Biden calls reports of Hamas’ sexual violence against Israeli women ‘appalling’
Written by ABC AUDIO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED on December 7, 2023
Editor’s note: This report contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence.
(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden has blamed Hamas’ refusal to release civilian female hostages for the end of a temporary cease-fire, and he called reports of women allegedly sexually assaulted by Hamas “appalling.”
“We had a report in the earliest days that Hamas used rape to terrorize women and girls during the attack on October the 7th in Israel,” Biden said, according to pool reports of his remarks Tuesday at a closed-door fundraiser in the Boston area.
“Over the past few weeks, survivors and witnesses of the attacks have shared the horrific accounts of unimaginable cruelty,” he said. “Reports of women raped — repeatedly raped — and their bodies being mutilated while still alive — of women corpses being desecrated, Hamas terrorists inflicting as much pain and suffering on women and girls as possible and then murdering them. It is appalling.”
Biden spoke about the reported assaults amid controversy over what critics said was a failure by the United Nations, women’s rights organizations and a Democratic lawmaker who has criticized Israel to quickly and flatly condemn the alleged attacks.
“Ending violence against women and sexual assault has been one of the causes of my life. … But the world can’t just look away at what’s going on. It’s on all of us — government, international organizations, civil society and businesses — to forcefully condemn the sexual violence of Hamas terrorists without equivocation. Without equivocation, without exception,” Biden said.
On CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, anchor Dana Bash challenged Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who strongly supports Palestinian rights, on why progressive leaders, Bash said, had been silent about what she called Hamas using rape as a weapon of war.
“I said it’s horrific,” Jayapal said. “And I think that rape is horrific. Sexual assault is horrific.” I think that it happens in war situations. Terrorist organizations like Hamas obviously are using these as tools.”
“However, I think we have to be balanced about bringing in the outrages against Palestinians,” she continued, adding, “Fifteen-thousand Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes, three-quarters of whom are women and children.”
More than 16,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, while 1,200 have been killed in Israel, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office.
Shortly after Biden spoke Tuesday, Jayapal issued a statement on X attempting to clarify her remarks.
“Let me be completely clear that I unequivocally condemn Hamas’ use of rape and sexual violence as an act of war,” she said, in part.
“My comment abut balance was not about rape, and not intended to minimize rape and sexual assault in any way, she added.
Biden spoke about the same time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a news conference and the Israel Defense Forces released a document detailing what it said was evidence and eyewitness testimony of sexual violence and other atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.
“I have heard, and you have also heard, about sexual abuse and cases of rape that are brutal like none other,” Netanyahu said.
“But I must say that until a few days ago, I did not hear the human rights organizations, I did not hear the women’s organizations, I did not hear the United Nations. I did not hear their cry. And I say to them: ‘Where are you? Are you silent because these are Jewish women?” he asked.
“I say to the women’s rights organizations, to the human rights organizations, you’ve heard of the rape of Israeli women, horrible atrocities, sexual mutilation,” he continued. “OK — where the hell are you? I expect all civilized leaders, governments, nations, to speak up against this atrocity.”
Hamas put out a statement rejecting Israel’s claims.
“We categorically reject the false allegations of rape propagated by the occupation, aimed at distorting the resistance and deflecting attention from the humane and ethical treatment accorded to released detainees,” the statement said.
In recent days, the United Nations Secretary-General and U.N. Women — the arm of the organization responsible for promoting gender equality — have issued calls for all acts of gender-based violence committed on or after Oct. 7 to be investigated and prosecuted.
An ongoing U.N. commission of inquiry probing alleged war crimes on both sides of the conflict is also set to include a focus on Hamas’ alleged use of sexual violence. But so far, Israel has not cooperated with the investigation, claiming the council leading it harbors an anti-Israeli bias.
When speaking about the remaining female hostages Biden did not address suggestions made by State Department spokesman Matt Miller on Monday that Hamas was holding them to keep them from talking about sexual violence.
“It seems that one of the reasons they don’t want to turn women over that they’ve been holding hostage — and the reason this pause fell apart — is that they don’t want these women to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in custody,” Miller said, later adding it was not a “definitive assessment.”
“These are civilian women, mostly between the ages of 20 and 39, whom Hamas has refused to let go under the deal that paused the fighting, which I helped negotiate with the Qataris,” Biden said. “I spent hours with the Qataris and others to broker, sustain and extend that deal. I got more than 100 hostages out.”
“Let me be crystal clear: Hamas’ refusal to release the remaining young women is what broke this deal and ended the pause in the fighting,” he said.
“These women and everyone still being held hostage by Hamas need to be returned to their families immediately,” he said. “We’re not going to stop — we’re not going to stop until we bring every one of them home and it’s going to be a long process.”
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