Hamas raped and mutilated Israeli women ‘like garbage’ in October 7th attack, campaign launch hears

Ex-Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and Cherie Blair bring global profile to campaign highlighting systematic sexual violence against women by militant group

Israeli army reservist Shari Mendes said Hamas tried on October 7th to ruin Israeli women “like garbage”. As she tended to victims’ bodies afterwards, Mendes “tried to do the opposite”, she told a meeting this week in London chaired by former Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg.

Sandberg, probably the most famous businesswoman in the world, has lent her profile to a growing Israeli campaign to highlight evidence that Hamas attackers perpetrated sexual violence against women in systematic fashion, when it attacked the Jewish state almost four months ago.

She took the campaign this week to committee room G, a grand old red-panelled room just off the House of Lords in Westminster. The event was also attended by Cherie Blair, wife of the former UK prime minister Tony Blair. It was hosted by Lord Jonathan Mendelsohn, a Labour peer whose wife, Nicola Mendelsohn, is a top executive in Facebook owner Meta.

“For a decade I have told women to lean in,” said Sandberg, channelling the title of her best-selling book. “Now I’m asking them to listen and speak out. It is impossible to fathom how these Israeli women spent the last moments of their lives.”


Mendes, an architect, is part of a volunteer unit in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that tends to the bodies of dead women soldiers before returning them to their families. In observance of Jewish tradition, bodies are tended by people of the same sex.

In the days and weeks after October 7th, the bodies of victims of Hamas were taken to the Shura army base near Ramla in central Israel to be identified. Mendes and her colleagues tended to the women, cleaning their bodies and retrieving jewellery and personal items, before dressing and wrapping them for burial and trying to restore some dignity.

She said the scale of the task was “unimaginable”, the smell at Shura overpowering. Trucks had to queue with the bodies.

Mendes said many women arrived with “bloody underwear”, a suggestion of sexual violence. Her team saw women who had been shot in the vagina and breasts. Others were shot in the face, which Mendes saw as a “systematic attempt to erase” their identities and womanhood.

The Westminster gathering also heard from Mirit Ben Mayor, a chief superintendent in the Israeli police. She said they were investigating the possibility of rapes of Israeli women by Hamas gunmen at up to 20 locations on October 7th. “Hamas used it as a weapon of war,” she said.

She said much of the evidence comes from eyewitnesses. One woman at the Nova music festival told investigators she saw a woman being gang raped, and then shot in the head while a Hamas attacker was penetrating her.

She read testimony from another eyewitness. According to this person, he entered a house near the Gaza border and saw the body of a handcuffed woman. “She had no underwear,” he said. Footage filmed by Hamas attackers on bodycams, then retrieved by the Israelis and then shown globally, include images of dead Israeli women with clear vaginal injuries.

Israel has previously criticised the United Nations for being slow to condemn the rape of Israeli women in the attack. This week, Pramila Patten, the UN’s special envoy for sexual violence in conflict, visited Israel to encourage more women to “break your silence”.

Hamas has repeatedly denied that its attackers raped or sexually assaulted Israeli women on October 7th.

“Hamas keeps saying rape is forbidden so it could not have happened. Do we believe that? Or do we believe the mounting pile of evidence?” said Sandberg.

Mendes, meanwhile, said she didn’t want to leave the dead women alone for a minute. Sometimes, amid the grey flesh in body bags, they’d see a flash of colour. It was the manicures of dead Israeli women. “They had wanted to look beautiful.”

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