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Media Distorts a U.N. Report Refuting Israeli Allegations of Sexual Violence on October 7

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
17th March 2024
Media Distorts a U.N. Report Refuting Israeli Allegations of Sexual Violence on October 7
The U.N. Special Rep. on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten (Getty)

On March 4, the U.N. released its first report on the alleged sexual violence that is said to have occurred during the Israeli war on Gaza. Immediately upon its release, the report was welcomed by most mainstream Western media outlets, as well as a few Israeli media sources, as evidence supporting what dozens of Israeli journalists and lobbyists had been insisting on for several months that Hamas fighters participated in an organized campaign of mass rape during their attack on October 7.

Many mainstream media outlets have covered the report with some language modifications. For example, the Associated Press rephrased the rape allegations at Kibbutz Be'eri, which the U.N. report and the kibbutz board itself dismissed as “unfounded”, as “allegations of rape that have not yet been verified.”

The AP was not the only mainstream media outlet to adopt linguistic modifications. On March 5, a headline from The New York Times stated that the U.N. report revealed “evidence of sexual assault in Hamas-led attack on Israel,” despite the United Nations stating in its statement on the report that its team “believes that the true extent of sexual violence committed during the October 7 attacks and their aftermath may take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known.” It emphasized that the mission of its envoys in preparing the report did not take on an investigative nature.

However, after criticism on social media, the newspaper changed its headline without adding a note or publishing an apology to read: “UN team finds grounds to support reports of sexual violence in Hamas attack.” By “reports” here, it refers to the newspaper’s investigative report that it published on December 28 about the “systematic” sexual assaults on October 7, which has been and continues to be subjected to widespread criticism.

The United Nations Mission Did Not Find Conclusive Evidence of Sexual Assaults

According to the U.N. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, the team was dispatched solely due to “pressure” from Israeli government-affiliated lobbying groups. They spent only two days in the occupied Palestinian territories, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the 1948 territories, and fifteen days in Israel.

While the report states that the U.N. team explicitly declined to include “accounts collected by Israeli intelligence bodies, including those related to interrogations of alleged perpetrators, despite some being offered,” the report’s authors report that “In Israel, the mission team benefitted from the full cooperation of the Government of Israel. It visited several identified sites of the 7 October attacks, including Nahal Oz military base, kibbutz Be’eri, the Nova music festival site, and Road 232 with the support of the Israeli authorities.”

Moreover, the mission team further “held several rounds of meetings to review information” received from the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet), and the Israeli National Police in charge of the investigation on the 7 October attacks (Lahav 433). Other meetings were held with Israelis, including President Isaac Herzog and several Israeli officials.

The United Nations team did not confirm occurrence of sexual assault occurred on October 7, acknowledging that confirming this “may be impossible.” The team concluded that there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that sexual violence had occurred during the attack.

While the U.N. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, claimed to have found “clear and convincing information” that sexual violence subsequently occurred against Israelis who were captured on October 7, she declined to name the victims or perpetrators and refused to specify whether there was any pattern linking the incidents of sexual violence.

In a press conference following the publication of the report, Patten stressed that the mission “was not intended or authorized to be of an investigative nature.” However, she noted that despite repeated calls from the Israelis to proceed, her team was unable to locate a single victim of sexual assault.

No Sexual Assault Incidents Reported at Kibbutz Be’eri

The passages in the report and the comments made by U.N. officials about the nature of the researchers' mission contradict Israeli claims instead of confirming them. The report concluded that “In the medicolegal assessment of available photos and videos, no tangible indications of rape could be identified.”

“While the mission team reviewed extensive digital material depicting a range of egregious violations, no digital evidence specifically depicting acts of sexual violence was found in open sources,” the researchers noted.

No Sexual Assault Incidents Reported at Kibbutz Be’eri

The evidence uncovered by the U.N. team suggests that, on at least one occasion, Israeli authorities went to great lengths to stage a false rape scene. Regarding the case of “the girl who was found separated from the rest of her family, naked from the waist down” following the attack on Kibbutz Be’eri, they wrote, “It was determined by the mission team that the crime scene had been altered by a bomb squad and the bodies moved, explaining the separation of the body of the girl from the rest of her family.”

No Sexual Assault Incidents Reported at Kibbutz Be’eri

Speaking after Patten, Chloe Marnay-Baszanger, head of the U.N. Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict, told reporters: “In Kibbutz Be’eri, just to clarify, what we found is that there were two allegations that we examined and were determined by the mission team to be unfounded. They have been described very adequately in reports, and the allegations were recognizable because they received significant coverage in the press. As for the rest, we could not verify it. So, we have not been able to verify any instances of sexual violence on Kibbutz Be’eri at this point.”

Patten intervened, saying: “There was an allegation that there were objects such as knives that were put into the genitals of a woman...The team reviewed the pictures and we did not find anything like that.” She even criticized ZAKA, the ultra-Orthodox Israeli “rescue” group that helped host her visit and was responsible for several false claims accusing Hamas of committing crimes on October 7, most notably the allegation of 40 infants beheaded.

Israeli Official and Media Criticism of the Report

The U.N. report itself openly criticized the Israeli government for hindering the team's ability to determine those responsible for the alleged sexual assaults. It noted that “the lack of access and cooperation by the Israeli authorities with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, despite their timely requests to investigate the events of October 7 and their aftermath resulted in the unavailability of United Nations sourced or verified information on sexual violence linked to that day’s attacks.”

The report was met with criticism from Israeli media and political figures. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a statement on the day of the report's release that he summoned his country's ambassador to the United Nations for consultation regarding the United Nations' attempts to “remain silent” on reports of sexual violence committed by Hamas, an allegation denied by the organization.

Israeli Official and Media Criticism of the Report

In an interview conducted on March 6 with Hebrew Channel 12, the host criticized Patten for for not reaching to a definitive conclusion in her report that Hamas was responsible for the systematic sexual assault of Israeli women. She asked, “May I ask, why don't we simply place the responsibility and blame for these atrocities squarely on their perpetrators and say: Hamas did it?”

Patten responded that the purpose of her visit to Israel was “solely for the purpose of collecting and analyzing information” and not for assigning the alleged crimes to any perpetrator. The host chuckled, saying: “It is very clear who did it. After speaking with the survivors, it was definitely not the Belgians who did it.”

Patten replied, “I think it's up to your government to grant access to victims, and that was one of my first recommendations.” This was in reference to the supposed Israeli survivors of sexual assault whom she was unable to meet during her visit but who, according to the Israeli government, definitely exist.

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