An open letter signed by dozens of women’s groups from Israel and around the world criticises the failure of UN Women to speak out about the Hamas Pogrom of 7 October. ‘It is unthinkable that a UN agency responsible for women’s rights ignores the abduction of women, babies, girls, children and men from their homes, committing war crimes against women and children, and the murder of over a thousand innocent civilians.’ Hamutal Gouri, one of the signatories, explains the deep sense of betrayal felt by Jewish women.
On Saturday 7 October, Israel – especially civilians in 21 rural communities and cities near the Gaza border – woke up to the worst nightmare since the establishment of the State of Israel 75 years ago. Hamas armed terrorists murdered, tortured, and raped innocent civilians, men, women, elderly people, children, and babies. More than 1,300 people were killed, and at least 222 people, including women and children, were taken hostage. Among them is my dear friend Vivian Silver of Kibbutz Be’eri, a longtime peace activist. As part of that well-planned vicious attack on Israel, on that Saturday morning, Hamas terrorists also raided an outdoor rave near Kibbutz Be’eri and shot and killed 200 people, who came from around the country for a celebration of love and peace.
As the days passed, the scale of the atrocities and war crimes perpetrated by Hamas continued to unfold. Young women who were at the outdoor rave reported having witnessed brutal rapes of women. These testimonies were corroborated by horrific images published by Hamas on social media the very same day.
Israeli feminist international law experts and women’s groups were quick to respond to the Hamas atrocities, drafting open letters and calls for urgent action by international institutions, urging them to protect the hostages, and specifically the women and girls.
Yet, UN Women, the UN entity charged with safeguarding and promoting the rights of women around the world has failed, to this moment, to issue a clear-cut condemnation of the Hamas gender-based war crimes, let alone take any actions to protect the hostages from further harm. Anyone who has worked with survivors of sexual violence knows that ignoring the voices and stories of those who endured such abominable violence exacerbates their suffering and trauma.
UN Women did, however, issue a comprehensive paper on the urgent needs of women in Gaza.
Now, let me be very clear: as a feminist, peace, and anti-occupation activist, I would, at any given time, add my name and voice to a call to protect and meet the humanitarian needs of women and children in Gaza. I believe we are born with two chambers in our heart, so we’ll have enough room to care deeply about all innocent people who paid the most terrible price during wartime.
My late father, poet, and writer Haim Gouri, always used to say that ‘in politics there are endless shades of grey. In human morality there is, however, black, and white, right, and wrong’. Well, sadly, UN Women, like other progressive organisations made special efforts to navigate the international political public opinion, yet they utterly failed the basic moral test of denouncing wrong and doing the right thing: raising a voice for humanity, for all human beings, for all women, including Jewish women.
In October 2000, the UN Security Council passed resolution #1325 on women peace and security. The resolution has three key pillars: participation, protection, and prevention. Participation calls for the inclusion of women in conflict alleviation and resolution, protection calls for safeguarding women from violence – and specifically gender-based violence – perpetrated during wartime. Preventions stands for working to de-escalate further violence.
Israeli feminist and women’s groups – often in collaboration with Palestinian women – have advocated tirelessly for the implementation of the principles of UNSC 1325 resolution, based on our shared knowledge of how women are negatively affected by war, and the assets and diverse perspectives they bring to the negotiations table.
In a letter sent today, 23 October, signed by dozens of women’s groups from Israel and around the world, openly criticizing the failure of UN Women, we wrote: ‘It is unthinkable that a UN agency responsible for women’s rights ignores the abduction of women, babies, girls, children and men from their homes, committing war crimes against women and children, and the murder of over a thousand innocent civilians.’
The letter continues:
UN Resolution 1325 “calls on all parties to armed conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict. We, women’s rights organizations that have operated in Israel in the past decades, as well as women’s rights organizations around the world, cannot remain silent in the face of the suffering of innocent women and children wherever they are and the blatant disregard of the atrocities held by Hamas to Israeli citizens and the decision to ignore the hostage situation by UN WOMEN
We strongly implore UN Women – and all other human rights agencies – to gravely condemn the brutal attack and atrocities committed by Hamas to Israeli citizens as well as the abduction of innocent hostages, to urgently act to protect the special humanitarian rights of women and children, and to do everything in their power to expose and recognize these atrocious and horrific acts of violence against women and girls and to bring the release of all hostages immediately.
It is not too late for UN Women to do the right thing.
Please read and sign the open letter by women’s and human rights groups.