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İsrail-Hamas müharibəsi

Years of investigations lie ahead for Hamas’s victims of sexual abuse – Israel News

The enormity of the crimes against humanity which took place in the Gaza envelope as Hamas terrorists savagely killed, disfigured, raped, and tortured Israelis and non-Israelis will take a long time to sift through according to Yael Sherer, head of Israel’s Survivors of Sexual Violence Advocacy Group. Sherer, who specializes in health policy and emergency care, leading a team of six and close to 100 volunteers, says that her work is cut out for her for decades to come in collecting the forensic evidence.

A victim herself of sexual abuse, Sherer has worked in Tanzania in the field of human rights and as a journalist in Africa.

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She spoke with Felice Friedson about the daunting job she has in assisting the survivors to heal and by the same token to ensure this does not happen again.

TML: Yael Sherer is the head of Israel’s Survivors of Sexual Violence Advocacy Group (SSVAG). Thank you again for joining me here at The Media Line. I’m sure many hoped that your organization didn’t exist.

Yael Sherer: Absolutely!

TML: So many women are distraught over what happened on October 7, the violence, the rape, the attacks against women, not only women, men as well. And I want to begin Yael, what have you heard? What have you witnessed?


Yael Sherer: Well, aside from heading this organization, I’m also an expert on health policy, emergency care, forensic evidence and rape kits. And so, very soon after the attack on October 7 I contacted and was contacted by professionals in my field from the Health Ministry, from the police, from the National Forensics Institution here in Israel.

And very soon after the attack medical phase, it was already beginning to surface and we understood that this was an event like no other. We’ve never ever had such violence in this region, such cruelty; abuse of bodies. And also, we’ve never had such widespread accounts of sexual violence and rape both toward women and men.

TML: Yael, so many people are now involved. The police claiming that they have testimonies of at least 1,500 (people with) ZAKA the same, or close to it. They were there that day when they had to not just deal with over 1,000 bodies but try to understand what was the story for each individual if they were able to. Tell me, with all of this information why it took so long to get out the fact that women were raped and men were sexually abused as well. Why was this something that took that kind of time so the world will understand? This played a role in the terror that Hamas brought on to the Israelis that day.

Yael Sherer: First of all, we wanted to be sure that what we’re seeing is what it seems, because this never happened in this region in this conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was never a part of it. Unlike other conflicts in the world, where sexual assaults and rape were on both parts, here it didn’t happen. And this conflict was a very violent one for decades, but never have we seen such accounts. This issue is taboo, so even toward the Israeli public the government was very alarmed by these reports and wanted to check them, and wasn’t even sure how to convey to the Israeli public, nonetheless to the international community.

We had to be very careful about these accounts because these were people where their families might still be alive. The footage that Hamas took is just horrible. People saw their relatives being killed, being abused, being kidnapped. We have footage that Hamas uploaded to social media, and Israel was very, very careful with collecting everything in order to say that this was a widespread phenomenon.

Even in Israel, we had a hard time even coming to terms with saying it, because it’s so taboo and nobody wanted to disgrace the dead, and nobody wanted to say something that would hurt the families.

TML: Take Na’ama Levy. Here is a 19-year-old young woman who was dragged by her hair by Hamas terrorists onto a truck. You see her bloody pants. This reminds, of course, that this woman was raped. There are many stories. There are witnesses who say there were gang rapes. How many of these testimonies have come to your attention on a personal basis, and what role have you been playing directly or indirectly?

Yael Sherer: I don’t want to comment about specific people and cases since the police investigation is still going on, and I’m not at liberty to say that are part of the police investigation. I don’t want to hurt the criminal case against the terrorists, and I’m also not somebody that investigates themselves. It’s also not part of my job.

What I do deals with policy, therapy, (and) treatment of the victims, and because of that I have a lot of information that was supplied to me by the Israeli government. I don’t want to disclose things that might breach on somebody’s personal information or privacy. I want to help you, but I don’t want to comment on specific people, testimonies, or names because this is a very very touchy subject.

We do have living survivors from both genders, and I want to protect them. I want to respect the dead. I want to respect their families. So, I can’t specifically comment on cases.

Why it takes such horrors for people to pay attention

TML: Yael, I totally respect what you’re saying, and I’m sure many that are viewing this will say the same. Why is it that it takes horror after horror, story after story and the bloodier and the gorier they are, then people might understand something of this nature happened, and in such a large manner.

Yael Sherer: I think it’s just because people perceive this conflict as a bloody conflict for many years, and so they don’t really realize that what happened in the beginning of October is so outrageous; horrible. They do perceive it as a conflict where people killed each other before, so this might be as out-of-the-ordinary I’m going to say, because it happened before? No! It never happened before.

Never have we seen such cruelty. Never have we seen people burned alive like this, people abused like this. We’ve never seen mutilation of bodies in such a way (that) you would need to be a psychopath to do things to bodies. I mean, in an ethnic conflict, in a war, you kill people and they’re dead. You don’t do that with people’s bodies. You don’t stream it on live media. You don’t upload it to people’s personal users from their own phone. You don’t do things like that!

This was a step up. It’s something that was imported into this conflict from other conflicts. It never happened here before. It’s more reminiscent of Al Qaeda chopping off people’s heads like this. It’s more reminiscent of ISIS and raping women like this. It’s foreign to us; foreign! Burning people alive and kidnapping babies and toddlers and shooting people’s pet dogs; if this is an ethnic conflict and a war, then you wouldn’t shoot people’s pets.

This was done to terrorize and to scare people. This was a deliberate act of cruelty, and it was made public and because it was so disrespectful of the victims, so disgusting, then the counteract was to not talk about it and first of all respect these people and not publish the videos and the pictures in an outrageous way.

We are trying, trying, trying to be respectful of these people’s dignity. They have families that are still alive, and being respectful who are still alive and are still living and need to live with what Hamas has done to them, and they are not living somewhere else in a vacuum. They read the paper, and they go online like everybody else. People were murdered in front of them. They were raped. All of their community is dead. Their house might have been burnt down. They have a lot to handle, and they are not willing to come publicly now and be interviewed by journalists. And it’s not fair to expect that of them.

TML: But you are a voice on their behalf.

Yael Sherer: I will protect their privacy at all costs, and I think that we should all be very mindful that this process of healing, of recuperating, of maybe returning to some sort of normal life is going to take time. This is something that nobody’s handled before. We’ve reached out to the world on how to handle babies in captivity.

We have no knowledge in Israel on how to treat trauma after captivity by terrorists at (ages) three (and) four.

TML: And yet there are still babies right now from the Bibas family in Gaza, and it’s a deep worry for Israel and the Israeli people at the moment, and one can’t even imagine having a 10-month-old and four-year-old still in captivity at this time.

Yael, I need to ask you a little bit about the men. You brought up the issue that it wasn’t just women.

Yael Sherer: Yes.

TML: And I think it’s important to share that, because it’s also the issue that I want to ask you is why we don’t see more men speaking out on behalf of women that were raped? One of the questions that many are asking as journalists is where are the women’s voices, as well as myself, but I’m also asking where are the men’s voices too?

Yael Sherer: I don’t expect anybody’s voice anymore. I’m so disappointed with the international figures, with the international bodies and institutions. I can’t believe that this has been taken so lightly; that it’s taken two months for somebody to say that it’s not OK, what happened here? To even try to and understand how shocked and horrified we are about what we found in these rural communities, in these villages, in these farms. Why does it take so long to say that it’s not OK?

This was a holy day Simchat Torah, and on Shabbat, on a Saturday 6:30 in the morning. People are asleep with their toddlers. People are in their beds. And this attack was vicious. It was directed at Jewish people. It was directed at Arab people, Muslim people. Bedouin people were killed here, even if Hamas knew that they were speaking Arabic, that they were Muslim.

They spoke to them (in Arabic). They filmed them being shot so they knew, they knew, that these were not Jewish people. They invaded the student body and killed foreign students from Nepal. Why? They absolutely knew that these were students who came here to study agriculture.

This was a building that housed foreign students. These were not Israelis. They have nothing to do with the conflict here. They were all shot. Young, young, young men, twenty-something young men that came here to learn about agriculture. What for? Why would you shoot Nepalese people? Why would you kidnap people from Thailand and the Philippines? Why? Why? What for?

The amount of the atrocities and cruelty that happened here it never happened here in this region and in this conflict. Never!

TML: Is there anything that you saw as a weave with all the people that you saw and encountered?

Yael Sherer: What do you mean as a weave?

TML: There was a commonality of the outcome.

Yael Sherer: I can say that I saw very specific and different behaviors at certain crime scenes and sites, so I do suspect from what I’ve seen and heard, that we’ve had leaders conducting certain behaviors with their terrorist group unit that was specific to them and I think that it’s going to be imported into the court cases.

So, we did see specific behaviors specific to certain sites, and that leads me to believe that we’ve had people from Hamas conducting themselves in a certain way during the attack.

TML: Is this off-record? I have to ask. Or, on record (and) OK (to use)?

Yael Sherer: I think you can say it on record, because I’m not saying, I’m not naming the specific behaviors, but we did see specific things. Ofakim and Sderot had a different kind of behavior and pattern of the units of Hamas than what happened at the NOVA music festival. We saw specific behaviors there, and (they) were very different to the (kibbutz) villages.

So, I suspect that (certain) peoples did certain things a lot of times, if that makes sense.

TML: It does. I wish it didn’t, but it does.

You yourself have spent time in Tanzania and in parts of Africa dealing with human rights violations and as a journalist for the Ynet group. Have you ever come in contact with anything of this nature?

Yael Sherer: I was advising on the Ukraine, and this was just a year ago, and we didn’t have reports of horrible things like this. We had a lot of reports on rape, but nothing, nothing like this. Nothing!

I was also in Tanzania and other parts of Africa where there’s conflict and there’s refugees from parts of Africa that still have civil war and attacks from terror organizations. There was numerous accounts of rape. Numerous accounts. A lot of rape. But I have yet to have reports to what happened (on October 7). Disgracing people’s bodies like this, shooting off people’s genitalia, cutting off people’s (intimate organs), I’ve never encountered such reports. Not in Europe in all of the conflicts. Not in (19)94 in the Balkans. I haven’t heard such reports. Not like this. (And) not in Africa.

TML: What is it going to take to get the world to come out in force?

Yael Sherer: I don’t think it’s going to happen! I don’t think it’s going to happen!

TML: Is the world without principles?

Yael Sherer: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m telling you what happened here, in my profession, in all the years I’ve been doing policy to do with the emergency care of rape victims, forensic evidence collecting, rape kits, (etc.), I never had anything, anything, remotely close to what happened here. And I don’t know if it’s principle, I just am very disappointed by the international community; bodies; committees; the UN—I think how the United Nations have behaved. I don’t know how to describe it. I really don’t.

I think that people really abandoned us. We still have people kidnapped in Gaza now; young women and men at the beginning of their lives. (There’s) an 11-month-old baby and a four-year-old taken from their homes in the early hours of the morning dragged into Gaza. I’m just very disappointed.

TML: You, yourself were a victim of sexual abuse as a younger woman. In looking back, and having to get through that, get past that, and because you went through it yourself, do you feel that it enables you to be able to help the others that are going through these very hard times right now?

Yael Sherer: I suffered sexual violence from my father as a young girl, and because of it, I’m in this field. And for me, what’s the most important thing? The most important thing is to have policy that allows these people to have lives, to have families, to go and study at the university, to keep going.

And I’ll make sure that the Israeli government, state bodies, parliament, whatever it takes, that this is not forgotten. That this doesn’t happen again to anybody, whether they’re Israeli, Jewish, Muslim or come from Thailand or the Philippines or Nepal. I’m going to keep fighting it.

TML: I can’t imagine that you won’t be spending a lot of time for many months with each one of the people that you’re involved with. For each people that are part of the group involved with each one who went through this. I can’t even begin to imagine.

Yael Sherer: I really thank you for your empathy, because this is going to be a (challenge). I mean, I’ve been in this field for 11 years. This is going to be the field from now on. This is going to be my field from now on; collecting forensics evidence. There’s not going to be a convention, (or) a day that we don’t do this for the next 50 years. This is my passion now. No, it’s fine! I understand that this is something that is going to change Israeli culture and the Israeli state forever. Forever!

TML: I think nobody has come to terms with it. And I ask the question, because I am making statements here, but I ask the question as a journalist, and as a woman, how do you explain it? How do you share that story in history? How do you make sure that it doesn’t happen (again)?

Yael Sherer: I really don’t have answers myself. It’s only been two months. Personally, I haven’t come to terms with it, with what I’ve went through, with what I’ve seen, with people I work with who had to deal with this who held my hand and cried on my shoulder. It’s only been two months. I don’t think I myself (know). I’m still coping with it. That’s the truth.

TML: If you had one plea to the world right now, Yael, what would it be?

Yael Sherer: Don’t let this happen again! Once it enters a conflict, rolling it back is going to be impossible. This is now going to be the standard here with attacks. I’m so very scared of the future.

TML: Yael Sherer, who is the head of a very important organization, Israel’s Survivors of Sexual Violence Advocacy Group (SSVAG), I wish you a lot of courage and strength, and I really hope that women of the world and the men of the world come forth with a voice at this time.

Thank you for sharing with The Media Line!

Yael Sherer: Thank you!

I wish I didn’t know what I’m talking about, believe me, but you get the drift, so yeah, (there were) different commonalities. So, if that’s what you’re asking about a weave of things, we saw specific behaviors.

TML: It’s a sad time. And thank you for the work!

Yael Sherer: Thank you! Thank you for this interview and for your sensitivity, and we’ll be in touch. Bye!

TML: Bye bye!

“24 saat”

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