Over the past month and a half, Israeli authorities have opened civilian and military investigations into crimes committed by Hamas militants during the attack on civilians on October 7. Some of these crimes are clear from the enormous amount of evidence available since the first days after the massacre: the militia carried out massacres of civilians, also using ferocious methods, for example burning them alive inside their bodies. houses. Among the most complicated investigations, however, are those involving accusations of rape and sexual violence.
That Hamas militants committed sexual violence on October 7 is a certainty for most experts and those responsible for the rescue and recovery of bodies after the attack. There is at least one first-hand account of the rapes and many stories from rescuers and soldiers.
But if on the one hand proving that mass murders took place is macabre evidence, proving at the forensic level that rapes took place is complicated, especially in a context like that of October 7, where between Hamas and the Israeli army there was fighting that lasted for days and during which body recovery operations focused on the identification and rapid return of bodies to families rather than on collecting evidence of the crimes committed .
As he says a detailed article from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, this complicates the work of the investigations, which mainly have two objectives: the first is to build a criminal accusation against the Hamas militiamen arrested by the Israeli army after the attack; the second is to accuse the military leaders of Hamas, present in the Gaza Strip and in countries like Qatar, of having organized systematic rapes and of having used rape as a weapon against civilians, which would constitute a war crime and an additional crime. against humanity. To give substance to these two accusations, very concrete evidence is required, which is difficult to obtain in current conditions.
The fact that Hamas militiamen had committed violence against civilian women began to be mentioned in the first days after the October 7 massacre. Israeli authorities have strongly insisted on this element, which increased international pressure on Israel to prove the reality of rape and sexual violence. The Hamas leadership denies that its militants committed rapes on October 7, but in some cases it has even denied that its militants killed civilians.
The main obstacle to the investigations is that the kibbutzim and other Israeli communities attacked by Hamas were first the focus of the militia’s violent attack, then heavy fighting with the Israeli army that came later, and which in some cases lasted even two days. Once the fighting ended, the military focused primarily on securing the area, while civilian rescuers focused on identifying the bodies. Faced with dozens, even hundreds of bodies, no one thought to carry out the careful collection of evidence and clues that would be necessary in investigations such as those into rape and sexual violence.
Once the bodies were transported to the morgues, doctors realized that the condition of the corpses and the time that had passed since their death was such that it was no longer possible to carry out the tests usually carried out to understand what happened. to morgues. the victim. Among these investigations is the collection of bodily fluids, hair and other materials which are usually analyzed to try to understand whether the victim has suffered sexual violence. This is evidence that must be collected within 48 hours of the person’s death, but in the case of the October 7 massacre this was not possible, both due to the long fighting between the Israeli army and Hamas and the disorganization of relief efforts. effort.
In traditional criminal investigations, another way to try to understand whether a murdered person was sexually assaulted is to examine the context in which the body was found and document the evidence found at the crime scene. But in this case it was almost always impossible, because even the homes of Israeli civilians were destroyed and compromised by the Hamas attack and the fighting with the army. Professor of forensic medicine Yifat Bitton said Haaretz: “The fighting continued well after the crimes were committed, which undoubtedly contaminated the scene. »
Israeli soldiers and rescuers also contributed to the contamination, treating the attacked sites not as the scene of a crime but as a war situation, in which the priority was above all to find the survivors, identify the dead and to evacuate the corpses. In many cases, the bodies were not even photographed.
Haaretz he wrote that forensic doctors nevertheless attempted to run tests on some bodies, but that they did not turn up evidence of sexual violence. Besides the fact that a lot of time had passed, some of the bodies were in such terrible conditions that testing would not have been possible anyway.
Faced with the difficulty of collecting medical evidence, investigations are currently focusing primarily on the testimonies of rescuers, soldiers and doctors. Israeli police have collected dozens of testimonies from rescuers (many of whom are part of Zaka, an emergency service staffed primarily by Orthodox Jewish volunteers) who reported finding bodies of women without or with their underwear on. lowered, and with signs of sexual assault. violence.
Police sources, speaking to Israeli media, also said that during interrogations, Hamas militants often accused each other of committing rape and violence against civilian women.
The media also found testimonies of this type. THE Washington Postfor example, spoke with a reservist paramedic who entered one of the kibbutzim attacked by Hamas and he said of having seen the bodies of two young girls showing very obvious signs of sexual violence in the bedroom of a house. “One of them was on the bed, her arm hanging down to the floor. His legs were bare, bruised, and he had a bullet hole between his neck and chest. The other was on the ground, lying on her stomach with her legs spread and her underwear pulled down to her knees. There was a liquid on his back that looked like semen. They shot him in the back of the head.”
Always the Washington Post spoke with several people who worked in the morgues where the bodies of the victims were transferred and who confirmed the presence of evidence of violence. “We saw many bodies with blood-stained underwear, broken bones, broken legs, broken pelvises,” one of them said.
Concerning the testimonies of survivors of the massacre, for the moment the police, again according to sources Haaretz, he only recovered one, from a woman who managed to hide during the attack and said she saw militiamen gang-rape another woman before killing her. Members of Israeli groups against violence against women who work with survivors of the massacre said many of them are still traumatized and so getting information about what happened could take time.