Editor’s Note: This story contains graphic and disturbing accounts of sexual violence.
Israeli police are using forensic evidence, video and witness testimony and interrogations of suspects to document cases of rape amid the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.
Women and girls caught in the rampage were brutalized sexually, as well as physically tortured and killed, witnesses to the aftermath say.
Police Superintendent Dudi Katz said officers have collected more than 1,000 statements and more than 60,000 video clips related to the attacks that include accounts from people who reported seeing women raped. He added that investigators do not have firsthand testimony, and it is not clear whether any rape victims survived.
About 1,200 Israelis were killed and more injured that day in villages and farms near Gaza when Hamas militants struck across the border in coordinated attacks, taking more than 240 hostages and precipitating the current war. More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to authorities in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Police Commissioner Shabtai Yaakov said the investigation could potentially lead to prosecutions, but for now, documentation is the primary mission.
She pointed to a United Nations statement just a week after the terror attacks that did not mention sexual violence.
“It’s much worse than just silence or an insult to us as Israeli women and to our children and to our people,” she said of the UN. “When they are failing to acknowledge us, to acknowledge what happened here, they are failing humanity.”
A paramedic from the elite 669 Special Tactics Rescue Unit said he had encountered all kinds of casualties before, but the violence from October 7 was unimaginable.
In Kibbutz Be’eri, he went house to house looking for anyone still alive after the carnage and found the bodies of two young teenage girls in a bedroom.
The combat paramedic, who did not want his name published, said the girl on the floor was on her stomach. He had no doubt the teenager was raped, but he did not know if she died first.
“Her pants are pulled down toward her knees and there’s a bullet wound on the back side of her neck near her head,” he recounted.“There’s a puddle of blood around her head and there’s remains of semen on the lower part of her back.”
The girl on the bed had bruises all over her body and a bullet wound to the chest, he said.
Others reported similar horrors at the Nova music festival where hundreds of young people were killed by terrorists.
Rami Shmuel, an organizer of the festival, said he saw female victims with no clothes as he made his escape, and has no doubts about what happened.
He added that it appeared women were specifically targeted for sexual violence.
“Why didn’t they [take] clothes off men?” he asked. “Only women, only young girls, beautiful girls, why?”
A long investigation ahead
Israel’s police acknowledge their investigation may take months, and Elkayam-Levy said it remains unclear how or where any prosecutions would be handled, though she noted that some families of dual nationals could seek justice in countries other than Israel as well as pursue cases in international courts.
But officials provided a stark window into the evidence they have been gathering at a press briefing, which included a statement from a woman who witnessed the Nova festival attack from her hiding place on October 7.
“They bent someone over and I understood he was raping her, and then he was passing her on to someone else,” the woman, who was not identified, said of what she saw.
“She was alive, she stood on her feet and she was bleeding from her back. I saw that he was pulling her hair. She had long brown hair. I saw him chop off her breast and then he was throwing it toward the road, tossed it to someone else and they started playing with it.”
The witness added: “I remember seeing another person raping her, and while he was still inside her he shot her in the head.”