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Dr. Catherine Chatterley


by Dr Catherine Chatterley, Feb 21, 2024

On January 26, 2024, Winnipeg Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti published an insensitive and misguided opinion piece that exposed her lack of knowledge and understanding of the Winnipeg Jewish community and its honest desire to bear witness to the horrifying assault by Hamas on Israeli citizens on October 7, 2023. The column was political and should have dispensed with her cynical evaluation of the Hear Our Voices event, sponsored by Jewish Child and Family Services, and simply focused on her understandable concern for Palestinian women in Gaza and her call for a ceasefire.


To be clear, Hear Our Voices was not a feminist event—it was a Jewish community event. Why would the Jewish community be obliged to design their programs to include the experiences of Palestinians—be they women or men? Should the Palestinian community have an event to recognize the suffering of civilians in Gaza, women and children in particular, people would not expect or demand that they focus attention on the suffering of Israeli women on October 7 or on the suffering of Jewish and Israeli hostages in Gaza. Few would expect this kind of programming from Ukrainians and Russians, or from any other groups in conflict or at war on this planet, so why is this an imperative for Jews and for Jewish women in particular? If Ms. Zoratti wants to attend a feminist event that acknowledges the suffering of Israeli and Palestinian women, or all women caught in the middle of violent conflicts, then she should organize one. I am sure many Winnipeggers would like to attend such an event.

It is a sad state of affairs, indeed, that Jews cannot hold an event to witness the October 7 Massacre in a human rights museum without being attacked in the local newspaper and accused of Soviet-style political propagandizing. It is too bad the editors did not send this piece of writing back to the author for more careful thought and revision. It is important, I think, for those of us who are not Jewish or Israeli, and who are not Palestinian or Muslim, to avoid fuelling what is already a very volatile situation and instead work toward reducing the hostility between these communities in Canada.

Perhaps the article below will help educate people about October 7 and the challenges facing the Jewish community in Israel and diaspora during what can only be termed a particularly tragic moment for both Israelis and Palestinians. 

This article will be published in the October 2024 issue of Antisemitism Studies in a section in which a group of scholars respond to the October 7 Massacre.

*   *   *   *   *   *     


A Saturday in October

Dr. Catherine D. Chatterley

Antisemitism Studies 8.2 (Fall 2024)


I cannot say that I was completely shocked by the Hamas invasion of Israel on the morning of October 7, 2023, which was also Shabbat and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, a time when many Israeli Jews had their technology turned off. I was, however, astonished by the massive intelligence and defence failure this invasion represented. Today, in the middle of February 2024, like many people, I remain stunned by the Israeli government’s negligence, which led to Hamas slaughtering and kidnapping approximately 1,200 Israeli citizens for between eight and 20 hours, depending on the location, without any intervention, and, as a consequence, has resulted in the IDF’s obliteration of huge swaths of Gaza, the execution of which is now being examined before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague (“The Long Wait for Help,” NYT, Oct. 11, 2023).

The violence perpetrated on Israelis in the towns of the Gaza envelope was serial-killeresque in its criminality and brutality. The pleasure taken by the young male perpetrators as they were committing their crimes speaks to the deep level of hatred they had for their victims and also demonstrated not a small degree of sadism. How do we know this? Because they recorded it on GoPro cameras attached to their bodies and broadcasted the images and video on social media. They also used the phones of their victims to live-stream these atrocities on the victims’ Facebook and Instagram pages and WhatsApp accounts for their families and friends to watch (“Hamas Hijacked Victims’ Social Media Accounts to Spread Terror,” NYT, Oct. 17, 2023). This tactic alone makes the October 7 Massacre unique in the annals of history and will no doubt, unfortunately, inspire future sadists to do the same. 

Five months later, we are still in the fog of war, and I am unable to judge conclusively whether or not the sexual violence Hamas and others perpetrated on Israeli women and girls was systematic in nature—part of a planned scheme by the organizers of this terror campaign. Videos of those captured and interrogated by the IDF show Hamas men admitting to raping women and girls (“we dirtied them,” “we whored them”) and reveal that the leadership in Gaza told them to do whatever they wanted to the Jews. One man claimed that they had raped a corpse, which is not surprising given the fact that some of the victims appear to have been raped and murdered at the same time. The IDF claims to have found a glossary of phrases in Arabic and Hebrew amongst the destruction in southern Israel including one line that reads: Torid Et Hamichnasayim or “take your pants off.” It is perfectly obvious to anyone interested in the truth, who does not have an already existing animus toward Jews and/or Israel, that the young men who invaded southern Israel from Gaza on October 7 engaged in sexual assault during their rampage. The question remains to what extent this occurred and whether or not it was ordered or encouraged by the leadership in Gaza. Some of the female hostages who have now been released are starting to share the conversations they had with some of the women who are still being held against their will in Gaza and they reveal that female hostages are being forced to endure continued sexual assaults and harassment by their captors—if they are still alive. 

Thus far, the facts are as follows: Hamas planned the real-time recording of their massacre by allowing cameramen and reporters to accompany the invasion force and by outfitting their own men with action cameras, they planned the live-streaming of the invasion and massacre through their own social media accounts and to the accounts of their victims, they appear to have prepared translations allowing their men to tell Israeli women and girls to “take off your pants,” and they appear to have told their men that they could and should do anything they want to do to the Jews (Yahud), which is a clear invitation to sexual assault when given to young men engaged in a massacre. 

Once the world became aware of what Hamas had actually perpetrated on the families of southern Israel, the Hamas leadership began to deny the sexual crimes and wanted the world to believe the absurd argument that sexual violence on the part of Hamas was impossible because the Quran forbids any sexual activity outside marriage. They also claimed that if there was any rape it was not the fault of Hamas but the responsibility of other armed groups that entered Israel during the invasions of the border. Hamas apologists and proxies in North America and the United Kingdom, including faculty and students on university campuses and a variety of podcasters and new media commentators (see the shameless Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté on The Grayzone and Ali Hasan Abunimah’s Electronic Intifada) began to publicly dispute the fact that sexual assaults occurred. These people demand to see physical evidence of the rapes and hear rape survivor testimony as if this was possible in these circumstances. 

In fact, there are few survivors of the October 7 Massacre who were not taken hostage. Most of the victims of rape were murdered and some of their bodies were mutilated and burned. At least ten young people who survived the massacre at the Re-im music festival in the Negev, where 364 people were shot, beaten and/or burned to death, have been involuntarily admitted to psychiatric institutions in Israel. The number of those institutionalized was 18 in past media reports. What we do know about the state of the corpses comes from first responders and forensic experts who had the task of collecting the remains and trying to identify the victims for their families before burial. Some of the female corpses had broken pelvises testifying to both the incredibly violent sexual assaults to which they were subjected and to the depravity of mind on the part of these rapist-murderers from Gaza. The bodies of women and girls were found naked or half-naked with gunshot and other injuries to their genitals, including two young sisters, one of whom was found covered in semen, some were tied to beds, and one woman was found with dozens of nails hammered into her thighs and groin area. 

Why would people deny that these crimes took place and accuse Israelis and Jews of lying? First, there are the many people who despise Israel who refuse to believe anything Israelis say and argue that the Israeli government is using these accusations to justify their destruction of Gaza. Even if one allows for the possibility that Netanyahu and his government decided to eventually (it was not immediate) use the sexual assaults against Israeli women and girls for political purposes, how and why does a wholesale denial of the crimes themselves then follow? In fact, these crimes must be denied by those who support Hamas because they place Hamas outside the norms of legitimate resistance movements and beyond internationally accepted norms of human decency. The people, especially those on campuses and in the streets of our major cities, who want to argue that the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 was a legitimate and emancipatory uprising by an innocent population born into and living under Israeli siege have no choice but to deny these abysmal atrocities because they are in fact war crimes and crimes against humanity, which are diametrically opposed to any kind of legitimate movement for emancipation and are even contrary to a legitimate military operation that would target only enemy military personnel. To acknowledge Hamas’s crimes would require that pro-Palestinian activists criticize Hamas or abandon it altogether and they refuse to do either. Those who do acknowledge these crimes and recognize the true nature—the serial-killeresque quality—of the massacre and still celebrate it as a triumphant act of political emancipation are themselves depraved and suffer from a severe state of moral and intellectual turpitude. 

Regardless of what anyone says, this was not a typical military operation but a gruesome massacre of families in their homes designed to terrorize and traumatize. So why was rape used against Israelis? There is no more effective way to humiliate a woman and to emasculate the men in her family—all at the same time—than through rape. I imagine it gives the rapist enormous satisfaction to feel as if he has denigrated or “dirtied” the entire family—or nation, in this case. For survivors, the psychological aftereffects of rape can last a lifetime. If not exercised, the shame and humiliation often leads to suicide and to severe anxiety and depression. Rape destroys relationships between family members and sets marriages aflame, particularly in the case of women and girls raped in front of their families. The men in the family suffer from feelings of guilt, shame, and frustration and the women must live with deep embarrassment and humiliation as well as a lot of rage directed toward the rapist(s) and her male family members, especially her husband or father, for not rescuing her from this horrific fate. This is why rape is such a commonly used tactic in wars, which are generally fought between men with women and children caught in the middle. It is the most corrosive crime—one that eats away at the social fabric of the family and the community over time. 

Many of us who study antisemitism and Jewish history immediately used the term pogrom to describe the October 7 Massacre. While there are, of course, major differences between Jews living as a minority in communities throughout Eastern Europe and as part of a majority in one’s own nation, there are also similarities between these October 7 events and the hundreds of pogroms Jews experienced in Eastern Europe over centuries (it is these pogroms, in fact, that led to the mass emigration of Jews from Europe to the United States and Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). What struck many of us was the unrestrained and totalizing nature of the rampage of violence and destruction, the targeting of everyone without distinction between infants and the elderly, men, women, and children. And, of course, the special targeting of women and girls for sexual torture and mutilation, which is, in my opinion, the central and defining factor of pogrom violence against Jews. The terrorizing of the community continues to reverberate long after the pogromists leave the area and the devastating effects of the trauma on the victims do as well. Add to this the possible contraction of sexually transmitted diseases and a possible pregnancy, resulting in the choice of carrying the child to term or having to endure an abortion, and this despicable crime is simply too much to bear. There is also the sadism of the male perpetrators, combining both rage and pleasure at once, who were also neighbours in this case, as strange as that may sound. How does one recover from this kind of reverberating catastrophic assault? How does one ever feel secure again in one’s home and how does one ever trust one’s neighbours again?

In addition to investigating the causes of the complete failure of Israeli defence and intelligence systems before and during that Saturday morning in October, future historians, philosophers, and other thinkers will no doubt be forced to reflect on the meaning of this catastrophe for Zionism and the state of Israel. I am not sure the public understands fully how deep this crisis goes for a political philosophy that was created for the express purpose of protecting and defending Jews, to ensure that nothing like this could ever happen, and to eradicate or seriously reduce antisemitism by normalizing the Jewish people in a nation state of their own.

One of the very disturbing trends that we have seen over the last five months is the reluctance or the inability (depending on the individual) to make important and imperative distinctions between people and phenomena. Immediately after October 7, we saw young people, university students, faculty, and members of the public celebrating and defending Hamas, which is an organization that embraces the classic libels of Jew-hatred and is publicly committed to the destruction of Israel. They were celebrating the massacre of Israelis as a Palestinian resistance operation and either defending Hamas or refusing to condemn its attack on Israel. There was no attempt to separate the Palestinian people or their fight for national sovereignty from the Hamas regime, which is a distinction that should be made by pro-Palestinian activists themselves and by everyone else. This had immediate ramifications. After the Israelis began their invasion and siege of Gaza at the end of October, we began to hear many people in Israel and around the world—politicians, journalists, members of the public, activists, even former hostages of Hamas—state categorically that there are no innocent civilians in Gaza—everyone is Hamas, which of course meant that all Gazans were legitimate targets for destruction. This is a horrific, inaccurate, and dangerous elision that must be loudly and publicly repudiated. 

Given the combination of a number of recent developments—the toll of the destruction rained down on Gaza by the Israeli military and the resulting humanitarian catastrophe; the public revelations about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s strategy of supporting Hamas by facilitating its funding for decades in order to divide the Palestinians and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state; the public comments by Netanyahu rejecting a Palestinian state now and forever, proving that he is not a partner for negotiations; the far-right composition of his cabinet who are in favour of expelling the Palestinians; the new American and European focus on extremist settler violence in the West Bank; the multiple applications to the International Court of Justice; and the domestic political consequences of all of this given increased Muslim immigration into Europe and North America over the past two decades and the changing attitudes of young people (18-24 years old) as reflected in current polling data—the world appears to be exhausted by the hopelessness of this conflict and is apparently ready to impose its own resolution upon it. Time will tell, during this election year in the United States, whether the Biden administration will actually declare and impose the creation of a Palestinian state. Israelis will be unprepared for this to occur in the direct aftermath of the events of October 7 and such a development will no doubt augment and exacerbate the trauma, demoralization, and divisions in Israeli society. 

At this time, we can only hope that the Israeli hostages who are still alive will be freed, that the lives of Palestinian civilians, especially women, children, and the elderly, will be preserved with more than adequate humanitarian protection, aid, and support, and that a regional war will be averted. Our world is in desperate need of skilled diplomats and humane, intelligent, democratic political leaders who have a sincere commitment to resolving conflict through negotiation and compromise rather than fomenting violence and war, an approach that is in the best interests of all people, especially women and children.



Dr. Catherine Chatterley is a Canadian historian of Modern Europe trained at the University of Chicago. She is Editor-in-Chief of Antisemitism Studies and Founding Director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA). An award-winning writer, she specializes in the study of European history, with particular emphasis on the history of antisemitism and the dynamic relationship between Jews and non-Jews in Western history.





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