One of the most deeply disturbing aspects of Israel’s war against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip which haunts me and gives ammunition to the right-wing media is the proliferation of rape stories emerging from the 7 October attacks. As a feminist, it has always been my initial instinct to believe every single woman who’s ever said she’s been raped or abused by a man. I suppose it was inevitable that friends in the media berated me for not condemning Hamas after the militarily-spectacular attacks launched on the occupation state of Israel from Gaza.
When news began to emerge a week later that Israeli women at the music festival and nearby kibbutzim had been raped, I admit I hunkered down and tried to write this article. I hated myself for even questioning the harrowing narratives that emerged and cussed the Zionist spin doctors and odious mouthpieces of the Israeli military who blatantly lied about various aspects of the Hamas operation.
Israel has a very long history of deceit
However, in my defence, Israel has a very long history of deceit and, in a rare moment of clarity, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke the truth when he admitted lying without a hint of irony at such honesty. Justifying his blatant lies to the world, he quoted the Bible: “As has been said, ‘by way of deception, thou shalt do war”, and that’s how we operate.”
Can you see my dilemma? It’s rather difficult not to question anything and everything that the Israeli prime minister says, especially because he is responsible for many atrocities and war crimes committed against the Palestinians which provide some context to what Hamas did. Netanyahu was quoting a verse from Proverbs, which is also said to be the motto of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad; he makes America’s own serial liar, the late Colin Powell, look positively angelic.
Meanwhile, flashbacks of industrial-scale rape stories from the Bosnian conflict together with the Srebrenica Genocide kept looping around in my mind, as did the interviews I did with Rohingya women who gave painstaking, detailed and painful evidence to me of the rape and torture they endured at the hands of the Burmese/Myanmar military. It was no surprise to learn that Israel has sold millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the genocidal Myanmar state.
A few months later, I was hearing similar stories of how the Assad regime in Syria had set up what I can only describe as rape parties in its torture dungeons, assisted by the use of Viagra-type tablets to ward off erectile dysfunction brought on by fatigue, alcohol and other illegal drugs. The details were so gruesome as each heroic victim recounted her ordeal at the hands of these dogs that I became nearly as traumatised as them, and subsequently suffered from the invisible wounds of PTSD.
Because rape has often featured as a persistent scourge of war and high-profile campaigns launched to stop the double whammy of communities shunning victims it was almost a blessing when the International Criminal Court convicted Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, a former defence minister in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, of rape and other crimes. This was the first time that the ICC had convicted a defendant of either rape or “command responsibility for the actions of their troops”.
Although his 18-year jail sentence was subsequently overturned on appeal, it was still a landmark judgement by the ICC which means, according to a legal principle established by other UN tribunals, a commander can be found responsible for failing to take action to stop crimes known to be committed by subordinates. The trial involved the largest number of witnesses for sexual violence in any ICC case to date, with 14 out of 40 Prosecution witnesses testifying about rape and other forms of sexual violence allegedly committed by the soldiers under the warlord’s command.
Despite all the research and studies spawned by the Bosnian war, the Syrian civil war and the Rohingya genocide, we still know very little about why rape features frequently in warfare. Psychologically, of course, it is a potent weapon of war, but there is more to it.
“Soldiers may rape for reasons that have nothing to do with war strategy. It is precisely because of this that even within an individual conflict, acts of rape may take multiple forms – from those that appear highly organised and systematic to those that are more sporadic and spontaneous,” wrote Birmingham University academic and author Janine Natalya Clark in 2016. “That the Bosnian war exhibited a considerable variety of rape patterns problematises the meta-narrative relating to the conflict, namely that Bosnian Serb soldiers raped as part of a policy,” she added in the online article for the London School of Economics (LSE). “This narrative provides a fundamentally incomplete picture of what was occurring on the ground.”
So, did the Hamas fighters defile Israeli women? The truth is that no one knows for sure because the Israeli authorities have muddied the waters so much by changing the narrative many times, introducing new evidence, submitting faked evidence and essentially lying about what happened on 7 October.
We know for a fact that Hamas fighters broke out of the concentration camp that is the besieged Gaza Strip and crossed the nominal border with Israel by land, air and sea; that they killed a number of soldiers and civilians; and that they seized more than 200 hostages. We know this because many of the fighters had body cameras.
Hamas, which is rarely shy about owning up to its activities, admitted to taking hostages and, indeed, much to the irritation of Israel, released some of them to the International Red Cross Society as part of highly visible exchange deals. Before a world audience of millions, the captives emerged smiling and thanked their captors.
We also know, courtesy of Israeli eyewitness accounts, that when the Israel Defence Forces finally responded to the Hamas attack, some of the approaching Israeli tanks and Apache attack helicopters targeted their own civilians as well as Hamas fighters, killing many by so-called friendly fire. This explains the devastation of houses in the kibbutzim, for which Hamas fighters armed with light weapons could not have responsible. Likewise, the charred remains of vehicles and bodies. However, the official narrative that Hamas “killed 1,200 people” has not been questioned by the Israeli or Western media whose self-imposed censorship does nobody any favours.
On Monday morning, I listened to Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari on BBC radio, who said she saw footage of Israeli women in several of the 7 October locations whose condition left her in “no doubt” that they had been raped. I had no reason to disbelieve her. One of the most convincing aspects of her evidence was a photograph of a dead woman who had been brutally raped. Torn underwear hung off one of her legs and she was stripped naked from the waist down. I felt guilty as Halperin-Kaddari fired a broadside at feminists like me for our silence on Hamas atrocities. “They’re not only failing us Israeli women, they’re undermining the whole system,” she said. “They lose credibility.” I felt very uneasy at the thought of such a betrayal of the sisterhood.
It was only when my attention was drawn to a story by veteran investigative journalist Max Blumenthal that I realised that we all seem to have been manipulated, yet again, by Israel’s fake news factory that churns out lies on a shamelessly industrial scale.
“While the Israeli government and its army of international propagandists have blamed Hamas alone for a range of grisly killings on 7 October, along with unsubstantiated claims of rape, torture and beheading babies, the comments in N12’s TV report add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that shelling by Israeli tanks was responsible for many of the casualties incurred in Israeli kibbutzim,” wrote Blumenthal, editor of The Grayzone, which has released many of the exposés that discredit Israel’s narrative. “According to the soldiers interviewed, others killed by the tank company in question include supposed Palestinian militants whom they say they crushed to death with their vehicle.”
Last week The Grayzone published eyewitness testimony to document how an Israeli tank opened fire on a home in Kibbutz Be’eri on 7 October, killing 12 Israeli non-combatants, including Liel Hetzroni, a posterchild of Tel Aviv’s international anti-Hamas propaganda campaign. Evidence of friendly fire killings on that fateful day also arrived through the disclosure by Israeli media that IDF attack helicopters likely killed many attendees at the Nova electronic music festival, and that Hamas was unaware that the festival was taking place at the time.
Sadly, by the time all the hostages are released and able to talk about their treatment at the hands of Hamas, the fickle world will have moved on. As I discovered to my own cost on being released from captivity 20 years ago, good news stories about Taliban resistance fighters and their hospitality were quickly snuffed out. Similarly, I wonder if we’ll ever hear from Israeli captive Danielle Aloni who left a letter for her Hamas captors thanking them for “the unnatural humanity that you showed towards me and to my daughter Emilia. You were like parents to her, inviting her into your room at every opportunity she wanted.” Astonishingly, she also wrote about “the kind act you showed here despite the difficult situation you were dealing with yourselves. And the difficult losses that befell you here in Gaza. I wish that in this world we could be friends.”
I’ve little doubt, after lambasting Netanyahu on a “proof of life” video for his failure to negotiate for her release and that of her fellow hostages, the military will claim that Aloni is a victim of coercive control. She may well be, but let the woman speak to the media and tell us; don’t gag her. We’ve yet to hear her speak publicly about her experience in Gaza, but she and the other released hostages appear to be muzzled by the military which feels the need to control the media narrative.
Perhaps the most damaging fake story of all was about “beheaded babies”, the tale which swept around the world at an alarming rate. It originated with a report on Israel’s i24News site by reporter Nicole Zedeck after her interview with Israeli reserve soldier David Ben Zion. By 11 October, journalists Blumenthal and Alexander Rubinstein had investigated the story and were able to expose Ben Zion as an illegal Jewish settler leader notorious among extreme radicals in Israel’s occupied West Bank settler movement. Among other things, he called on rampaging armed settlers earlier this year to wipe out the Palestinian village of Huwara, which settlers attacked on several occasions, burning homes and vehicles in the process.
The beheaded babies story even duped the US president and was pushed by Netanyahu and scores of eager Western media outlets. Lazy journalists are now very wary about churning out stories from the Israeli fake news factory without verification, but the alleged rapes have surfaced yet again, this time using the word of a seemingly respected academic and forensic expert.
However, as revealed by Mondoweiss, “rape expert” Dr Cochav Elkayam-Levy is a “non-credible witness with undisclosed ties to the Israeli government”. An anonymous source from Mondoweiss criticised CNN for introducing Elkayam-Levy as “a human rights expert” and added: “In her interview, which opens the CNN report, Elkayam-Levy presents nothing but justifications for the absence of evidence and facts. While she claims to speak under the auspice of the ‘civil committee’, CNN hid the tight connections between her and the National Security Council of the Israeli Prime Minister. Elkayam-Levy is also the founder and director of the ‘Dvora Institute’, which works as a close advisory body to the Israeli prime minister’s ‘National Security Council’. The advisory committee for the Dvora Institute includes a former director of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and three former officials in the National Security Council.”
Blumenthal continued digging, and was able to tell us that Elkayam-Levy had used photographs of rape victims and spoken in a shaky voice as if to prove the authenticity of the rape allegations. I admit that had it not been for Blumenthal’s investigative work I would have fallen for this Zionist-fuelled trickery. To her eternal shame, Elkayam-Levy, either knowingly or in ignorance, presented an old image of dead female Kurdish fighters as women sexually assaulted at the Nova music festival on 7 October.
The image was originally published on the anonymous Hamas-Massacre website promoted by the Israeli government, but it was quickly removed without explanation after Blumenthal demonstrated that it was first published on this Japanese site (warning: graphic image) back in 2022.
Truth, it is said, is the first casualty of any war, but mistakes can be made in the chaos. Israel, though, is intent on a deliberate strategy of deception and lies. The fact that it was prepared to use the images of rape victims from another war zone in another part of the world is despicable, and demonstrates the extreme lengths that the rogue state will go to in order to convince the world that a legitimate resistance movement struggling to free its land and people from a brutal military occupation is the Devil’s seed.
Hamas, by the way, has denied vehemently that any of its fighters were involved in rape. If that turns out not to be the case, my understanding is that justice will be swift and terminal.
We have to wonder if the far-right Israeli regime is in its final days. It is becoming careless and reckless in its effort to win hearts and minds while playing the victim card. There are three types of lies, according to an old saying attributed to many people, including Mark Twain: Lies, damned lies and statistics; we might add Israeli propaganda to the list.
Which is why I hope and pray that when Netanyahu says “nothing will stop us” in Israel’s genocide in Gaza, he is lying again. In any case, it is long past the time for talking; as the Elders have said, “Words are not enough.” It is time for the US and Israel’s other pals around the world to pull the plug on their support and impose international law and order on the occupation state. Hamas has said that it will cooperate with any International Criminal Court investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity, but Israel rejects the idea, which is very strange given that it insists that it is acting within international humanitarian law. If Netanyahu has nothing to hide, then why not ditch the fake news factory, stop the war and let the ICC do its work?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.