The Sexual War Crimes of October 7

In February, dozens of academics and feminist activists published an “Open Letter to the Israeli and U.S. Governments and Others Weaponizing the Issue of Rape.” Over 1,000 others soon added their names. The letter claimed that “accusations of sexual assault have also been wielded as a tool of war—and as an (often lethal) weapon of racism and colonialism.” The letter was a potent example of a broader campaign of “rape denialism” spearheaded by apologists for Hamas and their progressive allies.

Every signatory—and every Hamas apologist denying the sexual atrocities of October 7, 2023—should be forced to view the new documentary Screams Before Silence. Directed by Anat Stalinsky and led by presenter Sheryl Sandburg, the former COO of Meta, this devastating 60-minute film features interviews with eyewitnesses, first responders, forensic experts, survivors, and released hostages. The filmmakers decided to omit any graphic evidence of the sexual carnage perpetrated during the massacres, but Screams Before Silence is an agonizing watch nonetheless.

Despite valiant efforts by some parties to encourage a collective forgetting, most people remain familiar with the events of October 7, when Hamas militants broke through the Gaza border fence and massacred 1,200 Israeli men, women, and children, taking over 250 Israelis and foreign nationals hostage. The hostages were taken back to Gaza, where terrified captives and battered corpses were met by cheering mobs. Less clear, in those initial days, was the extent to which rape and sexual humiliation were systematically utilized by Hamas as a premeditated weapon of warfare.

The film begins with footage of the kibbutzim, filled with shattered scenes of domesticity—the charred ribs of homes, bullet holes, broken glass, and blood-spattered clothing. It is where the veneer of civilization was brutally punctured. Chen Goldstein Almog and her daughter Agam Goldstein Amog of Kibbutz Kfar Aza showed Sandberg the safe room where they were hidden when Hamas arrived. Text messages soon arrived from friends as rockets exploded overhead: “They’re shooting. I’ve been shot.” Terrorists shot down the door of the safe room, and then shot Nadav, the husband and father.

Agam sobbed as she told the story. She saw her father take his last breaths, and she couldn’t hug or kiss him, because his killers were with them. The family was forced out, single file. They had to step over him. Her older sister, Yam, fainted. She was shot in the face. The family—mother, daughter, two sons—were taken to Gaza by car. There is footage of them being driven through the fence. Agam looked at her mother in the car. “Mom. They’re going to rape me now.” Chen could say nothing. The surviving Almogs have since been freed. Agam estimates that half of the hostages experienced sexual abuse.

The title is taken from the testimony of a survivor of the Nova massacre. As she hid in a trailer, she heard women all around, screaming, shrieking; a young Israeli man sobbing, “Leave her alone!” The screams ended with gunshots. Eron Masas, a lieutenant colonel in the IDF, was one of the first to arrive on the scene. When he heard what was happening, he grabbed his gun, lied to his wife, and took off in his truck. He filmed his arrival at the festival. Gun in one hand, phone in the other, he encountered pile upon pile of corpses as he called out with increasing desperation: “Is anyone alive? Anyone? Please!”

Masas described the scenes of horror he found, scenes that haunt him still. The ground was littered with the bodies of naked women. Around thirty girls were still tied to trees, stripped and showing evidence of torture. A reservist at the morgue at the Shuura Base where the victims were brought described the sexual mutilation and the demonic, degrading things that made the last moments of these young women a nightmare. I wish I hadn’t heard these testimonies, and I will not recount the details here. But remember: these girls were made to endure them all.

It might be tempting, in the face of such horror, to believe that this is Israeli propaganda. But in fact, it is Hamas propaganda. These crimes were deliberate, and they were committed to send a message: You are vulnerable. We can get you. We can do the worst things you can imagine to your wives and daughters. As Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, former vice president of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted, the sexual violence was “premediated and preconceived.” Why? “Because when the body of a woman is violated, it symbolizes the body of a whole nation.”


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