Michal Hatuel-Radoshitzky
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How the UN sexual violence report can help ‘bring them home’

Pramila Patten’s flawed report offers irrefutable conclusions and can be an asset in the global push to free the hostages
UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten briefs the press on the findings of a UN report on sexual violence during Hamas' October 7 attacks, at the UN Headquarters, New York City, March 4, 2024. (Screenshot/UNTV/AFP)
UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten briefs the press on the findings of a UN report on sexual violence during Hamas' October 7 attacks, at the UN Headquarters, New York City, March 4, 2024. (Screenshot/UNTV/AFP)

Earlier this week, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, released a report further to her mission to Israel in the aftermath of October 7. The report was received with mixed feelings: on one end of the spectrum, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan was summoned back to Israel for consultation by Foreign Minister Katz. On the other end, women’s organizations applauded the report. 

The report surfaces two challenges for Israel. First and foremost, it includes reference to forms of sexual misconduct by Israeli security forces towards Palestinians in detention facilities, checkpoints and house raids in the West Bank. While these accusations are noted in unconfirming language and in no way insinuate rape allegations, they paint Israel’s security-related campaign in a harmful, damaging way. 

Second, the report uses the term “Gaza periphery” to refer to Israel’s Western Negev or “Otef Azza” (a poor term in Hebrew too that is often translated as the Gaza Envelope). Readers outside of Israel, without prior knowledge of the terrain, are more likely to understand from this description that the October 7 atrocities were conducted on the outskirts of the Gaza Strip, rather than within Israel’s sovereign territory. Language often shapes comprehension and stances and given Israel’s struggle in the international court of public opinion, Israeli institutions and organizations hosting delegations from abroad should be mindful of the language they use.

Public critique of the report noted the use of the term “reasonable grounds” to assert that conflict-related sexual violence occurred during the 7 October attacks – hence falling short of concluding that such violence occurred without a doubt. Such criticism, however, ignores the following lines detailing the same pattern of harsh, vile, gory evidence found in different locations, leaving no room for imagination and thereby leaving no room for skepticism. 

Viewed from a positive perspective, the fact that Patten’s team was unable to verify information beyond doubt because victims were either dead or severely traumatized and unable to testify at this time can be seen as further validating the horrors that occurred on October 7. The fact that the mission team faced “challenges in gathering and verifying information” is telling of the UN’s slow response – almost four months! – to step up and send a high-level delegate to Israel to ratify the fact that Israelis were victims of sexual, conflict-based violence. The “absence of comprehensive forensic evidence” is a lesson Israel must learn, in the hope it will never need to be implemented.  

But by acknowledging sexual conflict-related violence against Israelis, the report provides a formal, much heeded, international UN stamp regarding the atrocities perpetrated by “Hamas”, “Palestinian Islamic Jihad”, “Popular Resistance Committees” and “armed and unarmed civilians” who breached the border on October 7. The fact that the report was professionally prepared based on a 17-day tour of the sites, 50 hours of video footage, 5,000 photos and dozens of interviews serves to bolster its credibility. This, particularly in the face of the message Hamas published, denying its gunmen sexually assaulted women during the attacks. With such bold denial, so soon after the events, the UN document has important historic gravitas supporting Israel’s narrative in the international arena. 

But perhaps the most important, and constructive element of the report is in the boost it provides to the “Bring Them Home Now” campaign on behalf of the more than 130 Israeli hostages still held in captivity. This is not only because the report concludes with a call to “Hamas and other armed groups” to “unconditionally release” Israeli hostages, but because the report asserts, in the strongest language, that hostages are subjected to ongoing forms of conflict-related sexual violence. 

Owing to these findings and assertions, the report should be welcomed, commended, translated into multiple languages, and disseminated by all those who seek to Bring Them Home Now. 

About the Author
Dr. Michal Hatuel-Radoshitzky is a Senior Advisor at MIND Israel and a Founding Member of Forum Dvorah: Women in Foreign Policy and National Security.