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ICC Arrest Warrants: What Lies Behind the Allegations of Hamas Sexual Assaults on October 7?

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
24th May 2024
ICC Arrest Warrants: What Lies Behind the Allegations of Hamas Sexual Assaults on October 7?
A scene from a Gaza border settlement on October 7 (Getty)

On Monday, May 20, Karim Khan, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), announced a request for arrest warrants against both Israeli leaders and leaders of the Hamas resistance movement, accusing them of committing war crimes.

The prosecutor's request for arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Yehia Sinwar, alleges that "there are reasonable grounds to believe that the two men bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and genocide since Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7, 2023."

The prosecutor has also sought arrest warrants for Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Ismail Haniyeh, the Head of Hamas' Political Bureau, and Mohammed Deif, the Commander-in-Chief of Hamas' military wing, known as the Al-Qassam Brigades.

The ICC Accuses Hamas of Sexual Assaults During the October 7 Attack

In his statement, Karim Khan accused Hamas fighters of committing sexual assaults during the October 7 attacks on Israeli settlements, following the launch of Hamas' military Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. Khan stated, "On the basis of evidence collected and examined by my office, I have reasonable grounds to believe that Sinwar, Deif, and Haniyeh bear criminal responsibility for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory of Israel and the State of Palestine (in the Gaza strip) from at least October 7.” He emphasized that “taking hostages is a war crime” and "committing acts of rape and other sexual violence are considered crimes against humanity."

Khan added, "My office also submits that there are reasonable grounds to believe that hostages taken from Israel have been kept in inhumane conditions and that some have been subjected to sexual violence, including rape, while being held in captivity." He explained, "We have reached that conclusion based on medical records, contemporaneous video and documentary evidence, and interviews with victims and survivors." Khan affirmed, "My office also continues to investigate reports of sexual violence committed on 7 October."

The ICC Accuses Hamas of Sexual Assaults During the October 7 Attack

The Background of Hamas Fighters’ Sexual Assault Allegations Post Operation Al-Aqsa Flood

Israel has propagated numerous allegations of practices it claims Hamas fighters committed during the October 7 attacks, including rape and sexual assaults. 

The narrative surrounding allegations of Hamas fighters' actions during the October 7 attacks has been amplified by Israeli and Western media. These outlets have played a significant role in reinforcing these claims. However, Hamas has vehemently denied these accusations and has called for independent international investigative committees to examine Israel's claims of sexual violations by Hamas fighters during the Al-Aqsa Flood attacks.

Israel has put forth flimsy narratives regarding instances of rape, torture, and murder of women by Hamas fighters, lacking clear evidence. This has led to the widespread dissemination of misinformation, which has been embraced by various Israeli and Western media outlets and public figures.

Misbar has tracked the spread of these accusations within Israeli and Western media since their initial circulation and has previously discredited them in several reports. This effort included analyzing content purported to be from October 7, such as a video disseminated by Israeli sources and media platforms alleging it was recorded during the Hamas attack. The video purported to show Hamas fighters killing a pregnant woman, mutilating her body, and killing her unborn child. Misbar's analysis revealed that the video was originally posted on a Mexican website in 2018, years before the Hamas attack. Furthermore, Israel promoted a photo of a Kurdish female fighter, falsely claiming it depicted an Israeli woman who had been subjected to rape on October 7.

Israeli Accounts Share Deceptive Video, Accusing Hamas of Killing a Pregnant Woman

The lack of Israeli evidence has also led some activists who initially believed the Israeli claims regarding the rapes to retract their statements. For example, Sandra Ifrah, the spokesperson for Women United for Peace, has previously claimed that 67 different sperm samples were found on an Israeli hostage held by Hamas. Although her statements sparked widespread controversy, Sandra later apologized for her remarks.

Reports of Sexual Violence on October 7 Without Substantiated Evidence

More than seven months after Hamas' attack on Israeli settlements, Israel has yet to substantiate its claims of sexual violence by resistance fighters, despite ongoing media coverage of the issue.

Israeli media outlets have published stories about alleged sexual violence, including reports of gang rape and mutilation. Additionally, the Israeli government has presented some testimonies that it claims are eyewitness accounts of alleged crimes committed by Hamas.

Israel has repeatedly failed to provide criminal forensic or concrete photographic evidence to news organizations that goes beyond the allegations made by the occupation government. The Times of Israel reported that Israeli occupation forces would never present criminal evidence because "physical evidence of sexual assault was not collected from corpses by Israel's overtaxed morgue facilities."

"There is significant evidence of systematic sexual abuse, but morgue officials have not designated individual cases as rape because of a lack of court-compliant physical proof," the newspaper noted in its November 2023 report.

Reports of Sexual Violence on October 7 Without Substantiated Evidence

Israeli Government Testimonies Rely on Affiliated Organizations and Individuals

The Israeli allegations are based on testimonies from certain eyewitnesses, which were specifically presented by the Israeli police, notably to journalists. These testimonies also include accounts from "corpse collectors," forensic teams, army personnel, and photographs taken at various sites indicating potential sexual assaults on women.

The sources cited by the Israeli government as evidence are frequently linked to individuals directly affiliated with the Israeli Government, security agencies, or seemingly civilian organizations with connections to Israeli officials and government institutions.

Some of the testimonies relied upon by the Israeli government regarding acts of violence and rape came from ZAKA, an organization specializing in rescue operations. It is promoted as a non-governmental organization and is touted as the leading entity in Israel in this field, with about 3,000 volunteers and receiving funding from the Israeli government.

ZAKA was the same organization that promoted a fabricated story about Hamas fighters beheading children. Yossi Landau, the head of operations for the southern region at ZAKA, claimed he saw beheaded children's bodies, a statement even Israeli newspapers refuted. Additionally, ZAKA became embroiled in a series of scandals, with its leaders facing accusations of sexual assault, rape, and child exploitation.

Israeli Volunteering Group Spreads Misleading Narratives About October 7 Victims for Donations

While working to collect and identify the bodies of those killed on October 7, volunteers from the organization claimed that among the dead were “entire families, young children, infants, and even pregnant women” and that they found "their bodies in horrific, mutilated, and burned conditions."

However, an investigation by the Hebrew newspaper Haaretz revealed negligence and misinformation in ZAKA's reports on the events of October 7. The newspaper stated that the organization was involved in financial troubles and millions in debt before the war, exploiting the events to "work on fundraising."

Following the acquisition of numerous testimonies, the newspaper discovered that ZAKA was disseminating "accounts of atrocities that never occurred, publishing sensitive photographs, and exhibiting unprofessional conduct as part of endeavors to attract media visibility.”

The Associated Press Unveils Misleading Claims by ZAKA Officials

In a report published on May 22, the American news agency Associated Press (AP) revealed that some accounts of sexual violence allegedly committed by Hamas during the October 7 attacks were fabricated and false. 

The agency adds that other accounts from that day have been proven untrue. They include two debunked testimonies from volunteers with the Israeli search and rescue organization ZAKA, whose stories contributed to inflaming a global debate over whether sexual violence occurred during the attack and on what scale. 

AP noted that some allege the accounts of sexual assault were purposely concocted. ZAKA officials and others dispute that. Regardless, AP’s examination of ZAKA’s handling of the now-debunked stories shows how information can be clouded and distorted in the chaos of the conflict.

The Associated Press Unveils Misleading Claims by ZAKA Officials

Head of Israeli Foundation Promoted False Rape Allegations

Cochav Elkayam-Levy, an Israeli lawyer and the founder/head of “The Civil Commission on Oct. 7th Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children,” was one of the individuals who spread and supported misleading government narratives regarding the violations of October 7. She has delivered speeches and lectures globally to promote these claims.

Additionally, Elkayam-Levy, a law professor, has come under scrutiny for her involvement in alleged human rights violations. She has offered legal justifications, in the form of guidelines, on how Israeli authorities should handle Palestinian prisoners on hunger strikes, especially those detained without trial under administrative detention. Previously, she advocated for the controversial practice of force-feeding, widely condemned as torture and in clear violation of fundamental human rights principles.

She is also the Founding Head of the Dvora Institute for Gender and Sustainability Studies, serving as a closely affiliated advisory body to the Israeli Prime Minister's National Security Council.

In March, Israeli government sources told "Ynet" and "Yedioth Ahronoth" that in recent months, Israeli officials have decided to distance themselves from Elkayam-Levy. This decision was prompted by concerns over her inaccurate research following the October 7 attacks and her dissemination of false news. Criticism was also directed towards her methodology, which was deemed inadequate and imprecise.

Israeli government sources told "Ynet" and "Yedioth Ahronoth" that in recent months, Israeli officials have decided to distance themselves from Elkayam-Levy.

Sources revealed that Elkayam-Levy's account of a pregnant woman whose stomach was purportedly cut open, a story she circulated globally, was determined to be fabricated and unfounded. Criticism was directed towards Elkayam-Levy for her failure to adequately document such cases, highlighting her lack of professionalism and credibility. Additionally, she allegedly sought to obstruct a visit by Pramila Patten, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, to Israel.

Sources have brought forth further concerns regarding Elkayam-Levy, including allegations of financial gains allegedly received through her recent field activities. Additionally, there are claims that she raised millions of dollars in donations for her committee, ostensibly under the pretext of "supporting and assisting victims."

Much controversy has erupted within Israeli society following Elkayam-Levy being awarded "The Bride of the Israel Prize" for her efforts in researching and advocating against "Hamas' sexual crimes" after the October 7 attacks. Hebrew Channel 13 published a report by journalist Raviv Drucker, confirming that the "Hamas sexual crimes" report, which Levy based her award on, "does not exist at all." Some committee members who chose to award her the prize confirmed to "Ynet" and "Yedioth Ahronoth" that the relevant report had not actually been presented to them.

Hamas sexual crimes" report

Israel Fails To Provide Specific Information on Sexual Assault Allegations

All available data indicates that Israel's allegations of rape against Hamas are based solely on a broad array of unilateral and unreliable sources.

News reports also highlight that the Israeli police claim to have "multiple" eyewitness accounts of sexual assaults, yet they have not provided further clarification on the exact number.

To date, Israeli government officials have not provided any specific information regarding the precise number of alleged victims. In investigations conducted by prominent international organizations into such claims, details like the number of victims, their testimonies, dates, times, and locations play a crucial role in identifying key patterns and specific details to substantiate the allegations.

U.N. Reports on Sexual Violence

Reports from reputable U.N. and human rights organizations regarding incidents of sexual violence have indeed been published, yet they have often been conducted under the supervision or oversight of the Israeli government. For instance, a U.N. report titled "Reasonable Grounds to Believe Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Occurred in Israel During 7 October Attacks, Senior U.N. Official Tells Security Council" was released last March.

The U.N. team did not conclusively determine the occurrence of sexual assaults on October 7, acknowledging that this "may never be fully proven." The team concluded that there are "reasonable grounds to believe" that sexual violence may have occurred during the attack.

The U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, claimed to have found "clear and compelling information" suggesting that sexual violence occurred against Israelis who were captured on October 7. However, she refused to identify the victims or perpetrators and refrained from specifying whether there was any pattern linking the incidents of sexual violence.

During a press conference following the publication of the U.N. report, Patten emphasized that the mission "was not intended or mandated to be investigative." Despite repeated calls from Israelis for a thorough investigation, her team was unable to locate a single victim of sexual assault.

Furthermore, many mainstream media outlets manipulated their coverage of the U.N. report, using linguistic modifications that altered the original meaning of the report's findings.

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

Israeli Police Unable To Verify Sexual Assault Claims

On January 4, Haaretz reported that the Israeli police were unable to verify the claims of sexual assaults allegedly committed by Hamas fighters on October 7. 

The newspaper reported, "The police are struggling to locate victims of sexual assault from the Hamas attack or individuals who witnessed such incidents. They have decided to appeal to the public, encouraging those with information on the matter to come forward."

Haaretz reported that the Israeli police are encountering difficulties in identifying victims of sexual assault or witnesses to the Hamas attacks, and they are unable to connect the existing evidence to the described victims.

The police are struggling to locate victims of sexual assault from the Hamas attack

The Haaretz report was released about a week after The New York Times published an article discussing the so-called "How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7."

The report focused on the case of Gal Abdush, who was killed on October 7. The New York Times identified Abdush as "the woman in the black dress," whose body was seen in a video recorded after the attack, purportedly showing evidence of her being raped.

However, some members of the Abdush family denied that she had been sexually assaulted, alleging that The New York Times had misled them by conducting interviews under "false pretenses."

Israeli Police Unable To Verify Sexual Assault Claims

Israeli Propaganda To Justify Brutal Operations in Gaza

The Israeli government has leveraged rape allegations alongside other claims, such as Hamas fighters committing massacres against civilians and killing children, to fabricate numerous horrific stories. These narratives have been used to demonize Palestinians and justify the brutal operations carried out by the Israeli occupation forces against children and women in the Gaza Strip since October 7, 2023, resulting in the deaths of more than 35,000 Palestinians to date.

Several Palestinian, Arab, and Western human rights organizations have previously condemned the claims made by Israel and the United States regarding sexual assaults against Israeli detainees in Gaza. These organizations argue that Israel is using "sexual assault" propaganda to further its genocide of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.

In contrast, the occupation authorities prohibit any international delegations from entering the Gaza Strip to investigate the atrocities committed against the Palestinian people. Additionally, they refuse to cooperate with specialized international bodies to probe the claims of sexual assaults.

Read More

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