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Mar 8, 2024

Western media promoted a UN report as proof Hamas sexually assaulted Israelis. Yet the report’s authors admitted they couldn’t locate a single victim, suggested Israeli officials staged a rape scene, and denounced “inaccurate forensic interpretations.”

On March 4, the United Nations released a report into sexual violence which has supposedly taken place amid the Israeli war on Gaza. The report was immediately celebrated in mainstream media outlets as proof of what scores of Israel lobbyists and journalists under their sway have insisted for months (despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary): that Hamas forces engaged in a systematic campaign of rape during their attack on Israel on October 7.

There was just one problem. The report’s authors flatly contradicted the idea that any evidence existed to prove a campaign of rape by Hamas.

Many legacy media outlets papered over this inconvenient fact with a few clever tweaks of language. The Associated Press, for example, repackaged claims of rape at Kibbutz Be’eri — which the UN report dismissed as “unfounded” — as “allegations of rape that could not yet be verified.” 

The AP wasn’t the only outlet to indulge in such creative writing. A March 5 New York Times headline insisted the UN report had uncovered the sought-after “Evidence of Sexual Assault in Hamas-Led Attack on Israel.”

But following a social media post by The Grayzone’s editor-in-chief, Max Blumenthal, the Times quietly amended its headline to read: “UN Team Finds Grounds to Support Reports of Sexual Violence in Hamas Attack.”

Comments by the head of the UN team have made it clear the UN mission to Israel was the product of an Israeli public relations campaign. By United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten’s own admission, the team was only dispatched following “pressure” by Israeli government-linked lobbying groups. Her personal schedule reveals its priorities: 15 days in Israel, and just two in occupied Palestinian territory.

And while the report says the UN team specifically declined to include “accounts collected by Israeli intelligence bodies, including those related to interrogations of alleged perpetrators, despite some being offered,” its authors go on to concede that “the mission team benefitted from the full cooperation of the Government of Israel,” noting that UN researchers were only able to visit the sites of 7 October attacks at the Nahal Oz military base, kibbutz Be’eri, the Nova music festival location, and Road 232 “with the support of the Israeli authorities.”

What’s more, the UN team openly admits it “held several rounds of meetings to review information” from the Israeli army, Israeli security service Shin Bet, and the Israeli National Police’s Oct. 7 investigation unit, Lahav 433. Further meetings were held with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and various Israeli functionaries.

But after their multi-week guided fishing expedition, the UN representatives came back mostly empty-handed.

Ultimately, they found only that there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that sexual violence occurred during the Palestinian strikes on October 7 – the lowest evidentiary threshold used by the researchers. 

While the UN special representative on sexual violence, Pramila Patten, claimed to have found “clear and convincing information” that sexual violence later occurred to Israelis captured on October 7, she declined to name the victims or perpetrators and refused to say whether there was any pattern connecting the incidents.

At a press conference following the report’s publication, Patten stressed that the mission “was neither intended nor mandated to be investigative in nature” but noted that despite repeated calls for those affected to come forward, her team had been unable to locate a single victim of sexual assault by Palestinians.

Passages within the report and comments made by UN officials suggest the researchers had an easier time debunking Israeli claims than proving them.

“In the medicolegal assessment of available photos and videos, no tangible indications of rape could be identified,” the report concluded.

Open source material apparently proved no more fruitful to its authors than the Israeli-provided information.

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,” they noted.

What evidence the UN team did find indicated that, on at least one occasion, Israeli authorities went out of their way to stage a hoax rape scene. In the case of a girl found separated from the rest of her family, naked from the waist down” in the aftermath of the strike on Kibbutz Be’eri, they wrote that 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.

Speaking after Patten, Chloe Baszanger-Marnay, the leader of the UN Team of Expert on Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict, told reporters:

“On [Kibbutz] Be’eri, just to clarify, what we found was that there were two allegations we looked into that were unfounded. And they’re very well described in the reports and you’ll recognize them because they were highly publicized in the press. The rest, we could not verify. So… no, we could not verify any sexual violence in Be’eri at this point.”

Patten interjected: “There was an allegation that there were objects like knives that were inserted into the genitalia of a woman… the team reviewed the photos and we did not find anything like that.”

She even took a swipe at ZAKA, the ultra-Orthodox Israeli “rescue” group which helped host her visit, and which was responsible for many of the discredited claims of atrocities by Hamas on October 7. 

“Inaccurate, unreliable conclusions, forensic conclusions were drawn by untrained volunteer first responders,” Patten declared, clearly referring to ZAKA. “We give some examples in the report, such as interpreting an anal dilation as anal penetration, when, according to our experts, when [there’s] extensive burn damage, this is what you get – anal dilation. And the position of the body as a result of severe burn damage, again being interpreted as a sign of sexual violence, with spread legs, etc. So that also, it may not be in Be’eri, but it is a fact that we found many instances of unreliable, inaccurate forensic interpretations by untrained people.”

Regarding the supposed perpetrators of sex crimes on October 7, the UN team “did not make any finding as to any pattern because we did not look into attribution,” Patten told reporters.

The UN report itself openly blamed the Israeli government for the team’s inability to determine who may have committed alleged sex crimes, noting that “the lack of access and cooperation by the Israeli authorities with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and Israel (IICOI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) despite their timely requests to investigate the events of 7 October and their aftermath resulted in the unavailability of United Nations sourced or verified information on sexual violence linked to the attacks committed by Hamas and other armed groups.”

This apparent refusal to pin the blame for apparent sex crimes on Hamas has been met with contempt by Israeli media figures.

During a March 6 interview about her report with Israel’s Channel 12 News, a visibly frustrated host badgered Patten for failing to conclude that Hamas was responsible for systematically sexually assaulting Israeli women. 

“May I just ask, why not put the responsibility and blame the atrocities quite simply on the perpetrators and say, ‘it was Hamas who did it?’” the host demanded.

Patten replied that the mission of her visit to Israel was “only for the purpose of gathering and analyzing information,” not for attributing alleged crimes to any perpetrator.

“It is pretty clear who did it, after talking to survivors who returned – it wasn’t the Belgians who did it,” chortled the host. 

“I think it’s up to your government to give access, and that was one of my first recommendations,” Patten responded.

The UN representative was referring to supposed Israeli survivors of sexual assault whom she was unable to meet during her visit, but who absolutely exist, according to Israel’s government.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to distinguish more clearly between allegations which the UN team determined there were reasonable grounds to believe and other allegations which they claimed were based on clear and convincing information.

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