By Jonathan Cook – Dec 18, 2023
Claims of systematic rape on October 7 appeal to a racist trope of the savage, predatory Arab. Which is why western politicians and media are so unconcerned by the dearth of evidence.
This article is intended as a follow-up to my last article, on the western media’s refusal to investigate what happened on October 7.
As I argued there, journalists are suppressing evidence from credible sources, including the Israeli military, suggesting that Israel was responsible for many of the deaths of its citizens that day, including those whose charred remains are regularly cited as proof of barbarism by Hamas – and by implication, all Palestinians.
The BBC and other media outlets keep revisiting the crimes Hamas committed on October 7, but have failed to report on growing evidence that Israel killed its own citizens that day, often in grotesque fashion.
My latest article can be read here: https://t.co/MHxdUxRrCV
— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) December 15, 2023
My previous article makes the point that these allegations against Hamas are being used to justify a genocidal bombing campaign that it is known to have killed so far more than 19,000 Palestinians, a majority of them women and children, as well as an ethnic cleansing campaign that has driven some 2 million Palestinians from their homes and left them exposed to disease and starvation in a tiny area, pressed up against the short border with Egypt.
The goal is obvious: to push Palestinians out of Gaza and into Sinai.
But here I want to address another, more specific part of what amounts to an Israeli and media psy-op against western publics: the claim that Hamas leaders ordered their fighters to carry out mass rape against Israelis, and that those fighters indeed used sexual assault systematically, as a weapon of war.
If true, this would count in international law as a crime against humanity.
The veracity of this claim is now treated as axiomatic by western media and politicians, even though there appears to be no meaningful evidence for it.
Remember the argument being made by those justifying the genocidal bombing campaign in Gaza is not that isolated instances of rape or sexual assault occurred.
Given that Palestinians flooded out of Gaza that day after Hamas fighters broke through the prison fence, only a fool would argue with certainty that no rapes or sexual assaults occurred.
But it should not be incumbent on those questioning the Israeli narrative – the one contending that there was planned, systematic, mass rape on October 7 – to prove that no sexual violence occurred.
Rather, it is the responsibilty of those making the accusation – Israel, western politicians, the western media – to back up their claim with solid evidence. Otherwise they are simply rationalising the far graver and greater crimes now being committed in Gaza against Palestinians.
Producing a few photos that may, or may not, show evidence of sexual violence is not evidence that Hamas ordered, and its fighters carried out, mass rape.
Relaying testimony that a witness saw a gang rape is not evidence that Hamas ordered, and its fighters carried out, mass rape.
And the claims of the highly ideological and unreliable leaders of Zaka’s first responders unit do not count as evidence either – unless they can be substantiated with other kinds of evidence.
The evidential bar in international law is high for a reason: because the charge is so grave.
But in this case, the bar needs to be high for an additional reason: because Israel’s response – the mass slaughter of civilians in Gaza premised on the supposed savagery of Hamas’ crimes – is graver still by an order of magnitude.
Absence of evidence
Two long articles in the respected Haaretz newspaper – Israel’s version of the New York Times – purportedly providing the evidence for mass rape are worth picking apart because they form the backbone of claims being recycled by western politicians and the western media.
The first is a kind of evidential overview. The other is a profile of Cochav Elkayam-Levy, who founded the “Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children” which has been at the forefront of making allegations of mass rape by Hamas.
The profile article concludes: “The aggregation of the evidence presents a horrifying picture that leaves no room for doubt: Under cover of the massacre, Hamas carried out a campaign of rape and sexual abuse.”
Having made this bold assertion, however, the article and its companion piece then spend a great deal of time setting out the many and varied reasons why there is little evidence that Hamas carried out systematic, mass rape.
Doubtless, as these articles state, the Israeli military and police were too busy fighting Hamas to record and collect evidence. Doubtless, some bodies were too burned – most likely by Israeli shelling and missile strikes, as my previous article highlighted – for forensic examination to be possible. Doubtless, many potential witnesses were killed that day.
But the absence of evidence cannot be treated as evidence, as it is by Haaretz and the western media. Only those reading these two articles through an entirely ideological lens – one seeking to play on a racist trope of the primitive, savage, predatory Arab male so as to rationalise the mass slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza – can fail to notice that lack of meaningful evidence.
Regarding the claim that the Hamas leadership ordered its fighters to carry out rape, the main overview article cites David Katz, an Israeli police commander investigating the October 7 attack. According to Haaretz, he says “it’s premature to determine whether Hamas terrorists received specific instructions to commit rape”.
In other words, there is no evidence for such an order.
The actual evidence that mass rape was carried out cited in the two articles essentially amounts to this:
According to a police source, so far, they have one witness account of a rape. The witness’ account was recently revealed in the media. She attested to seeing a woman being gang raped, mutilated and murdered…
Senior security officials say that some of the terrorists from Hamas’ elite Nukhba Force unit and other Gazans held by the Shin Bet security service and the police have accused their comrades of sexual violence…
The police also have dozens of accounts from Zaka volunteers and soldiers about women’s bodies being found inside homes without underwear. Those accounts also describe physical signs of sexual abuse on bodies at the crime scenes.
That this amounts to the sum of evidence for the claim that Hamas carried out systematic, mass rape should be shocking to anyone other than the most fanatical Israel defenders.
The idea that the testimonies of Hamas fighters – or of anyone else in Israeli detention – can be treated as credible evidence is patently absurd. As has been well documented, torture is standard practice in interrogations of Palestinians, and is even used against children.
No one can seriously argue that Hamas fighters interrogated by Israel following the October 7 atrocities were not subjected to the most extreme “pressure” techniques. Is it likely that none were willing to falsely “confess” to witnessing rapes to ease that pressure?
Such “testimonies” would be worthless in any court of law outside Israel.
As for the allegations from male Zaka volunteers, a hardline religious organisation best known for collecting Jewish remains for burial, they are best treated with the utmost scepticism.
These are the same male volunteers already caught inventing or relaying the most lurid, fabricated claims against Hamas, such as that it beheaded 40 babies, put a baby in an oven, hung other babies from a clothes line, and ripped a foetus from its mother’s womb.
According to Israel’s own figures, two infants were killed that day.
The Zaka volunteers appear to have an ideological agenda: to fuel as much hatred against Palestinians as possible to justify the kind of genocidal response we have been witnessing over the past two months.
That leaves an anonymous witness testimony, that may or may not be credible, and a handful of photos whose contents are ripe for interpretation and dispute.
Assuming that all of this evidence can be taken definitively at face value, that would still not show that Hamas ordered rape or that Hamas fighters carried out systematic rapes, or even conclusively that Hamas fighters carried out any rapes.
It would at most demonstrate that there were isolated, opportunistic instances of rape, and that they were carried out by a few of the people who broke out of Gaza that day, not necessarily Hamas fighters.
The reason why Israel’s apologists for genocide need to inflate their claim is because, sadly, opportunistic rape would be entirely unremarkable in any violent, militarised situation – and indeed unremarkable in behaviours towards women in western societies in general.
It would mean that any sexual violence against Israeli women that occurred on October 7 was as representative of a general Palestinian savagery as sexual violence by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian women – examples can be found here and here – is of a general Israeli savagery. Which is not at all.
The same Israelis and westerners who express concern that Israeli women are fearful of coming forward to tell of their experiences on October 7, as Elkayam-Levy stresses, have in the past shown precisely zero concern that Palestinian women, who live under a belligerent military occupation, have been fearful for decades of telling of their experiences at the hands of unaccountable Israeli soldiers.
However, unlike the lack of evidence that Hamas ordered rape as a weapon of war, we do have evidence – from the Israeli media – that an Israeli military leader encouraged Israeli soldiers to rape Palestinian women to “boost morale”.
So how have we reached a point where it is taken as “self-evident” in the West that Hamas ordered systematic, mass rape, and that this forms part of the basis for Israel’s right to wage a genocidal campaign against Palestinians masquerading as “self-defence”?
Burden of proof
Significantly, the claim of systematic rape made against Hamas is being enthusiastically embraced by some Israeli and western feminists as the latest MeToo moment – but on a far greater scale than ever before.
That seems to be the case with Elkayam-Levy, founder of the October 7 civil commission and a former spokeswoman for the Israeli military. She views the issue of Hamas rapes entirely through an ideological lens – and one designed to silence critics of her project, including women.
While claiming victimhood for herself and her commission, she celebrates the fact that its campaigning helped pressure the University of Alberta to sack Samantha Pearson, the head of the university’s sexual assault centre, for requiring evidence of the rape allegations against Hamas.
She names Reem Alsalem, a special rapporteur at the United Nations Human Rights Council on protecting women from violence, as their next target for dismissal. She states: “Our intention is to expose the world to a figure who is just abusing – I have no other word for it – global public funds.”
Elkayam-Levy worries that October 7 is being made to “vanish from the timeline”, even as she recounts the intense interest from western journalists in amplifying the commission’s evidence-lite claims.
And of course, she calls out as “antisemites” those who advise caution and believe evidence is important, especially when a genocide is being rationalised in Tel Aviv and western capitals on the basis of the mass rape allegations.
Faced with the demands for evidence from UN bodies, she expresses outrage: “Am I the one who needs to provide the evidence for the terrorists’ deeds? What kind of travesty is it that they are imposing the burden of proof on me?”
The answer, of course, is that Elkayam-Levy imposed that burden on herself, by founding the commission at the centre of the campaign to accuse Hamas of carrying out systematic, mass rape.
The dangerous consequences are all too clear. Crying “Believe women” – or largely in this case, “Believe Hamas torture victims and proven male fabulists from Zaka” – is being weaponised to mean “Kill Palestinians”.
Simply accepting these claims as self-evident when the evidence is absent is to participate in the abuse of rape allegations to justify subjecting Palestinians in Gaza – including many, many thousands of women and children – to atrocities on an even greater scale.
Yes, in theory it might be possible to give the benefit of the doubt to those claiming Hamas committed systematic, mass rape while still opposing the mass slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza as a response. But that is not the world our politicians and media inhabit, or allow us to inhabit.
Which is why the evidential bar has to be high. But in Israel’s case, the evidence is thin indeed.
That high bar is not just relevant for jurists and the law courts. It must apply to those reporting right now on events in Israel and Palestine. Yet, once again, the western media has failed in its most basic duties.
Like doctors, journalists should strive to do no harm. We should record and explain, not smooth the path to genocide by peddling minsinformation.
We should seek to hold the powerful to account, not make the commission of their crimes easier.
And at our best, we should want to strengthen society’s democratic impulses through the dissemination of accurate information, not trade in incitement and defamation.
None of this is happening. The same western media that has suppressed testimonies showing that Israel carried out crimes against its own citizens on October 7 is inflating the number and extent of Hamas atrocities, unsupported by evidence.
The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that the media are willing and active participants in the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Gaza. Those crimes are not just willed by Israel; they are willed by western elites who view Israel as a projection of their power into the oil-rich Middle East.
Jonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth since 2001, is the author of three books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His website and blog can be found at: www.jonathan-cook.net.
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