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Exposed: How Israeli ‘watchdog’ behind Oct. 7 ‘mass rape’ lie ate its words

By Maryam Qarehgozlou

After the New York Times story about Hamas' “mass rape” was discredited for poor sourcing and a striking lack of evidence, an Israeli "watchdog" has also walked back its “unverifiable” report about "sexual violence" during the October 7 operation.

Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) acknowledged in a recent statement that its November 2023 position paper on sexual violence, which was heavily relied on by Western media as proof of bogus rape allegations against Hamas resistance fighters during Operation Al-Aqsa Storm, never reached any conclusions and solely aimed to “raise awareness” about the issue.

“In the extensive investigations conducted in the months following the publication of the position paper in November, some testimonies referenced within it have been disputed or deemed unverifiable, and more may face similar scrutiny in the future,” the group acknowledged in the statement.

“We regret their inclusion in the position paper.”

It said that the “primary objective” of the position paper was to “advocate” for a comprehensive investigation of the matter and that the report did not mean to “authenticate” or “discredit” the claims.

“Our focus was on raising awareness of the issue, advocating for an official investigation, and pressing for immediate action to ensure that potential victims receive professional care suited to the nature of their trauma,” the statement added.

The claim that was amplified by this Israeli group after the events of October 7 last year and reported extensively by many Western media outlets was eventually proven to be bogus.

How the story was discredited?

Amid the Israeli regime’s genocidal war on Gaza that was launched more than seven months ago, already killing over 35,900 Palestinians in the besieged territory, baseless claims accusing Hamas resistance fighters of mass rape and sexual violence on October 7 have floated around.

The claims circulated on social media platforms and Western media outlets without basic fact-checking, in an attempt to vilify and demonize the Palestinian resistance.

On December 28, New York Times ran a so-called investigation, which was followed by other media reports, hundreds of news articles, and interviews citing Israeli sources and the same Israeli group in order to convince readers that Hamas “used rape as a weapon of war.”

However, the story narrated by NYT and other mainstream Western media soon fell apart and exposed systematic issues. Independent media outlets began examining the reports, so-called “investigations”, and finally concluded that there was “no evidence that mass rape occurred.”

“The [New York Times] article is an emotionally manipulative fraud aimed at justifying or distracting from Israel’s genocide in Gaza,” said The Electronic Intifada in its report debunking NYT’s story.

Nonetheless, The New Yorker, New York Times, Associated Press, and The Nation treated the PRI’s November position paper as proof of “rape and sexual violence” on October 7.

However, the PHRI paper, similar to other such reports, lacked any original reporting and was also based on unsubstantiated media claims with no corroboration.

It also did not include any forensic evidence, survivor testimonies, or video evidence.

In March, Hadas Ziv, director of ethics and policy at PHRI, also acknowledged that there were numerous problems with the position paper she had co-authored.

Ziv admitted credibility problems with sources and that she did not review all available evidence.

She also said that she was “unaware” numerous sources included in the report had fabricated atrocity stories including ZAKA, a scandal-plagued extremist Zionist group that the Western media misleadingly described as a nonprofit “emergency response team.”

In fact, ZAKA and its leaders, most significantly Yossi Landau, have been caught fabricating atrocity propaganda about October 7, including the debunked tales of beheaded babies, children tied together and shot and burned, and of a pregnant woman whose fetus was torn out of her belly.

“I didn’t know that they [ZAKA volunteers] are unreliable. … But maybe I’m just trusting people who tell the story as it is and I don’t look into [it],” Ziv was quoted as saying.

Other media like Reuters, CNN, The New York Times, BBC, The Guardian, NBC, Politico, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post also quoted ZAKA volunteers with no mention of past scandals or present controversies surrounding them.

Moreover, investigations revealed that none of the sources mentioned in PHRI’s paper and other media outlets, who claimed they saw corpses that bore signs of rape or sexual violence, were professionally trained to make such assessments, and nearly all of them fabricated those stories.

The PHRI report also stated that some of its sources, including Raz Cohen, who claims he saw rape, were connected to the Israeli military. It also disregarded the fact that his story has changed numerous times.

Mission accomplished

Now that the PHRI itself has retracted its report, observers believe that mainstream media and Zionist organizations that amplified those same bogus claims have nothing to fall back on.

“PHRI is now heavily walking back its report, noting it never reached any conclusions and only advocated for an investigation, and regrets the inclusion of erroneous and unreliable information,” Ryan Grim, the Washington DC bureau chief at the Intercept, wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter, last week.

“We will continue to hear similar statements in the months and years to come -- when the issue can safely be talked about, and its purpose is horrifically complete,” he added.

Rights organizations also warn that the Israeli regime has already “exploited” the discredited reports of sexual violence committed by Hamas and “weaponized” it as a propaganda tool to justify its genocidal war campaign against Palestinians and dehumanize the 2.3 million civilian population of Gaza.   

The Feminist Solidarity Network for Palestine, an international collective of anti-imperialist, anti-colonial feminist academics and lawyers says the Western media campaign against Hamas is an Israeli-led attempt to “counter the humanization of Palestinian men” as they film and share their own images online — contrasting starkly with racist depictions in the hegemonic media.

“The charge of systematic and brutal rape is a tool used not only to demonize the Palestinian resistance but to dehumanize Palestinian men in general. By framing Palestinian resistance, not as an anti-colonial liberation movement but through the trope of the terrorist-rapist, the right of Palestinians to armed resistance against occupation under international law is also erased,” the rights group added.

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