The lack of any evidence of “mass rape” perpetrated by Hamas members on October 7 hasn’t stopped Israel from weaponizing these accusations to legitimize its genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.
After a lull, Israel’s allegations of sexual violence committed by Hamas have returned to international headlines with a vengeance. As the UN faces heightened pressure to condemn Hamas’s alleged sexual violence, the sudden onslaught of media and international attention nearly two months after October 7 begs the question, why now?
Indeed, narratives of sexual violence have not only resurged, but they have done so with vim. Lurid stories of gang rape, mutilation, and even necrophilia, have been disseminated by the media. This has occurred despite there being no substantive developments in evidence of sexual assaults from the Israeli occupation forces. Israel has repeatedly failed to provide forensic evidence, concrete photographic evidence, or victim testimonies to news organizations beyond inferences made by Israel’s forensic teams. Indeed, the Times of Israel alleges that the IOF will never provide forensic evidence because “physical evidence of sexual assault was not collected from corpses by Israel’s overtaxed morgue facilities,” and it is now, reportedly, too late to collect conclusive evidence.
Presently, Israel’s case consists of one eyewitness testimony shown privately to journalists by the Israeli police, witness testimonies of “body collectors,” forensic teams, and army staff, photographs taken at sites that suggest women may have been sexually assaulted, and witness testimonies of Hamas fighters acquired from Shin Bet, whose use of torture is notorious. Testimonies of victims will not be shared; the police have not interviewed any surviving victims, and according to May Golan, Israel’s Women’s Empowerment Minister, the very few victims who survived are receiving psychiatric treatment and are therefore, conveniently, unable to talk.
It’s a far cry from the persistent efforts of the Palestinians, forced to film their murdered relatives, their burnt and mutilated children, and their friends and families in their most vulnerable moments of grief, all in a desperate attempt to show the world what is being inflicted upon them. Perhaps that is what privilege looks like, where the dignity of Israeli victims is preserved, and the dignity of Palestinian victims must be discarded in a desperate voyeuristic attempt to publicize their suffering, starkly aware that the survival of the Palestinian people depends on this.
Israel’s secrecy remains deafening; the IOF exclusively screened a 47-minute compilation of “raw footage” to invited journalists, as opposed to sharing the footage with news agencies to report on and verify independently (Al Jazeera journalists, notably, were not invited to attend). Amongst those invited, journalist Owen Jones saw no “conclusive evidence” for torture, sexual violence, rape, or beheadings. Furthermore, despite calling on the UN to condemn Hamas’s acts of sexual violence, Israel refuses to cooperate with a UN commission of inquiry into sexual violence committed by Hamas on the ludicrous basis that the UN has “an anti-Israel bias.”
Despite deficient evidence, Israel has renewed its allegations of acts of sexual violence committed by Hamas, only with a new spin; they were now part of a systematic, concerted tactic of mass rape.
Nevertheless, despite deficient evidence, Israel has renewed its allegations of acts of sexual violence committed by Hamas, only with a new spin; they were now part of a systematic, concerted tactic of mass rape, as alleged by Dr. Elkayam-Levy, head of “The Civil Commission on October 7th Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children,” and a law professor with a troubled history of human rights abuses and close ties to the “National Security Council.” This narrative has been parroted by the U.S. State Department, whose spokesperson, Matt Miller, goes on to allege that “one of the reasons [Hamas] don’t want to turn women over that they’ve been holding hostage, and the reason this pause fell apart, is they don’t want those women to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in custody.”
Conversely, in the absence of concrete evidence of sexual assaults, what can we know about how Hamas treats women? Arguably, the hostages provide us the clearest evidence of Hamas’s comportment towards women, as we have direct footage of their release. The Israeli government has, rather absurdly, alleged that the hostages were tranquilized upon their release, in an effort to explain their friendly goodbyes to members of Hamas, which included handshakes, jokes, and smiles. The majority of the hostages have not yet been publicly interviewed, except Mia Leimberg, who emerged from captivity with her dog, Bella. Hostages’ experiences vary; while Daniel Aloni’s viral letter thanked Hamas for their treatment of her and her daughter, allegedly, at a meeting between Israeli war cabinet members and released hostages, an unnamed hostage recounted incidents of groping. However, the evidence to which we have direct access, which includes footage of the hostages being released and TikTok videos posted by the released hostages, shows the hostages to be smiling and in reasonable condition.
The latest propaganda effort signifies a desperation in the Israeli propaganda machine.
The latest propaganda effort signifies a desperation in the Israeli propaganda machine. Activists and journalists have rightly pointed out how the Israeli government has weaponized sexual assault allegations, deriving from ulterior motives rather than a place of genuine concern for women and children given Israel’s own horrific track record on rape and sexual abuse, and furthermore, its active censorship of human rights groups investigating sexual assault abuses of Palestinian children, which Josh Paul, former director at the U.S Department of State, admitted to CNN.
The U.S. State Department’s toothless allegation that the ceasefire ended because of Hamas’s barbaric desires towards women lacks credibility. However, the manufacture and escalation of a sensationalist media storm around October 7 allowed the Israeli government to reassert its hegemony over narratives surrounding events on that day. The wild descriptions of Hamas’s assaults re-center Hamas, thereby detracting from emerging investigations by news organizations that complicate the Israeli government’s account of a ruthless Hamas-led attack and probe the IOF’s complicity in slaughtering Israeli civilians, suggesting the IOF’s indiscriminate assault upon Hamas may have also caused the death of Israeli citizens.
In addition, emphasizing the brutality and inhumanity of Hamas’s attacks on October 7 increasingly serves to legitimize Israeli revenge. Israel’s assault lacks any semblance of proportionality, as the death toll exceeds 16,000, and widespread graphic videos document, extensively and in detail, the annihilation of Palestinians, including the incineration of infants and toddlers. Exaggerating the inhumanity of the Hamas attacks suggests there is an equivalency of the Israeli response; though not in scale, it purports to suggest Israel’s assault is equal in nature and brutality, and therefore, revenge upon a population of 2.2 million people is logical.
But it extends further than that. The reliance on lazy Orientalist caricatures of Arab men as savage sexual predators is both cunning and destructive. The implication that brutality and sexual depravity are intrinsic characteristics of Arab men and Arab people suggests that Palestinians are, inherently and irredeemably, an evil race, and their total annihilation, therefore, is justifiable. Manufacturing consent for a genocide works only when the genocide of a people is not regarded as a loss, and the eradication of their culture, their history, and their humanity is an act that renders the world a better place. The stigmatization and dehumanization of indigenous men and men of color is not new. It is an agenda that is all too familiar, and we must resist it.