Skip to content

Conflicting reports of sexual assaults during Oct. 7 attack stir global debate

Conflicting reports of sexual assaults during Oct. 7 attack stir global debate
By Yagiz Efe Parmaksiz
May 24, 2024 8:47 PM

UN and other organizations have presented evidence that Hamas militants committed sexual assault during their Oct. 7 attack in Israel as other accounts have proven to be untrue, including debunked testimonies from volunteers with ZAKA

The United Nations and other organizations have presented credible evidence that Hamas committed sexual assault during their Oct. 7 rampage in southern Israel. Although the exact number of assaults remains unclear, photo and video evidence from the aftermath show bodies with legs splayed, clothes torn, and blood near their genitals.

However, other accounts from that day have proven to be untrue, including debunked testimonies from volunteers with the Israeli search and rescue organization ZAKA. These stories contributed to a global clash over whether sexual violence occurred during the attack and on what scale. Some allege the accounts of sexual assault were purposely concocted, though ZAKA officials and others dispute this.

The controversy has fueled skepticism and a highly charged debate about the scope of what occurred on Oct. 7, playing out on social media and in protests on college campuses.

Debunked Accounts

One account that turned out to be unfounded came from Chaim Otmazgin, a ZAKA volunteer who collected bodies after the attack. Otmazgin encountered the body of a teenage girl in Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the hardest-hit communities. Her pants were pulled down, leading Otmazgin to assume she had been sexually assaulted. He relayed these details to journalists and lawmakers, strongly suggesting the assault despite not stating it outright.

Nearly three months later, ZAKA discovered Otmazgin’s interpretation was mistaken.  Military contacts revealed that soldiers had dragged the girl’s body to ensure it wasn’t booby-trapped, inadvertently pulling down her pants in the process.

Another debunked account came from Otmazgin’s colleague, Yossi Landau. Landau believed he saw a pregnant woman whose fetus had been forcibly removed. However, Otmazgin, who was also at the scene, saw a heavy-set woman with an unidentifiable charred object attached to an electric cable. Despite Otmazgin’s clarification, Landau’s version spread through international media.

Aftermath and Analysis

The ferocity of the Oct. 7 assault caught Israel off guard, resulting in about 1,200 deaths and 250 kidnappings. Hundreds of bodies, showing signs of burns, bullet wounds, mutilation, and bindings, were scattered across southern Israel. In the chaos, ZAKA volunteers, primarily focused on ensuring proper Jewish burials, were thrust into the role of body collection and initial assessment.

Journalists visiting the ravaged kibbutzim found ZAKA volunteers accessible and willing to talk. Usual media protocols were bypassed, and volunteers, not trained in forensics, spoke directly to journalists, drawing conclusions about what they saw.

As untrue accounts of sexual assault spread internationally, debunking them became a focal point in the dispute over the facts of Oct. 7. Critics of Israel used these debunked accounts to argue that the Israeli government distorted facts to justify the ongoing war, which has resulted in over 35,000 Palestinian deaths, according to Gaza health officials.

U.N. Findings

Despite the confusion, evidence supporting the claim that sexual assault occurred on Oct. 7 is growing. A U.N. fact-finding team found “reasonable grounds” to believe that some committed sexual violence, including rape and gang rape. However, without forensic evidence and survivor testimony, determining the scope of such violence remains challenging. Hamas denies its forces committed sexual violence.

The U.N. report highlighted the issues contributing to skepticism, including “limited crime scene processing” and potential loss of evidence due to interventions by inadequately trained volunteers. Additionally, global scrutiny may have deterred survivors from coming forward.

The debate over the events of Oct. 7 continues, with the veracity of accounts and the extent of sexual violence remaining contentious issues on the international stage.

Source: AP

Last Updated:  Jun 3, 2024 5:03 PM