Creating new perspectives since 2009

Israel has manufactured an industrial-scale version of Jim Crow rape hoaxes

July 3, 2024 at 10:35 am

Tanks, armored personnel carriers and military jeeps belonging to the Israeli army are seen from the areas close to the Israel – Gaza Strip border line while Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip, which started on October 7, continue uninterruptedly in Israel on July 02, 2024. [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

Forget everything you have read about Israel’s claim that Hamas carried out a premediated campaign of mass rape on 7 October. So far, every act of rape or sexual violence alleged to have happened on that day is fabricated or completely unsubstantiated. The real story is how top US and Israeli officials spread fake rape claims to provide cover for genocide, demonise all Palestinians, convince Israeli society that the brutal war is justified, and bash the UN, which alone can hold Israel to account for its illegal occupation of Palestine and war on its people in Gaza.

To further its agenda, Israel has weaponised the #MeToo movement, anti-Semitism and rape denialism to shut down criticism and demands for evidence. With the media in its corner, the occupation state then tried to silence UN experts documenting the sexual and gender-based violence that the Israeli military is committing against Palestinian women and girls.

Israel has revived a colonial trope woven throughout American history: savage hordes are threatening white feminine purity.

After 7 October, Israeli officials demanded that everyone must condemn Hamas as “barbarians” and “savages”. The demand echoed 18th-century captivity narratives in which fiendish natives raped white women; 19th-century panics of rapacious, rebellious slaves; Edward Said’s 20th-century masterwork, Orientalism, that described how the West imagined the East as barbaric and backward, irrational and superstitious; and the supercharged Islamophobia during the 21st-century “war on terror”. The brute caricature of men of colour as “a monstrous beast, crazed with lust” poisons modern discourse from George H. W. Bush’s demonisation of Willie Horton to Donald Trump calling Mexicans “rapists”.

The rape claims are Israel’s most effective propaganda, even making inroads among white feminists like Jill Filipovic and Katha Pollitt. They echoed Israel’s hoax and its recycling of dubious claims. Israel’s case is based on 12 individuals who account for the vast majority of rape claims. Of those 12, eight have fabricated other atrocity stories and all but one are connected to the Israeli military or police. Pollitt’s only source is a fatally flawed paper from Physicians for Human Rights Israel that includes eight of these sources, while Filipovic links to seven media sources that cite the same preposterous and unproven gang rape.

OPINION: Silencing statistics, silencing genocide, betraying Palestinian lives and memory

Their gullibility seems to stem from endorsing the brute caricature. “Does it really seem so outlandish that a group that murdered some 1,200 people, broadcast some of the killings and seemed to revel in degrading their victims might have committed acts of sexual violence, too?” asked Filipovic. Pollitt repeated her words almost exactly: “Why should there be so much doubt that Hamas fighters — who undeniably killed in the most brutal way some 1,200 people, including whole families, women, children, babies, and even Thai farm workers — would also commit rape?”

What they are saying is that we don’t need evidence to conclude that rape happened on 7 October because we know Palestinians are brutes. Pollitt and Filipovic join a sordid tradition. Rape and sexual assault hoaxes were rampant during the Jim Crow era. They led to the murder of Emmett Till, the death penalty for eight of the Scottsboro Boys and the murder of two young men of the Groveland Four. Rape hoaxes spurred white mobs to savage Black communities in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1906 and Rosewood, Florida in 1923.

The media stoked these atrocities. White mobs murdered up to 300 African-Americans in 1921 while demolishing Tulsa’s Black Wall Street after they were whipped into a frenzy by newspaper accounts of a Black man attacking a white woman.

Little has changed. The media have incited Israeli genocide by claiming Hamas raped children until their pelvises were broken; burned and beheaded babies; tortured and executed parents and little children; tied naked, mutilated women to trees; butchered a pregnant mother and foetus; and gang-raped and murdered five women; hacked off body parts; beheaded three other women; and had sex with severed heads.

The stories are all fabrications. But the media still treated them as fact with zero evidence or supporting witnesses.

Rape hoaxes turn sexual violence upside down. In the name of God, church and king, Conquistadors had the right to rape Native women. By law, white slavers raped Black women for pleasure, torment and more slaves. During the Jim Crow era, rape against Black, brown and Native women was a weapon in the arsenal of legalised racial terror. As the American Empire went abroad, it perpetrated sexual exploitation and violence in occupied Japan, Korea and Vietnam. The devastating US occupation of Iraq forced 50,000 Iraqi women and girls into sex trafficking at one point.

OPINION: Zionist cruelty to Palestinian prisoners

Rape has always been a weapon of war, but Israel has created an industrial-scale rape hoax as cover for genocide and to deflect from its sexual violence against Palestinians. Israel has so much impunity, it is open about its intentions. South Africa documented some 70 expressions of genocidal intent by top military and political officials as well as across Israeli society in its case before the International Court of Justice charging Israel with genocide. Most recently, Israel told the ICJ that it must be allowed to continue its genocidal campaign against Gaza because of sexual violence against Israeli hostages held in Gaza. US officials have fabricated rape claims to blame Hamas for Israel’s devastating war. Biden falsely claimed Hamas leaders scuttled a brief ceasefire last November because they didn’t want to release female hostages who had been raped.

The one credible case of a Hamas member sexual assaulting an Israel woman exposes Biden’s falsehood as it involved a female hostage who was released alive. In March, the New York Times reported that Amit Soussanna was “sexually assaulted and tortured” after being kidnapped. She described physical abuse and terror, weeks of obsessive behaviour by the guard who assailed her, and sexual assault in Gaza. Doctors she spoke to upon release corroborated her story as did a released hostage nearly two months before her story was made public. In being completely believable, Soussanna shows why other Israeli claims are unbelievable. Sexual violence typically occurs when invaders control a people for months or years, and not in hours on 7 October, as Israel claims, during gun battles that killed nearly three thousand people. Other Israeli allegations also lack survivors, detailed accounts, or corroborating sources that make Soussanna credible.

The fact that Soussanna lived and spoke about her trauma contradicts Israeli claims that it will take “years” for survivors to speak and the “vast majority” or “all of the victims were killed.” The last claim should have been rejected out of hand, as how can it be known that most or all victims were killed when there is no forensic, photographic, or credible eyewitness proof of any sexual violence?

Weaponising feminism

Israeli feminists attacked women’s organisations as rape denialists when they asked for evidence that Hamas committed rape on 7 October. Cochav Elkayam-Levy, founder of Israel’s Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children, equated UN women’s groups requests for forensic evidence to the “same denial mechanisms… of rape.” She said that the UN groups should believe her commission because they are “respected women.” This is the flip side of the brute caricature: white women should always be believed, no matter how preposterous the claims, while savages can never be trusted no matter how credible. Pundits followed suit, including Pollitt and Filipovic, accusing sceptics of being rape denialists. The corporate media amplified this slander, while some alternative media outlets admitted to me that they would not touch the story for fear of being called rape denialists.

READ: Israel’s use of rape against Palestinian detainees from Gaza exposed

The commission’s task is to collect and preserve digital and forensic evidence and produce a report. A lengthy Haaretz profile said that it had gathered “pictures, audio files, videos, testimonies and newspaper reports” that “leaves no room for doubt… Hamas carried out a campaign of rape and sexual abuse.”

But Elkayam-Levy, who has played an outsized role in influencing media, is outraged that she needs to offer any evidence of rape:

“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?” She said that evidence of sexual violence on 7 October “is about the most documented set of horrors humanity has known.” However, she also claimed that evidence is “completely secondary,” and refuses to cooperate with journalists, saying: “You are journalists, do your work. Don’t ask me what happened and how it happened.” She refuses to estimate how many victims there are: “Even with requests for numbers, I don’t cooperate.” Elkayam-Levy says she won’t “participate in that game” of determining the reliability of witnesses, and dismisses examining individual cases.

Saying no evidence is needed is a manipulation of #MeToo, which means believing survivors of sexual violence. But when it comes to 7 October there are no survivors, just propaganda and uncritical media. Israel’s propaganda-to-news pipeline was evident at a presentation at the UN on 4 December last year. The rallying cry was to believe women’s bodies at the media event organised by the Israeli Mission to the UN and tech mogul Sheryl Sandberg.

At the event, Zaka Search and Rescue official Simcha Greiniman claimed that he found naked female corpses subjected to sexual violence. Greiniman told reporters at the packed UN presentation to “hear the voices of those women that cannot stand next to us now and be here to scream out what happened to them.” Previously, he told false stories about discovering foreign fighters during the 7 October attacks and of naked bodies of women tied to trees.

Greiniman parroted another Zaka fabulist, Yossi Landau, who has boasted repeatedly about inventing atrocities. “When we go into a house, and we’re using our imagination. The bodies is telling us the stories that happened to them.” (sic)

Sandberg picked up the torch, asking at the UN, “Do we believe” Hamas or “do we believe the women whose bodies tell us how they spent the last minutes of their lives?”

Media then amplified the fabulism.

An NBC News item two days after the UN presentation was headlined: “Their bodies tell their stories. They’re not alive to speak for themselves.”

Elkayam-Levy has served in the Israeli army’s spokesperson’s unit and founded an institute that has close ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Council, according to Mondoweiss. An “expert” on human rights, she authored a 49-page paper published in the Harvard International Law Journal to justify force-feeding Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, an act which is in violation of international humanitarian law.

She brings this background to the commission, whose main task is cancelling critics. “In addition to ripping the mask off of women’s organisations associated with the UN,” Haaretz said, “Elkayam-Levy and her colleagues took part” in the campaign to sack the director of a sexual assault centre in Canada for signing an open letter stating rape reports were an “unverified accusation”. Her “next target” was Reem Alsalem, a UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, apparently because she is of “Jordanian-Palestinian background”. The commission, however, has failed to produce a promised report on “Hamas sexual crimes” and it looks as financially dodgy as Zaka. Elkayam-Levy is under fire for hogging the spotlight, spreading fake atrocities like the one about the butchered pregnant mother, and trying to rake in $8 million in 2024 for the commission that has become a one-woman show.

Atrocities in Wonderland

Rather than reject Elkayam-Levy’s stance that evidence doesn’t matter, the media took cues from her. Editors are like Alice in Wonderland, believing six impossible things before breakfast. The media say there are 7 October rape survivors but no one knows who they are or have talked to any. Media also say there are no survivors, sometimes in the same article. Outlets state that there is overwhelming evidence or growing evidence, and then make excuses for why there is no real evidence. The New York Times says “ample evidence has been collected,” and links to its own reporting that says “ it has been extremely difficult to collect the evidence.” Outlets like the BBC, NBC and the Washington Post anonymise sources. The sources are easy to identify because there are so few allegations, but anonymising them makes it seem that there are far more cases of sexual violence. Deliberate or not, these methods replicate Elkayam-Levy’s refusal to provide witnesses, evidence or survivors.

Her colleague on the Civil Commission, Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, a regular in US media, blasted UN women’s organisations for “not only failing us Israeli women but… giving ammunition to deniers.” The implication is clear: anyone who asks for evidence to verify claims — the essence of journalism — is a rape denialist and anti-Semite.

Piling on was the well-funded #MeToo_Unless_Ur_A_Jew campaign. Its strategist said that it “targeted UN Women as a sub-organisation of the UN.” The campaign has employed grotesque rape theatre, some of it Israeli government-funded, that makes a mockery of sexual violence. Why target a UN group that is powerless to investigate sexual crimes?

READ: Exposed: Tech entrepreneur behind pro-Israel hate network targeting Palestinians

Since 7 October, UN Women has regularly reported on sexual and gender-based violence that Israel has inflicted on Palestinian women and girls. This includes mass starvation, one million displaced, more than 7,000 dead mothers, 3,000 new widows, 17,000 orphans and the destruction of electricity, health, water and sanitation infrastructure that has led to the deaths of “hundreds of babies”, decimated menstrual hygiene, made breast-feeding a baby “often impossible” for nearly 100,000 lactating women, pregnancy a nightmare, and led to hundreds of birth complications every week.

It gets worse. On 19 February, four UN experts and two Special Rapporteurs described “credible allegations of egregious human rights violations” such as “extrajudicial killing of Palestinian women and children”; arbitrarily detaining hundreds of Palestinian women and girls in inhumane and degrading conditions that included severe beatings; and detaining Gazan women in cages “in the rain and cold, without food.” The experts expressed distress at reports of women and girls “subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault, such as being stripped naked and searched by male Israeli army officers. At least two female Palestinian detainees were reportedly raped while others were reportedly threatened with rape and sexual violence.”

Rather than believe Palestinian women, Elkayam-Levy claims that UN women’s groups are engaged in the “appropriation of the events of 7 October to Palestinian suffering” by documenting sexual crimes committed by Israeli forces.

Joining in the attack on the UN were the usual suspects:

US Congress, the New York Times, NBC News, NPR, CNN and many other outlets put pressure on UN Women to rubberstamp Israel’s unsubstantiated rape claims. One operative took credit for succeeding even though UN Women only admitted to being “alarmed by numerous accounts” of sexual violence.

Does that mean that Israel welcomes the UN’s investigation of sexual violence on 7 October? Far from it. The UN empowered the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel (known as the COI), to investigate human rights abuses in the region. The COI condemned Hamas and Israel’s attacks three days after 7 October. Its chair, Navi Pillay, one of the most respected human-rights jurists in the world, told the UN General Assembly on 24 October that the COI “unequivocally condemned” the killing of Israeli civilians and hostage taking, and said it would pay “particular attention to allegations of serious crimes, with an emphasis on murder, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.”

The COI’s statements contradict Israeli claims that the UN was silent about sexual violence. Pillay asked Israel to allow investigators to enter Israel “as soon as possible” but Israel refused, dismissing the COI as anti-Semitic and banning healthcare workers in the national system from cooperating with its investigation. Israel’s hostility is likely due to the COI labelling Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories as illegal and Pillay asserting that Israel committed war crimes after 7 October.

READ: Germany condemns Israeli MK’s call to ‘shoot Palestinian prisoners in the head’

Even as it blocked the COI, Israel allowed in Pramila Patten, a UN Special Representative who has no investigative power. Patten acts as an “advocate” by collecting and publicising information. In practice this means amplifying propaganda. For example, in 2022, Patten spread false reports that Russia’s “military strategy” included juicing soldiers with Viagra to rape Ukrainian women and girls.

Even with such a chequered record, Patten did not endorse Israel’s claims of mass rape in her report released on 4 March. Showing a lack of basic reading comprehension, the Washington Post, Associated Press, Financial Times, CBS News, ABC News and the Guardian all said that the UN report indicated Hamas committed rape. It did not. The report stated it “did not… draw conclusions on attribution of alleged violations to specific armed groups” due to its lack of investigative powers. Ironically, the New York Times, in spite of its fondness for atrocity propaganda, noted correctly that the report declined to attribute alleged crimes to any organisation.

The media focused on one of Patten’s findings that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that sexual violence occurred during the 7 October attacks “including rape and gang rape, in at least three locations.” But the media generally ignored all the instances in which Patten rejected Israeli claims that have been trumpeted as proof of rape.

For example, Patten said that in Kibbutz Be’eri, which was devastated in the 7 October attacks, “two allegations of sexual violence widely repeated in the media, were unfounded.” This includes Yossi Landau’s story of a pregnant woman and foetus being butchered. The UN report doesn’t say it, but the second incident is from an anonymous paramedic in Unit 669, an elite Israeli military outfit. The media spread his story widely of finding a dead teenage girl with signs of rape, yet Patten denies it happened. The paramedic is one of the 12 sources most commonly cited by the media. Along with Landau, he is also one of six sources who fabricated a “dead baby” story.

New evidence reveals Landau and the paramedic to be fakers and the NYT to be criminally sloppy. Landau told the newspaper, “I did not take pictures because we are not allowed to take pictures” out of “deep” religious respect for the dead. Yet, in a new Al Jazeera English documentary on 7 October, he showed photos of atrocities to an interviewer, claiming that it was the dead foetus. However, the narrator said that the unseen photos only showed “an unidentifiable piece of charred flesh.”

In one swoop, Landau was exposed as lying twice.

As for the paramedic from Unit 669, residents in Kibbutz Be’eri said that his story that two teenage girls were raped and murdered is “false” as a video later surfaced showing “the bodies of three female victims, fully clothed and with no apparent signs of sexual violence,” according to the NYT. There were reasons all along to dismiss the paramedic’s claim, though, as he fabricated other atrocities, changed the number of victims and location repeatedly, and weeks after 7 October the media reported that the three victims, a mother and two daughters, were found “cuddled together”.

In an even more explosive finding, Patten’s team said that accounts of “gang rape… could not be verified during the time provided” along Road 232. This is the escape route from the Supernova music festival where two individuals claimed they saw gang rape: Raz Cohen and Sapir or Witness “S”. Their stories have been cited by virtually every one of 13 media investigations and civil society reports as evidence of rape. The statement further undermines Israeli and media claims that mass rape occurred on 7 October.

Patten found “no discernible pattern” of targeting of sexual organs with gunfire or evidence of genital mutilation, two other atrocities that the NYT claimed happened. Patten also deemed as “not verified” claims of a rape in Kfar Aza, sexual violence at the Nahal Oz military base, and objects inserted in sexual organs. And the report dismissed Israeli claims that clear evidence of sexual violence was posted on social media and then disappeared as “it would have likely been discovered” before being erased.

Adding it all up, Patten’s report and YES! magazine’s investigation have debunked nearly every sexual violence claim in the New York Times investigation and the Physician for Human Rights Israel paper.

As for allegations that Patten did affirm, the UN team did not independently verify any of them and nearly all her sources were from the Israeli government. Plus, “reasonable grounds” is a low level of proof by UN standards, and it is flexible, based on information the fact-finding team can access. In Ukraine this meant Patten endorsed false tales of Viagra-fuelled Russians. In Israel, Patten endorsed ludicrous stories of naked women being tied to trees from “credible sources” such as Simcha Greiniman and a new source, Rami Davidian, who never mentioned bodies being bound to trees in any previous interview he did.

Filipovic did get one thing right: “Uncorroborated claims that turn out to be exaggerated or untrue can undermine the public’s trust in journalists and their belief in the veracity of sexual violence claims more broadly.” It is thus important to reject Israel’s rape hoax because it is being used to justify genocide and it will cause lasting damage, both to Palestinians and to actual victims of rape. In the future, governments and armed groups using rape as a weapon of war may claim that the accusations they face are fake, just like Israel’s have been proven to be.

OPINION: ‘PR Commando Unit’ unleashed by Israel to manipulate US discourse

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.