October 7 women ignored by human rights organisations

December 19, 2023 by Ilan Harris
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A rally to highlight inaction from women’s rights organisations in not only not condemning the 7th of October terrorist attack in Israel but also not acknowledging its occurrence has been held in Sydney.

The emotion-filled hour at Prince Albert Park in Surry Hills left some speakers, organisers, and attendees in tears, with quotes from testimonies being read more graphically than most community events have done.

This was provided with a content warning, allowing the organisers United with Israel to emphasise further what they believe is a disparity in treatment by women’s organisations.

Before the event’s start, some women dressed in white had taken a group photo in front of the installation of posters, bloodied shirts, and bras hung between trees. The women had covered their mouths with orange tape, representing the silence in addressing the sexual violence of the attack.

The thousand attendees walked carrying posters of victims, along with Australian and Israeli flags. As the event garnered support from numerous cultural groups, their flags were seen, too, with Assyrian and pre-Islamic Revolution Iranian Flags waved by individuals to show their communities’ support. Volunteers offered to tie yellow ribbons onto people’s wrists to remember and raise awareness of the hostages.

Sarah Swan and Senator Holly Hughes           Photo: Ilan Harris

Senator Holly Hughes has been displaying posters of the kidnapped in her office window for weeks.

She addressed the rally: “I’m actually surprised by how emotional and overwhelming this all feels. I want to thank United with Israel because you took people to Canberra who had family members who were either killed on October 7 or had been kidnapped and for whom they were still awaiting their return. Their bravery in coming to speak to us in Canberra was extraordinary.

One is of an 83-year-old woman, and the other is a four-year-old girl.

The Senator said that with Christmas only ten days away, for Australians who believe in the ‘pretty famous Jew in Bethlehem’, there is ‘some history that may need to be learned about how long Jews have been in this part of the world.’

She commented on the victims of the 7th of October terror attack, describing Israel as ‘a very broad state’ with both Jews and non-Jews having been attacked.

“I want to say to you, as a member of the coalition, I am embarrassed by what this federal government has done in their support for a UN resolution. When you are voting with Iran, North Korea, and Russia, you are wrong. When you are not standing up for the rights of Israel, our long-term friend and partner, you are wrong. And this government needs to stop speaking out of both sides of its mouth. The behaviour of the Red Cross and the UN is nothing short of shameful. Fifty-seven days of silence. Fifty-seven days before the UN could acknowledge the rape, the murder, and the abduction of Jewish and Israeli women, young girls that were at a music festival, the four-year-old daughter, and the 83-year-old woman whose photos are in the office in my office in Canberra. Fifty-seven days, they stayed silent. And then for the UN chairperson Georgina Williams in Australia to call two of my colleagues in parliament in Victoria to condemn them for coming to a rally like this. Well, Georgina, don’t bother calling.”

Photo: Ilan Harris

Deputy Mayor of Woollahra Council, Sarah Swan, gave content warnings before they read out the disturbing testimonies of sexual violence recorded by volunteer medical worker Simcha Greinman. Swan, who outside of regular council work is a solicitor and advocate against family violence and abuse against all genders and age groups, detailed the actions of women’s organisations following the attack.

She said: “On October 28,  United Nations Women published a report about displaced women in Gaza without mentioning any women who were displaced in Israel and said nothing about sexual assault or rape. The 25th of November is the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It was not until December, two months later, that the United Nations condemned the brutal rampage of rape, murder, and kidnappings of Israeli women and Hamas’ use of these tactics as weapons of war.”

Human rights lawyer Simone Abel spoke of how both the concept of tikkun olam and the stories of Jewish women who had survived the Holocaust inspired her path to be a human rights lawyer.

She told the story of a survivor who was kept in a basement and abused by the police commissioner whom her family had entrusted to keep her safe during the Holocaust.

Simoni said October 7th was like the Holocaust. She told the story to stress that sexual violence against an individual or an entire group will be excused or ignored unless it is spoken against. She said: “The Seventh of October was not the first time where gender-based violence has been used as a weapon against our people. Sadly, it may not be the last. In the face of these horrific crimes that violate international law and the rights of women, we have witnessed the stone-cold silence of the organizations that we would normally look to condemn such atrocities or take decisive action. Like someone who was abused by figures of authority and ignored by the international community, we will survive not just as Jews, not just as Israelis, but also as women.’

Vanina Vaisman-Levy told J-Wire that United with Israel and its volunteers are not criticising the #MeToo movement. Still, women need to be believed regardless of nationality, and women’s organisations not speaking out against rape when it occurs go against their cause. Organisers Rina Taub and Avi Efrat expressed thanks to individuals outside of the Jewish community who regularly have been attending the United with Israel events, specifically noting rally participants from Sydney’s Iranian community along with Australian First Nations and Pacific Islander communities, some of whom had flown down from Queensland for the events.


One Response to “October 7 women ignored by human rights organisations”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    This is the kind of rally we need. Thank you so much Senator Holly Hughes. You have my vote for Prime Minister, not just because you support Israel and condemn categorically what has happened to Israeli women on October 7, but because you are candid and outspoken and have outed the UN chairperson in Australia, Georgina Williams, for her attempted interference politically in regard to this rally. This is an incident that should be publicised so that the general pubic have knowledge of it, for it is completely inappropriate.

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