Their bodies tell their stories. They’re not alive to speak for themselves.

In one photo, a burned body appears to project anguish. In another, a woman lies naked from the waist down, her underwear hanging from her leg. In interviews, first responders haltingly describe finding naked female corpses tied to beds and survivors recount witnessing a gang rape at the music festival.

All of this is part of a mounting body of evidence of the gender-based crimes carried out by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.

Over the last several weeks, NBC News has reviewed five interrogations of captured Hamas fighters, an Arabic-language document that instructed Hamas how to pronounce “Take off your pants” in Hebrew, six images of naked or partially naked deceased female bodies, seven eyewitness accounts of sexual violence including both rape and mutilation, 11 testimonies of first responders, and two accounts from workers in morgues who handled the bodies of women after they were recovered from the massacre.

The evidence, primarily from the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli officials, suggests that dozens of Israeli women were raped or sexually abused or mutilated during the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks. According to first responders, one was mutilated with a pair of scissors and another stabbed with a knife. The genitals of some men who had been killed were mutilated as well. 

Israeli officials say that Hamas militants were instructed to systematically carry out sexual violence on women and children. “This was systematic gender-based violence that was so horrific it’s hard for me to find the words,” said Cochav Elkayam-Levy, the chair of a newly created Civil Commission on Oct. 7th Crimes by Hamas Against Women and Children.

International law professor Cochav Elkayam-Levy during a meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in Jerusalem, on Nov. 23. Nicolas Maeterlinck / Belga / Sipa USA via AP

More than 1,200 people were killed on Oct. 7 in Israel, the deadliest terrorist attack in the nation’s history.

Hamas has denied its militants committed sexual crimes against women.

Two Israeli investigators cautioned against the use of precise numbers of rape victims at this stage. They told NBC News that evidence continues to come in and that the investigation is likely to go on for months.

“In Israel we have never met with such a complex investigation, regarding the cruelty of actions [and] the masses of corpses that we need to examine to identify,” said Mirit Bar Moran, a spokesperson for the police department that is leading the investigation. “We’re still in the beginning of the investigation, even though almost two months have gone by.”

Bar Moran said investigators are pouring over hours of testimony and 200,000 images from the Oct. 7 attack to get the full picture of what occurred.

U.S. officials say that reports of sexual violence need to be fully and credibly investigated. President Joe Biden on Tuesday called for global condemnation of what he called “horrific” sexual violence carried out by Hamas militants.

“Reports of women raped — repeatedly raped — and their bodies being mutilated while still alive, of women’s corpses being desecrated, Hamas terrorists inflicting as much pain and suffering on women and girls as possible and then murdering them. It is appalling,” the president said.

Heather Barr, the associate director of Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, said that any accounts of sexual violence should be thoroughly investigated. “Any accounts of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence on Oct. 7 are of great concern and should be investigated urgently, in a way that is thorough, credible and centered on survivors’ well-being,” she said. “Victims have a right to justice and accountability.”

Human rights investigators say that they believe that sexual violence and gender-based violence was carried out by Hamas, including mutilation. But they are not yet certain about the scale and there is not a large amount of evidence that is available to human rights organizations.

The most voluminous evidence is of bodily mutilation of sexual organs by bullet, knife or even scissors, according to an NBC News analysis of the evidence currently available. “They had a thing with sexual organs, both in women and men,” a first responder told police in videotaped testimony. 

A woman whose job it was to open the body bags of women and prepare their bodies for burial told NBC News in an interview Monday that she saw multiple female corpses that had been mutilated. “They were shot in the vagina, they were shot in the breast,” she said. “And this seemed like a systematic attempt at genital mutilation.”

Pictures of victims of the Nova music festival attack are displayed at the site near Kibbutz Re'im and Israel's border with Gaza on Nov. 28, 2023.
Pictures of victims of the Nova music festival attack are displayed at the site near Kibbutz Re’im and Israel’s border with Gaza on Nov. 28.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The most detailed eyewitness account of rape is from a young woman who attended the Supernova music festival where more than 350 young people were killed.

“They laid a woman down and I understood that he is raping her …they passed her on to another person“ the witness told police in a video reviewed by NBC News. “And he cuts her breasts, he throws it on the road they are playing with it.”

Israeli officials pointed to a Hamas pamphlet discovered on Nov. 2 that gives detailed instructions about how to pronounce phrases in Hebrew including “raise your hands and open your legs” and “take off your pants.”

During interrogations, captured Hamas militants talked about raping women and children as a Hamas tactic of war. “To have our way with them, to dirty them, to rape them,” said one Hamas militant during a videotaped interrogation. 

Another captured militant refers to dead bodies raped on Oct. 7. “Having sex with dead bodies,” the militant said in a videotaped interrogation reviewed by NBC News. “Meaning the body of a dead young woman,” the militant told interrogators.

NBC News could not independently verify the authenticity of the interrogation videos released by Israeli officials. Officials declined to provide unedited versions of the interrogations. 

An IDF rescue unit soldier gave testimony that he witnessed two girls lying in a bedroom, one of them half naked, with her legs spread and he said he saw what appeared to be sperm on her back. 

First responders described several women bleeding from their crotch area. “There was a body of a woman that had a blood stain on her genitalia. At first, I thought she might have had a mishap out of fear,” a first responder told police investigators in a videotaped testimony. “When we picked her up we knew for sure it was blood.

One of the videos posted to Telegram by Hamas shortly after the attack shows a young Israeli woman with bloodied sweatpants at her crotch. The video shows her hands tied and she is pushed into a Jeep with multiple jihadists. The woman is believed to be one of the remaining hostages still held in Gaza.

A delegation of Israeli women came to New York City this week to attend the U.N. panel on sexual violence against Israeli women. 

“We have to draw a red line and it doesn’t matter what your political view, you can’t politicize rape and you can’t contextualize rape,” Moran Zer Katzenstein, founder of Bonot Alternativa that promotes gender equality in Israel, told NBC News outside the U.N. on Monday. “Rape is rape and rape.” 

Moran Zer Katzenstein
Israeli activist Moran Zer Katzenstein, center, leads chants as she marches with her group Bonot Alternativa (Women Building an Alternative) in Tel Aviv on Aug. 2.Maya Alleruzzo / AP file

Volunteer Yaffit Salmanson, outraged by the silence from international women’s groups in the early weeks after the terror attack, compiled a list of every piece of evidence she could find in the public domain, including the Hamas interrogations, eyewitness accounts and accounts of first responders.

“The overwhelming evidence of sexual violence perpetrated on Oct. 7 should have elicited a robust response from the international community and women’s organizations,” said Salmanson. “As time passed, many of us grew increasingly outraged.”

Bar Moran said that since the dead women can’t speak for themselves, it is imperative for a proper and thorough investigation to be conducted. She added that survivors remain traumatized.

“We have to go carefully. We’re going slowly and carefully,” she said. “We don’t have many survivors. And second, not all of them are really able to speak at the moment yet.” 

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