Israeli police have announced plans to investigate ‘several cases’ of alleged sexual violence against women by Hamas during the October 7 attacks, citing ‘multiple witnesses’ to incidents of rape.Police have been gathering evidence about allegations of sexual violence from witnesses, surveillance footage and the interrogations of Palestinians arrested since Hamas’ incursion into Israel last month.
At a news conference, police shared testimony from a survivor of the attack at the Supernova music festival, who described seeing a woman gang-raped and then shot.
The witness, identified as ‘S’, said she witnessed a group of women being ‘taken to a specific place by armed men, wearing military uniforms’.
‘I understood they raped them,’ she said, also describing how she saw another woman raped and mutilated by several armed men, with one shooting her in the head during the act.
David Katz, head of the Lahav 443 criminal investigation unit, said: ‘We have no living victims who said “we have been raped”‘, but, he said, ‘we have multiple witnesses for several cases’.
While he did not give a precise figure for the number of cases under investigation, Katz said the inquiry could take ‘six to eight months’.
The Lahav 433 investigations are part of the force’s effort to prosecute those captured during the attack on October 7, which left more than 1,200 Israelis dead.
Investigators say interviews with suspects have revealed that they planned to reach the centre of Israel and take control of a settlement for an extended period of time, taking residents hostage and planting mines in the area, local newspaper Haaretz reports.
However, this alleged plan was thwarted by Israeli security forces, reserve units and civilian groups who fought back against the Hamas invaders, the report says.
At the conference on Tuesday, David Katz also outlined details of other evidence collected by police, including from the ZAKA organisation, which recovers human remains in accordance with Jewish religious law to afford them a proper burial.
‘We have several statements from people from ZAKA who saw the bodies of women without pants or underwear,’ he said.
‘We took more than 1,000 statements and some of the victims cannot speak due to being in psychological and medical treatment,’ he said.
Lahav 433 have taken testimony from a woman who said she witnessed the gang-rape and murder of another young woman.
‘As I am hiding, I see in the corner of my eye that [a terrorist] is raping her,’ the witness told investigators.
‘They bent her over and I realised they were raping her and simply passing her on to the next [gunman].’
The witness says the victim was ‘alive’ and ‘on her feet and bleeding from her back. But then the situation was that he was pulling her hair. She had long, brown hair.’
The woman told officers one of the Hamas gunmen ‘shot her in the head while he was raping her… didn’t even lift his pants’.
Her testimony has been reported in a number of Israeli news outlets. It was one of thousands of pieces of evidence gathered by the police.
Another male witness said he didn’t see the rape, but confirmed the other witness told him at the time what she had seen.
Until now, reports of sexual violence carried out by Hamas terrorists were based on testimonies from first responders, who arrived in settlements on October 7.
The Times of Israel published a detailed investigation on Thursday, looking at the challenges in forensically identifying sexual violence since the attack.
The report observed that ‘physical evidence of sexual assault was not collected from corpses by Israel’s overtaxed morgue facilities amid their ongoing scramble to identify the people killed, many of whose bodies were mutilated and burned’ and noted that the decision has ‘fueled international skepticism over Hamas’s sexual abuse of victims… on October 7.’
The outlet cites interrogations purporting to show confessions from members of Hamas, ‘attesting to their orders to rape Jewish women’.
However, the report states, ‘a month after the massacre, the window for collecting physical evidence of rape that can stand up in court is closed’, referencing an anonymous forensic official.
The Times of Israel suggests the window was missed as resources were directed towards identifying bodies.