8 months later: Israeli who reported on Hamas 7 October 'sexual violence' recants account to AP

AP , Ahram Online , Wednesday 22 May 2024

Chaim Otmazgin had tended to dozens of shot, burned or mutilated bodies before he reached the home that would put him at the center of a global clash.

bomb shelter
File Photo: Volunteers from the ZAKA rescue service remove blood stains from a public bomb shelter on a road near the Israeli-Gaza border in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Nov. 20, 2023. AP


Working in a kibbutz that was ravaged by Hamas’ attack on 7 October, Otmazgin, a volunteer commander with ZAKA, an Israeli search and rescue organization, saw the body of a teenager, shot dead and separated from her family in a different room. Her pants had been pulled down below her waist. He thought that was evidence of sexual violence.

He alerted journalists to what he’d seen. He tearfully recounted the details in a nationally televised appearance in the Israeli Parliament.

In the frantic hours, days and weeks that followed the Hamas attack, his testimony ricocheted across the world.

But it turns out that what Otmazgin thought had occurred in the home at the kibbutz hadn’t happened.

Also numerous atrocities accounts on 7 October, like Otmazgin’s, proved untrue.

“It’s not that I invented a story,” Otmazgin told The Associated Press in an interview, detailing the origins of his initial explosive claim, one of two by ZAKA volunteers about sexual violence that turned out to be unfounded.

“I couldn’t think of any other option” other than the teen having been sexually assaulted, he said.

“At the end, it turned out to be different, so I corrected myself.”

But it was too late.

Immediately after 7 October, Israel used a fabricated story that Hamas beheaded babies to shore up Western popular support for its genocidal war on Gaza.

US President Joe Biden and other Western officials credited the Israeli story to rally their population behind their support for Israel.

The story was later proven a hoax.

It was too late, too.

Independent investigation?

The Hamas attack on Israeli settlements and army bases in the Gaza Envelope on 7 October has killed 1,140, including hundreds of soldiers.

To date, Israel has not allowed any independent investigation into its allegations that Hamas fighters have committed sexual violence, killed babies, and committed crimes against humanity.

Last winter, a UN investigation into allegations of rape and sexual violence committed by the Palestinian group against Israelis on said day relied on testimonies and found reasonable ground to believe the Israeli story.

Hamas rejected the UN report as "baseless and only aimed at demonising the Palestinian resistance."

The group denies its gunmen sexually assaulted women during the attacks or mistreated female hostages they took to Gaza.

Months to acknowledge!

Debunked accounts like Otmazgin’s have encouraged scepticism and fueled a highly charged debate about the scope of what occurred on 7 October, one that is still playing out on social media and in college campus protests.

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.

As some of the first people on the scene, ZAKA volunteers testified what they saw that day.

Those words have helped journalists, Israeli lawmakers and U.N. investigators paint a picture of what occurred during the Hamas attack.

(ZAKA, a volunteer-based group, does not do forensic work. The organization has been a fixture at Israeli disaster sites and scenes of attacks since it was founded in 1995. Its specific job is to collect bodies in keeping with Jewish law.)

It took ZAKA months to acknowledge the accounts were wrong, allowing them to proliferate.

The fallout from the debunked accounts shows how the topic of sexual violence has been used to further political agendas.

The Israeli war on Gaza has killed more than 35,000 and wounded 80,000 Palestinians - most of them women and children.

Israeli bombardment has reduced much of the Gaza Strip to rubble, leaving 80 percent of the residents in the strip without shelter.

Israel has destroyed most hospitals and universities in the strip.

A deadly blockade on most food, water, and fuel supplies to the strip has created near-famine conditions for

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