About that Hamas hostage video Arabic translation

The terrorist didn’t say “pregnant,” but did imply sexual enslavement, expert clarifies.

By Ryan Jones | | Topics: Hamas, Gaza

Palestinian apologists are doing their best to whitewash Hamas following the release of a damning video clip showing its gunmen take hostage a number of bloodied young female Israeli soldiers.

The shocking scene notwithstanding, in some circles they have managed to shift the focus to an alleged mistranslation of a particular line by one of the terrorists.

Hebrew and English subtitles were provided by Israeli army translators, and about midway through the clip they translate one of the terrorists as saying, “Here are the girls (women who can get pregnant).”

It immediately evoked recent memories of ISIS jihadists taking sex slaves in Iraq and Syria, and was generally reported in that light.

That’s when the apologists jumped in and insisted that the IDF translators had gotten it wrong, either deliberately or due to confusion. There are two Arabic words that to an untrained ear can sound nearly identical and which have somewhat similar meanings. Though the difference in meaning in this context would be significant.

Were the Hamas terrorists plotting on camera the sexual enslavement and rape of these young Israeli girls, which would be a war crime? Or was the speaker simply pointing out their captives?

The debate is over the word sabaya.

If the terrorist was using the word صبايا (which in Hebrew is transliterated as beginning with a more “ts” sound: tsabaya), then it would simply mean “woman/women or girls.”

If he said سبايا (sabaya), that is a term often translated as “slave,” but which has jihadist meaning and strong sexual connotations. In other words, a sex slave.

If it is the second word that the terrorist used, then the IDF translator did not make a mistake, but rather tried to add needed context for an audience unfamiliar with Arabic jihadist terms.

It is instructive to point out two things here:

  1. Israel and the IDF have plenty of local native Arabic-speakers. They aren’t confused by the original quote or by the terrorist’s accent.
  2. In the English subtitles, the “pregnant” bit is properly placed in parentheses to denote that it wasn’t literally said, but has been added for context.

So, which word did the terrorist use? The IDF’s Arabic-speakers say one thing, and Arabic-speaking Hamas apologists say another.

Dr. Edy Cohen, a Middle East analyst and contributor to Israel Today, but more importantly a native Arabic-speaker born and raised in Lebanon, tells us that the terrorist quite clearly uses the second term – sabaya, “spoils of war, slaves,” with a sexual undertone.

In other words, it’s ISIS all over again.

This interpretation is further cemented seconds later in the clip when another terrorist responds to the “sabaya” remark by looking at the girls and saying, “So beautiful.”

The entire situation portrayed in the scene speaks to sexual enslavement, and that’s even before one considers the blood stains visible on the crotch and legs of the pants of at least one captive in another part of the video. She’s clearly been raped.

The use of such terminology and the notion of taking wartime sex slaves is also entirely in line with Hamas ideology.

Earlier this month, Israeli forces eliminated a senior Hamas operatives by the name of Mohammed Akel. As Israeli news outlet Abu Ali Express reported, a month before the October 7 invasion, Akel tweeted about Hamas overrunning Judea and Samaria (the so-called “West Bank”) and taking all the women there as sabaya (سبايا).

Mohammed Akel is very clearly talking about sex slaves here.

Given that it’s a written post, there’s no debate over which term Akel used. Nor should there be any great surprise that his colleagues in Gaza used the same horrifying term in talking about the young Israeli girls they’d captured.

See also: Hamas and rape culture in the Islamic world