Women stood in bloody sweatpants on International Women’s Day to highlight the grim fate of Israeli hostages in Gaza

Demonstrators dressed as the 14 remaining female hostages and their Hamas captors participate in the Canadians for Israel rally at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on International Women's Day, March 8, 2024. (Credit: Jonathan Rothman)

Fourteen women bound by the hands in small groups wore red-stained sweatpants while men dressed as Hamas militants silently led them around Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square on Friday, March 8.

The International Women’s Day event by a group called Canadians for Israel included the dramatic re-enactment of the kidnapping of women who were taken to Gaza during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Organizer Daphna Pollak described the grim performance.

“It’s International Women’s Day today. You see there? There’s a woman. Her name is Naama Levy,” Pollak said, pointing to an image of Levy.

“See what she’s wearing, her sweatpants have blood all over them. That’s because she’s in the process of being abducted by Hamas terrorists from Israel into Gaza,” and that Levy’s bloody pants (in images) show she’d been raped, Pollak told a small crowd gathered on the Queen Street sidewalk outside the square.

“They’re representing the 14 Israeli women who are still captive in Gaza, held captive there by Hamas in their dungeons since October 7th.

“And they’re being held as sex slaves,” she said of the women, hands bound, some blindfolded or gagged for the re-enactment.

Organizer Daphna Pollak points to an image of Naama Levy (“Don’t Look Away” sign, right) with what appear to be blood-stained sweatpants when she was kidnapped by Hamas militants on Oct. 7. Demonstrators called attention to the 14 remaining female Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and allegations of ongoing sexual violence in captivity, as well as that which took place on Oct. 7, through one of a series of “bloody pants” protests in Canada. (Credit: Jonathan Rothman)

The women have been held for 154 days, she said, along with an estimated more than 100 total hostages.

“If you think about it, it’s five months and a day where they’re suffering and tortured every day. And raped, which we know from hostages that have been released that that’s what they’re going through, still,” said Pollak.

The UN envoy for sexual violence in conflict, Pamila Patten, released her long-awaited report March 4, confirming that Hamas terrorists committed rape and “sexualized torture” during the Oct. 7 attacks, and that hostages also suffered sexual violence while they were in captivity.

“Rape was used as a methodical, sadistic and violent tool of war, especially against the women and the girls, but also against men,” said Pollak.

“The whole world saw what was happening. It was the most documented atrocity in our modern times because the terrorists broadcast everything live and recorded everything on their GoPros. The world knows.

“Yet on October 8th, the very next day, a denial campaign began, and everyone, it seems, that should have spoken out, has disappointed us: UN agencies, women’s agencies… even governments did not speak out,” said Pollak.

“Even with all the evidence people denied that it even happened. To us, that’s simply Jew hatred, that’s simply antisemitic.”

Pollak said the UN was late to react and investigate, and called out Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, who she said “didn’t really react” to a recent Israeli report that Pollak said clearly documented crimes of sexual violence.

Pollak also blasted Marci Ien, minister for women and gender equality, for her silence.  

“In Canada, we were particularly disappointed, by again, the rape crisis centers, the women’s organizations… Marci Ien is the federal minister of gender equality. We haven’t heard anything from her about it.”

Toronto’s Maureen Leshem has been a constant advocate for her 23-year-old cousin Romi Gonen, one of the 14 women still held in Gaza, and specifically the issues around ongoing sexual violence.

Gonen was abducted from the Nova music festival on Oct. 7 and sustained a gunshot wound to the hand. Leshem, who runs a non-profit organization called 482 Collective, which advocates for victims of sexual violence and human trafficking, gave a brief, impactful speech.

“We cannot ignore the fact that there are 19 innocent women and children still being held against their will in the tunnels of Gaza,” including Gonen, her cousin.

“We know, and the UN has confirmed, that the women continue to be subjected to sexual violence and physical and psychological torture. The world needs to demand [their] unconditional freedom immediately,” she said.

“And I expect the leaders of my country to back me up on that demand, especially since they purport to operate from a feminist intersectional lens.

“Canada: Do your job.”

Donna Holbrook, the director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, also spoke about the overwhelming evidence of sexual violence by Hamas and allied militants.

“A report by the United Nations has found ‘reasonable grounds to believe that the October 7th Hamas-led attacks on Israel included sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, and that some Israeli hostages’ experience such violence while in captivity in Gaza.

“The findings are based on dozens of interviews with survivors and witnesses of the attack,” Holbrook said.

Her remarks described the thoroughness of the UN investigation. The report was compiled following a 17-day trip to Israel earlier this year by healthcare workers who spoke with survivors and released hostages, along with research teams who reviewed more than 5,000 photos and around 50 hours of video footage from the attacks, she said.

According to the UN report, rapes likely took place in at least three locations on Oct. 7, she said.

“There’s still time to step up and advocate for these women in dire circumstances,” Holbrook said.

Following the speeches, those dressed as Hamas militants led the 14 women representing hostages in a hands-bound slow march around the square and skating rink.

Demonstrators, including those dressed as the 14 remaining female hostages and their Hamas captors, walk through Nathan Phillips Square and its outdoor ice rink in Toronto on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2024. (Credit: Jonathan Rothman)

While there were no counter-protesters, occasional shouts from passersby could be heard, with one woman chanting “Free Free Palestine” walking past the demonstration, and a passing cargo-bicycle courier calling out “end the genocide in Gaza.”

Elsewhere in Canada, other “bloody pants” re-enactment protests have taken place in Vancouver, coordinated by Nonviolent Opposition Against Hate (NOAH), a fledgling organization created by two Israeli expats that aims to counteract the louder anti-Israel voices in British Columbia’s largest cities.