Knesset members Boaz Bismuth and Tal Meron lead the Knesset lobby for releasing the remaining hostages in the Gaza Strip, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Jan. 9, 2024./Photo: Tal Meron Spokesperson

Four months since their capture, will the hostages come back pregnant by their rapists?

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Four months since their capture, will the hostages come back pregnant by their rapists?

Knesset members Boaz Bismuth and Tal Meron lead the Knesset lobby for releasing the remaining hostages in the Gaza Strip, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Jan. 9, 2024./Photo: Tal Meron Spokesperson

Earlier last week, Israeli Knesset member Tal Miron of the Yesh Atid party convened a Knesset lobbying event for victims of sexual violence featuring testimony from released hostages and family members of those still in captivity. As they have done for over 100 days, these brave, passionate individuals urged the international community to do everything in their power to bring their loved ones home.

It has been nearly four months since Hamas fighters captured innocent Israelis. They have continued to hold them against their will, and each day they spend as hostages, they live under constant threat of sexual and gender-based violence from their captors.

“The girls are being raped there and nobody reports on [it],” shared Shir Seigel, daughter of one of the recently released hostages who spoke at the lobby. “We no longer have the option of sitting here and continuing to talk politely. At this very moment, there is somebody sitting in a cave being raped… How much is it possible to suffer?”

With no humanitarian hostage release in sight, we begin to ask the impossible, heartbreaking question: Will our women come back pregnant by their rapists? Moreover, will it be too late to safely terminate the pregnancies?

From the Knesset to the United Nations and every governing body in between, we must be unequivocally clear: Hamas used rape as a weapon of war on October 7. What’s more, every day that the hostages remain in Gaza, they live under threat of sexual violence.

My organization, Women of Reform Judaism, was one of the first in North America to speak out against the gender-based violence following the October 7 attacks. In line with our legacy, we unequivocally believe all victims of sexual violence and rape. We believe Israeli women. We believed them from the start of the war, and we continue to believe them. As the international community remains largely silent, it is our moral obligation to speak out against these horrors.

Since the beginning of this current conflict, Hamas praised their fighters who raped and sexually assaulted Israeli women, celebrating the “trophies” of their disillusioned “freedom fighting.” This includes live videos of the mutilation of dead bodies and hostage livestreams that include gruesome “guess who is still alive” queries for viewers. Let’s be clear: this is horrendous.

Nevertheless, posts on social media spread immediately, questioning authenticated Israeli narratives and reports of rape, calling them ploys by the Israeli government as a pretext for war, or simply unimportant compared to the suffering of Palestinians. Israelis and Palestinians alike have suffered immensely on and since October 7, but that does not negate the suffering of those victim to these assaults.

During the Knesset lobby, released hostage Aviva Siegel described her time in Hamas captivity. “We were there for 51 days and there wasn’t a minute that we didn’t experience abuse – and they are still there,” she shared. At least 132 hostages remain in Gaza, including 18 women and two children.

Despite this depth of evidence and pain, it took UN Women a shocking 49 days to respond to this gender-based violence, yet I was hearing first-hand accounts from survivors and victims within hours of the first airstrikes.

Dr. Cochav Elyakam-Levy, an expert in international and human rights law, shared in a recent interview, “The UN-mandated bodies that are responsible to report on such atrocities, have the responsibility to share the information and truth about what happens around the world, the such violations of human rights, and they failed to do it in the very first days where all of us had seen what happened.”

After not hearing anything from these international bodies in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, Dr. Elyakam-Levy drafted a legal petition listing out the violations of international law. It was signed by more than 160 law professors and human rights advocates from around the world. The petition went unacknowledged and ignored.

She has since helped to start Israel’s civil commission on October 7, Crimes by Hamas Against Women and Children, and worked with its members to document every piece of information regarding what happened to women and children in these cases of abuse so that there is some record within the international community. Yet, as the hostages remain in Gaza, we can only imagine the pain they continue to endure.

I pray every day for the fulfilment of the highest of our mitzvot, the freeing of captives, but what happens when they get home? The psychological trauma that they have endured may well last a lifetime. And if our worst fears come true and women are forced into pregnancies, will they be able to safely terminate them? Or will it be too late?

Women of Reform Judaism has advocated tirelessly for reproductive justice since 1935. I am sickened to think about Israeli individuals who can become pregnant suffering from the unthinkable impacts of rape and sexual violence from October 7 until today.

At the closing of the lobby, Simona Steinbrecher, mother to a still-captive 30-year-old Doron shared, “Did you hear the testimonies? I’m begging. Get them out now, as long as there’s who to get out.” Doron’s sister, Dor, added, “I’m tired of the ‘together we’ll win’ slogans, stop hugging us. We don’t need your hugs. We need our loved ones in Gaza to hug us.”

I stand with Simona, Dor, and countless other women when I call on the international community to BRING THEM HOME NOW.

Based in Lenox, Massachusetts, Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch is the executive director of Women of Reform Judaism, the women’s affiliate to the largest Jewish denomination in North America. 

3 Responses

  1. I stand with Executive Director of WRJ, Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch and for reproductive justice. I pray for the release of ALL the hostages!

  2. It is time for the world to acknowledge and to speak out against the gender based violence perpetrated on Israelis on October 7th. This continued abuse of violence and rape suffered by the hostages must be condemned, and a chorus of voices world wide should demand the release of all the hostages. Thank you, Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch for speaking out and continually advocating against gender based violence and to bring the hostages home.

  3. This article was extremely upsetting and difficult to read, but I am happy that Rabbi Hirsch wrote it for all to read. We all pray for the release of the Israel hostages.

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