexual assault when he reached one of the attacked communities.
One girl had been shot in the head and was lying on the floor, her legs open and pants pulled down, with what looked like semen on her lower back, said the medic who spoke on condition of anonymity because his unit was classified.
Other bodies had bleeding around the groin with limbs at distorted angles, he said.
He was among a number of responders to detail what they saw in the aftermath of the attack. Their accounts make up much of the evidence of sexual assault.
At the Shura military base where victims are being identified, Shari Mendes, a member of the army reserve unit that deals with the identification and religious burial preparation of female soldiers, said some of the women’s bodies came in with little clothing, such as parts of their pyjamas.
Some only had bloodied underwear.
The soldier also spoke at a UN event in New York on Monday, titled: ‘Hear Our Voices: Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the October 7 Hamas terror attack’.
She said: ‘Our team commander saw several female soldiers who were shot in the crotch, intimate parts, vagina, or shot in the breast.
‘This seemed to be a systematic genital mutilation of a group of victims.’
‘These women arrived with their eyes opened, their mouths in grimaces, their fists clenched,’ she added.
‘The soldiers that we dealt with had expressions of agony on their faces still.
‘I remember one young woman whose arm was broken in so many places it was difficult for us to lay her arm in the burial shroud, her leg too. In her case the entire left side of her body was shredded, torn apart, most likely by a grenade.’
Members of the security forces continue to search for identification and personal effects at the Supernova Music Festival site, where hundreds were killed and dozens taken by Hamas gunmen near the border with Gaza, on October 12
A picture shows bullet-riddled buildings damaged during the October 7 attack by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel on November 20
A bloody handprint inside a house at the Nir Oz kibbutz, one of the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip attacked on October 7 by Hamas terrorists, on October 31
One of the people tasked with collecting bodies with the Zaka religious volunteer organisations told the BBC that they saw signs of torture and mutilation.
He said such signs included a pregnant woman whose womb had been ripped open before she was killed, and the unborn fetus stabbed.
The BBC said it had been unable to verify the Zaka volunteer’s account, and pointed out that Israeli media reports have questioned some of the testimony of volunteers who worked in the aftermath of the attack.
Another, Nachman Dyksztejna, provided written testimony detailing how he saw the bodies of two women in kibbutz Be’eri with their hands and legs tied to the bed.
‘One was sexually terrorised with a knife stuck in her vagina and all her internal organs removed,’ his statement says, according to the BBC.
Dr Cochav Elkayam-Levy, a legal expert at the Davis Institute of International Relations at Hebrew University, told the British broadcaster that it looked as if Hamas had learned how to ‘weaponize women’s bodies from ISIS’.
‘It brings me chills just to know the details that they knew about what to do to women: cut their organs, mutilate their genitals, rape,’ she said.
‘It’s horrifying to know this.’
A civil commission headed by Dr Elkayam-Levy, which has been tasked with collecting evidence and testimony of sexual crimes, is calling on the international community to recognise the October 7 attacks as being systematic abuse, constituting Crimes Against Humanity.
‘We see definite patterns,’ she told the BBC in an interview. ‘So it wasn’t incidental, it wasn’t random. They came with a clear order. It was […] rape as genocide.’
Minister May Golan said she had spoken to at least three girls who were hospitalised, and in a ‘very hard psychiatric situation because of the rapes they watched.’
She told the BBC that the girls pretended to be dead, but that they ‘watched it, and heard everything. And they can’t deal with it.’
Israel’s police chief Yaacov Shabtai echoed her comments, saying many survivors of the attacks were finding it difficult to come to terms with what they had seen.
Some are understood to be suicidal. One person working with the teams supporting the survivors told the BBC some had already killed themselves.
A destroyed house as a result of the Hamas attack on the Kibbutz on October 27, in Kfar Aza
Destroyed cars and belongings left at the Supernova Music Festival site where hundreds were killed and dozens taken by Hamas militants near the border with Gaza on October 12
While the number of witness testimonies appear to be growing in number, police are still struggling to put together the pieces of evidence.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, priority was given to identifying bodies and not preserving evidence, making the investigation more challenging.
Now Israeli police say they are combing through 60,000 videos seized from the body cameras of Hamas gunmen. Footage from social media and security cameras will also be looked at in a bid to bring the perpetrators to justice.
While it has been hard to find rape survivors, as many were killed by their attackers, Police say they now have ‘multiple’ eye-witness accounts of sexual assault.
They have not said exactly how many, and are yet to interview any of the surviving victims of the attacks.
Israel’s Women’s Empowerment Minister May Golan told the BBC that very few victims of rape or sexual assault had survived the attacks.
Those that did are undergoing psychiatric treatment.
‘But very, very few (survived). The majority were brutally murdered,’ she said.
‘They aren’t able to talk – not with me, and not to anyone from the government [or] from the media.’
One expert has said that a country like Israel should have the means to do rigorous testing to confirm if people were sexually assaulted in a more systematic way.
‘Forensic testing should have been a priority to build a full picture of the attack,’ said Nidhi Kapur, a specialist on sexual abuse in situations of armed conflict who has worked in the region.
‘In a conflict you first take care of the survivors, you don’t count bodies.’
But even two months on from the attack, the exact number of victims remains difficult to establish, partly because of the state of many of the bodies.
A serving soldier, who only used her first name Avigayil, told the BBC: ‘I’ve dealt with more than a few burned bodies and I have no idea what they went through beforehand.
‘And bodies that are missing the bottom half – I also don’t know if they were raped. But women that were clearly raped? There are enough. More than enough.’
A grab taken from a UGC video posted on the Telegram channel ‘South First Responders’ on October 9, 2023, shows the aftermath of an attack on the Supernova music Festival
Based on open-source information and interviews, the Physicians for Human Rights Israel report documents incidents at the music festival, homes around the Gaza Strip and an Israeli military base, all attacked by Hamas.
‘It is becoming more apparent that the violence perpetrated against women, men and children also included widespread sexual and gender-based crimes,’ it says.
Before this war, Hamas, an Islamic terror group sworn to Israel’s destruction, wasn’t known to use rape as a weapon, said Colin P. Clarke, director of research at The Soufan Group, a global intelligence and security consulting firm.
Its tactics included suicide bombings and shootings of Israeli soldiers and civilians.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his war cabinet held a tense and emotional meeting with recently released hostages and family members of hostages still held in Gaza.
Some of the recently released hostages shared testimonies of sexual abuse during their time in Gaza, participants said.
Separately, a doctor who treated some of the 110 released hostages told the AP that at least 10 men and women among those freed were sexually assaulted or abused, but did not provide further details.
He spoke on condition of anonymity to protect the hostages’ identities.
According to the Israeli military, 138 hostages, including 15 women, are still held by Hamas and other terror or militant groups in Gaza.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a military spokesman, said the army is ‘absolutely’ concerned about sexual violence against female hostages.
On Monday, Israel hosted a special event at the United Nations, where former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and top technology executive Sheryl Sandberg were among those who criticised what they called a global failure to support women who were sexually assaulted and killed.
But some groups say Israel isn’t making it easy to investigate.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it requested access to Israel and the Palestinian territories to allow it to collect information from the events that took place on Oct. 7 and 8, and since then.
Israeli soldiers look at photos of people killed and taken captive by Hamas terrorists during their violent rampage through the Nova music festival in southern Israel on October 7
However, Israel has not responded to its requests, said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office. Israel says the office has preexisting biases against Israel and it will not cooperate with the body.
Israeli officials said they would consider all options for independent international mechanisms to investigate.
Rights experts say the United Nations is best placed to conduct a fair, credible and impartial investigation.
‘These accounts are horrifying and deserve an urgent, thorough, and credible investigation,’ said Heather Barr, associate director for the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch.