Melbourne vigil condemns ‘silence’ over sexual violence claims
A vigil has accused humanitarian groups of failing to condemn sexual violence against Israeli women. Photo: AAP
With their mouths taped shut, hundreds of women stood in solidarity with their Israeli counterparts to condemn reports of sexual violence at the hands of Hamas and what they say is silence from humanitarian organisations.
Donning white shirts and with orange tape over their mouths in 30-degree heat, about 500 people gathered at a park in Melbourne holding signs reading, “MeToo Unless Ur a Jew”, “No Excuses” and placards featuring Israeli hostages.
The vigil on Monday, organised by a grassroots movement of Jewish women, accused women’s and humanitarian groups in Australia and internationally of failing to condemn or acknowledge sexual violence perpetrated against Israeli women and children by Hamas in the days after the conflict started.
More than 14,000 people in Gaza have died since Israel declared war on Hamas on October 7, after militants crossed the border into Israel and killed in excess of 1200 people and took over 200 hostages.
The Australian government lists Hamas, which controls Gaza, as a terrorist organisation.
The United Nations’ body for women said in a statement on Friday “all women, Israeli women, Palestinian women, as all others, are entitled to a life lived in safety and free from violence”.
The group condemned the attacks by Hamas on Israel and expressed alarm over accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence during the conflict.
Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert was held hostage for more than two years by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a backer of Hamas, and said the silence of some international organisations was disappointing.
“To me, however, it hasn’t necessarily been surprising,” Moore-Gilbert told the crowd.
She recounted how the Iranian group treated women prisoners during her time held captive, using rape and sexual assault as modes of punishment.
“Iranian and Israeli women victims of sexual violence have been largely abandoned by their sisters here in the West because their suffering, for some reason, does not fit with the dominant or fashionable narrative about Middle Eastern women,” Moore-Gilbert said.
“We cannot advocate for women’s rights only when such causes fit neatly into whatever echo chamber the algorithms have designed for us.”
Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Monday referred to a statement by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin who said, “If you drive civilians into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat”.
Her French counterpart Catherine Colonna reiterated her government’s desire for a continued pause to the conflict.
“That is the most important, immediate thing you can do … so it can help the release, the liberation of every single hostage and so it can create a dynamics that is much needed … to lead to a ceasefire,” she said during a visit to Australia.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton on Monday urged governments and police to enforce accountability and the rule of law when it came to hate speech.
“The voices of anti-semitism are vociferous,” Dutton said in an address to NSW rabbis.
“This is a time for Australians not to be silent.
“To be silent is to tolerate intolerance, to surrender our democracy and civilisation to those who wish to destroy it.”
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