Lihi Lapid: ‘I expect all women to support all women’
Israeli women feel abandoned by feminists and women’s rights activists who have largely remained silent as reports of rape by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 continue to emerge
It’s been nearly three months since Hamas’ mass terror attack and despite the mounting evidence that the thousands of Palestinian terrorists who infiltrated into southern Israel on Oct. 7 raped, brutalized and kidnapped women and girls in a cruel and systematic way, some of the world’s most prominent women and leading feminists have remained ominously silent.
For author and journalist Lihi Lapid, one of Israel’s leading feminist voices, their failure to speak out against what happened to Israeli women on Oct. 7 is both shocking and disappointing.
“I expect all women to support all women,” Lapid – who is also the wife of Israel’s former prime minister and current opposition leader, Yair Lapid, told Jewish Insider in a recent interview.
“What happened [on Oct. 7] is a matter that should worry every woman, everywhere,” she said.
Lapid said she believes that the world’s silence about the rape and brutalization of Israeli women, including around a dozen women still being held hostage in Gaza, is largely political.
“Many times, when women’s issues are discussed in parliament or in Congress, it does not matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, a right-winger or left-winger, everyone comes together to help empower and advance women,” said the author, who is set to release the English translation of her novel, On Her Own, in March.
“In this situation, I feel like the world is talking about what happened with a political opinion that relates to what they think or feel about Israel and Palestine,” Lapid continued. “This is something that should be outside of the political story.”
Evidence of systematic rapes and brutalization of women became evident soon after the attacks when a video – self-filmed by the terrorists – emerged of Na’ama Levy, the seat of her sweatpants soaked in blood, being dragged through Gaza by armed gunmen. Since then, eyewitnesses and even some victims have come forward to testify to the police or talk to therapists and the media about the sex crimes that took place on that day – and afterwards, in captivity.
Last week, The New York Times published the findings of a two-month-long investigation into Hamas’ sexualized attacks on Israeli women, identifying new eyewitnesses to the horrors and corroborating images that have already been widely circulated. The newspaper also noted the failures by Israeli authorities to document accurately the crimes against women in the chaotic aftermath of the mass terror attack, which led Israel into an ongoing war.
Despite the reports – including clear visual evidence suggesting what took place – there has been no mass movement or broad global condemnation of the sexual crimes Israeli women suffered at the hands of Hamas terrorists. International organizations that purport to support women, human rights NGOs that are quick to condemn other kinds of human rights abuses and prominent celebrities or politicians who have advocated for other women’s causes such as the 2017 #MeToo movement and the 2014 kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram have made watered-down statements or largely stayed silent.
“I expect every woman who supported the #MeToo movement to be a part of the fight to bring our hostages back home, especially the young women,” stated Lapid. “You can’t say you want to protect women because they are women and then say this is a different struggle.”
Although many of the women raped or brutalized on Oct. 7 were subsequently killed and a large number of elderly women and mothers were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong cease-fire at the end of November, Israeli officials estimate that there are roughly 12 women — most of them young — who are being held by the Iranian-backed terror group.
A further cease-fire in what has now become a three-month-long war in the Gaza Strip, with an estimated 22,000 Palestinians killed as Israeli troops advance through the enclave, was blocked in early December, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said, by Hamas’ refusal to release the remaining female hostages. While Hamas has denied the sexual abuse claims, the group’s refusal to release those women has been seen by some as a way for them to cover up their sexual crimes.
Lapid said she expected prominent celebrities and activists for women’s rights, such as Oprah Winfrey and former First Lady Michelle Obama, to speak out on behalf of the remaining female hostages and demand their immediate release. There are fears among some in Israel that those women still being held by Hamas might have become impregnated – another reason for Hamas’ refusal to release them.
“I mean, all those actresses who joined every #MeToo petition, where are they?” asked Lapid. “I thought everybody would join in [and call for the release of the hostages].”
Lapid used the example of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani women’s rights activist who, as a teen, stood up to the extremist Taliban group over the right of education for girls and as a result was shot in the head. Yousafzai, who has been revered the world over for her courage, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 – at the tender age of 17.
However, Yousafzai has also stayed silent about the rape and brutalization of Israeli women by Hamas – which shares a similar extreme Islamist ideological view of women as the Taliban – but has not refrained from attacking Israel’s military operation to remove the terror group from Gaza.
“Malala is a wonderful example because here we also thought she was so brave, and I remember how much we talked about her and what she did,” recalled Lapid. “We did not care at all what religion she was.”
“I don’t know about who is right or wrong in the country where Malala comes from, I don’t know what’s happening there politically,” Lapid emphasized. “I just cared about the fact that someone shot this girl because she wanted to go to school.”
“Yet here we have women who are being held hostage just because they went to a party or were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she continued. “Some of them were taken from their homes, while holding their babies, so I expect women from all over the world to stand up and say no woman should be kept as a hostage in a dark room with no one there to protect her or even know if she is OK.”
“What I’m saying is, ‘Imagine if it was your daughter,’” said Lapid. “Imagine your daughter was there with people that we know are terrorists and extremists and we know that they did horrible things. Just imagine.”
Perhaps worse than the silence – and even the denial that such crimes took place – Lapid said that as an Israeli woman it has been especially difficult to see people in the U.S. and around the world actively tearing down the posters of those who were kidnapped by Hamas, especially women.
“I saw so many videos of young women tearing down pictures of young women who were or are being held by Hamas,” she said. “I felt like saying, ‘Don’t you look at the picture and imagine that it was you? Don’t you look at the picture and say, well, she’s like me, it could be me? It could be me kidnapped and held somewhere surrounded by men with no one to protect me?’”
“Seeing other women do that was heartbreaking,” said Lapid, adding that she understands why “people don’t want to believe what happened because they don’t want to believe that the world can be such a horrible place.”
For Israelis, however, especially Israeli women, Oct. 7 brought “the sky down on our heads,” she continued.
“We all knew that we were in a dispute with the Palestinians, but we did not realize that [Hamas] is such a terrible terror organization – much worse than we could ever have imagined,” Lapid said. “That is why we’re still there [in Gaza] because we know that the moment we stop guarding ourselves, it could happen again.”
“For us, Oct.7 still did not end,” she added.