05:27 - Source: CNN
'Not just killed, cruelly mutilated': Witness describes assault of women on Oct. 7

Editor’s Note: This story contains graphic and disturbing accounts of sexual violence. It was originally published on November 17, 2023, and updated on April 10, 2024, with additional information concerning the account of an attack on a kibbutz.

CNN  — 

Israeli police are using forensic evidence, video and witness testimony and interrogations of suspects to document cases of rape amid the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Women and girls caught in the rampage were brutalized sexually, as well as physically tortured and killed, witnesses to the aftermath say.

Police Superintendent Dudi Katz said officers have collected more than 1,000 statements and more than 60,000 video clips related to the attacks that include accounts from people who reported seeing women raped. He added that investigators do not have firsthand testimony, and it is not clear whether any rape victims survived.

Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images/FILE
The aftermath of an unprecedented Hamas assault on communities near Gaza,seen at the Kibbutz in Be'eri, Israel, October 14. Israeli police are working to document cases of rape amid the October 7 Hamas attacks.

About 1,200 Israelis were killed and more injured that day in villages and farms near Gaza when Hamas militants struck across the border in coordinated attacks, taking more than 240 hostages and precipitating the current war. More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to authorities in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai said the investigation could potentially lead to prosecutions, but for now, documentation is the primary mission.

Cochav Elkayam-Levy, a human rights law expert at Hebrew University, has formed a civil commission with colleagues to document evidence of the atrocities, fearing that as the war devastates Gaza and the lives of thousands of Palestinians, the world seems willing to look over the violence against Israeli women and girls. “We’ll never know everything that has happened to them,” Elkayam-Levy told CNN. “We know that most women who were raped and who were sexually assaulted were also murdered.”

She pointed to a United Nations statement just a week after the terror attacks that did not mention sexual violence.

“It’s much worse than just silence or an insult to us as Israeli women and to our children and to our people,” she said of the UN. “When they are failing to acknowledge us, to acknowledge what happened here, they are failing humanity.”

Harrowing reports

Accounts given to CNN detail horrific, almost inhuman, crimes.

A paramedic from the Israel Defense Forces’ elite 669 Special Tactics Rescue Unit said he had encountered all kinds of casualties before, but the violence from October 7 was unimaginable.

In one kibbutz, he went house to house looking for anyone still alive after the carnage and found the bodies of two young teenage girls in a bedroom.

“One is lying on the bed. One on the floor,” he told CNN.

The combat paramedic, who did not want his name published, said the girl on the floor was on her stomach. He had no doubt the teenager was raped, but he did not know if she died first.

“Her pants are pulled down toward her knees and there’s a bullet wound on the back side of her neck near her head,” he recounted.“There’s a puddle of blood around her head and there’s remains of semen on the lower part of her back.”

The girl on the bed had bruises all over her body and a bullet wound to the chest, he said.

“These are two girls that were just killed, executed, perhaps raped in their own bedroom,” he told CNN.

In response to subsequent reports raising questions about the account – specifically about the location, which he identified as Kibbutz Be’eri – the paramedic referred questions to the IDF. A spokesman pointed to a report from the United Nations that found grounds to believe accounts of rape and gang rape in the October 7 attacks, and added: “In the case in question, the combat paramedic shared his personal experience when he arrived at the scene of the massacre. Considering the privacy of the victims and their families, it is not possible to provide more information about the case.”

In a statement to CNN, the kibbutz said: “We have no other information. It is important to note that we do not dispute that sexual violence has been part of Hamas’ plan and been conducted in other places according to testimonies, just not on said girls, who have been brutally murdered nonetheless.”

Others reported similar horrors at the Nova music festival where hundreds of young people were killed by terrorists.

Rami Shmuel, an organizer of the festival, said he saw female victims with no clothes as he made his escape, and has no doubts about what happened.

“Their legs were spread out and some of them were butchered,” he told CNN.

He added that it appeared women were specifically targeted for sexual violence.

“Why didn’t they [take] clothes off men?” he asked. “Only women, only young girls, beautiful girls, why?”

A long investigation ahead

Israel’s police acknowledge their investigation may take months, and Elkayam-Levy said it remains unclear how or where any prosecutions would be handled, though she noted that some families of dual nationals could seek justice in countries other than Israel as well as pursue cases in international courts.

But officials provided a stark window into the evidence they have been gathering at a press briefing, which included a statement from a woman who witnessed the Nova festival attack from her hiding place on October 7.

“They bent someone over and I understood he was raping her, and then he was passing her on to someone else,” the woman, who was not identified, said of what she saw.

“She was alive, she stood on her feet and she was bleeding from her back. I saw that he was pulling her hair. She had long brown hair. I saw him chop off her breast and then he was throwing it toward the road, tossed it to someone else and they started playing with it.”

The witness added: “I remember seeing another person raping her, and while he was still inside her he shot her in the head.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the name of Israeli police commissioner Yaakov Shabtai.