Evidence Missing in ‘Mass Rape’ Charge Against Hamas

Jonathan Cook examines two articles in Haaretz that form the backbone of Western political and media claims about mass rape by the Palestinian resistance group. 

Haaretz newsroom in Tel Aviv, 2019. (Deror Avi, Wikimedia Commons,CC BY-SA 4.0)

By Jonathan Cook

This article is intended as a follow-up to my last article, on the western media’s refusal to investigate what happened on Oct. 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.

My previous article makes the point that these allegations against Hamas are being used to justify a genocidal bombing campaign that 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.

Gaza Breakout

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 Oct. 7 — to prove that no sexual violence occurred.

Rather, it is the responsibility of those making the accusation – Israel, Western politicians, the Western media – to back up their claim with solid evidence. Otherwise they are simply rationalizing 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.

Please Make Your Tax-Deductible DONATION Today

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 rationalize 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 Oct. 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.”

Fabricated Claims

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 Oct. 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 volunteers with Zaka — 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.

Fearful Witnesses

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 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 Oct. 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 Oct. 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?”

Sacked for Requiring Proof

 Elkayam-Levy, 2023.  (Martine Hami, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

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 Oct. 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 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 Oct. 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 “anti-Semites” 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 U.N. 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.

‘Believe Women’

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 misinformation.

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 Oct. 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 is an award-winning British journalist. He was based in Nazareth, Israel, for 20 years. He returned to the U.K. in 2021.He is the author of three books on the Israel-Palestine conflict: Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish State (2006), Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (2008) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (2008).

If you appreciate his articles, please consider offering your financial support

This article is from his blog Jonathan Cook.net  

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

Please DONATE to CNS Winter Fund Drive



19 comments for “Evidence Missing in ‘Mass Rape’ Charge Against Hamas

  1. December 24, 2023 at 09:44

    Thank you, Jonathan Cook, for concluding that “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.”

    Right, and it should be remembered that “isolated, opportunistic instances of rape” by young, escaped prisoners does not require “primitive, savage, predatory Arab[s].” In the original Yiddish version of Elli Wiesel’s NIGHT, upon being released from Buchenwald, “Jewish boys ran off to Weimar to steal clothing and potatoes. And to rape German girls” [Un tsu fargevaldikn daytshe shikses.]

  2. wildthange
    December 23, 2023 at 18:41

    Yes and yet the truth is defamation has been used for all kinds of wars and pogrom over the ages including the basic defamation by Christianity that there was ever a messiah to be ratted on by a Judas to begin with or a crucifixion or trial or a supper at all.
    This myth ,ay also be Roman propaganda centuries after the ability to verify facts that has also reverberated through history.
    Perhaps a weaponized religion even produced a slave revolt that then became a new kind of empire that went on to authorize slavery and continent cleansing too. Maybe even permanent wars for western cultural full spectrum dominance of world culture and a pivot back to anti-Russia defamation and yellow perilization!

  3. December 23, 2023 at 15:41

    So who needs evidence? My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.

  4. Carl Zaisser
    December 23, 2023 at 14:14

    Have to go through this article more carefully. Some people defending the Israeli claim of rape by Palestinians that day say that the fighters posted videos on their phones, and the people making this claim have seen these videos. Of course, if true, these are war crimes. BUT, something missing so far is the well-documented cases of Israeli soldiers raping women across many different villages in the 1948-9 war. I put this together and send it to people shouting from the rooftops about Hamas soldiers raping Israeli women on October 7: Documented identical events by Jews during ’47-49 expulsion of Pals. Benny Morris, one the original four Jewish Israeli historians (along with Pappe, Shlaim, Flapan), in “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee problem 1947-1949”, page 230 (in Safsaf) and page 113 (Deir Yassin). For more (in Jaffa, Acre, Hunin, Tantura) Google ‘Benny Morris _ _ _ _’ to find a number of articles documenting the identical events. And since you are concerned about the breach of international law against this specific type of event during war, I assume that you are also concerned about the breaches of international law perpetrated by the occupying power: human rights violations (the 17 year siege of Gaza vis-à-vis the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights), law of proportionality (principle of proportionality Article 51(5)(b) API), law against collective punishment (Fourth Geneva Convention Article 33), and the law which makes all settlements in the West Bank, or in Gaza past/future, illegal (Fourth Geneva Convention Article 49).

  5. Winston
    December 23, 2023 at 09:49

    When you know someone has lied to you in the past, do not listen to them again. Why should you? If you can not believe what they tell you, then it is obviously a waste of time to listen to what they say. In this modern world, this goes for both the ‘creators’ of ‘new’s and the ‘purveyors’ of news.

    Thus, when a particular organization has lied to you in the past, don’t listen to them again. Ever. When a ‘news’ organization has repeated those lies to you as something important that you just have to know, don’t listen to that organization again. Make them prove and earn their credibility before you make the same mistake again. And be tough about demanding real proof of real change first. Words from liars are meaningless.

    Its the only sane way to deal with liars. Listening to anything they say is a waste of time.

    Note, by following this rule, I completely missed this entire “Hamas rape charge story”. This is literally the first I’ve heard of it. I’m smiling, because it works. By not listening to liars, you completely prevent infection with their lies.

    • Pete
      December 24, 2023 at 18:40

      Awesome Winston. I also feel the same way.

  6. henry balfour
    December 23, 2023 at 05:40

    Let everyone also remember that -this Western Media pack of lying scum made the unsupported claim that Russian soldiers serving in the SMO in Ukraine were issued Viagra in their rations kit in order to enable the policy of rape as a weapon. This claim was made in public by a female United Nations ‘envoy’ ( Speaking to AFP, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, backed her claims by citing a UN report released in late September. ) and was amplified for a week or so – then (of course) it disappeared into the memory hole. The accusations are designed to give a foothold to the Outrage Porn that the Western media pumps out…

  7. December 23, 2023 at 03:32

    I wish that Israeli government would stop the blatant dishonesty – it’s making us everywhere look bad. If one or more of those accusations about Israeli soldiers torturing/raping, Palestinians, killing babies or if it’s found out that the IDF was gunning down our own people, our credibility will be shot for several generations to come. Young people around the world will see us as vindictive land grabbing imperialists. Without our young Jewish friends, and without young people around the world, supporting and accommodating Israel, we won’t have much of a future without guns. Mr. Netanyahu will be the de facto assassin of Israel’s future.

    Like America should have done after 911, we should put our guns back in our holsters and just work to reduce the generational hatred that we’ve engendered amongst the Palestinians. Can’t we be better than the Nazis surrounding Warsaw?

  8. Michael Johnson
    December 23, 2023 at 02:48

    Israel, the fourth largest military power in the world, is a repressive, racist, colonialist, imperialist, supremacist, undemocratic, ultranationalist, apartheid state that is armed, funded, and shielded from accountability by the colonial Western establishment, including governments, corporations, and institutions that have created a new paradigm where might makes right prevails unmasked and uncontrolled by international law or moral principles under the guise of Zionism while committing crimes against humanity by a long-term total land, air, and sea humanitarian aid blockade, the oppression, genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people by means of a prolonged brutal military occupation, land and resource theft, forced dislocation, starvation, dehydration, and disease, while also committing war crimes including targeting doctors, academics, poets, members of the press, the use of banned munitions such as white phosphorous and cluster bombs, performing precision aerial bombing of critical civilian infrastructure facilities such as water, sewage, transportation, docks, schools, hospitals, ambulances, places of worship, and U.N. sanctuaries, and the indiscriminate carpet bombing of a vastly outnumbered, unarmed, utterly helpless civilian Muslim and Christian population comprised mostly of women, children, and the elderly as a means of collective punishment and in an effort to create a Jewish Zionist state in the state of Palestine.

  9. William Todd
    December 23, 2023 at 01:13

    Anyone who is still unaware of the degree to which mainstream media manipulate public opinion by their own behavior and the behavior of the pundits and politicians (and even entertainment) they choose to give voice to (and those they choose to ignore) to the benefit of the special interests that control them is unlikely to be convinced by a rational argument such as that presented here or elsewhere in the wilderness of independent reporting. The only protection against being so manipulated is to expend the effort required to accumulate competing alternate viewpoints on reality outside that mainstream and then analyze their credibility (real work that until it becomes sufficiently habitual that it provides sufficient satisfaction to sustain it).

    Of course, if one can’t ignore just how f*cked up the country and the world are that could provide motivation to try to understand why and perhaps even what to try to do about it though the latter is challenging in the extreme because real solutions require mass appeal in order to have any real effect against the force of the establishment special interest narratives, though the popularity of some well-explained solutions when presented by articulate speakers like Bernie Sanders who obviously have no particular axe to grind give us some reason to hope (not that Bernie is never influenced by practical political considerations when he feels unable to tackle them head-on).

  10. GC
    December 22, 2023 at 21:36

    I doubt anyone with a brain cell is surprised Israel spouts a lot of things with no proof, Photoshop was bad enough but now with AI who knows whats real and what’s not.

  11. Df
    December 22, 2023 at 20:31

    There will be no backlash against zionists in the west. The world will move away from the west because it has no moral compass.

  12. ray Peterson
    December 22, 2023 at 18:52

    You and Noam Chomsky serve true journalism by showing
    how Western media’s purpose is propaganda for the US/West
    Israel war industry. Including genocide in sheep’s clothing.
    And how ubiquitous the Israel Lobby is from American
    universities, the UN and Alberta getting truth crushed and
    people’s lives ruined

  13. Roslyn Ross
    December 22, 2023 at 17:41

    One presumes the Resistance fighters had a clear goal of taking as many hostages as possible and remaining alive which means time was of the essence. Taking time out to rape makes no sense. One can believe the somewhat deranged young men who broke out of the Gaza prison after the fighters may have done so but after being constantly tormented and tortured by Israeli sonic booms and bombs since they were toddlers their levels of rage and hate would be high. Not condoning, just explaining.

    • hetro
      December 23, 2023 at 11:19

      “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.”

      Jonathan Cook has been a consistent, serious reporter on Oct 7 and following, so in the case here of what is plausible he should be taken seriously. Inevitably, as he indicates, what comes into play is the now infamous “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” This sort of lingo is familiar from twenty years ago and Donald Rumsfeld’s glibness. It suggests that PRESUMPTION figures into “evidence” but all we have, essentially, is a conclusion by the investigator that rape was “carried out by a few of the people who broke out of Gaza that day, not necessarily Hamas fighters.” This is far from a command order to use mass rape as a tool or weapon for the day’s assault. Instead it belongs with the righteous-revenge-versus-monsters and beheaded babies narrative.

    • Annie MCSTRAVICK
      December 23, 2023 at 11:58

      As you say, it makes no sense at all, during what was a rapid incursion with a clear objective. If the story of “mass” rapes were true, it is extraordinary that the only statements gathered were those made by persons claiming to have witnessed rapes, and none at all from any supposed victims.

    • Tim N
      December 25, 2023 at 11:02

      Exactly so.

  14. Drew Hunkins
    December 22, 2023 at 14:58

    All these Zionist supremacists do is lie and mislead. It’s the only way they can possibly justify their repugnant colonial project: manipulate, prevaricate, and control the mainstream media.

    A potential ugly backlash is looming against them, it’ll be tragic.

    • Valerie
      December 22, 2023 at 21:30

      But to many Drew, the backlash will not be tragic; it will be seen as retribution. You know that biblical adage:

      “An eye for an eye” is a commandment found in the Book of Exodus 21:23–27 expressing the principle of reciprocal justice measure for measure.” Wikipedia

Comments are closed.