Two reports debunk New York Times ‘investigative report’ of mass rape on October 7th

Two reports debunk New York Times ‘investigative report’ of mass rape on October 7th

Family of key case in New York Times October 7 sexual violence report renounces story, says reporters manipulated them…

Members of human rights organizations & feminist groups “find the report profoundly disturbing for its lack of credible arguments, evidence and failure to engage with any of the alleged victims…

A New York Times story claiming a pattern of gender-based violence on October 7 hinged on the story of Gal Abdush. But the Abdush family says there is no proof she was raped, and that Times reporters interviewed them under false pretenses.

by the Short String, reposted from Mondoweiss, January 3, 2024

On December 28, the New York Times published an “investigative” report on gender-based violence allegedly committed by Palestinians during the October 7 attack. The newspaper says the story was based on over 150 interviews conducted by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jeffrey Gettleman, along with Anat Schwartz and Adam Sella. The story concludes that Hamas fighters engaged in systematic rape and sexual violence against Israeli women.

The story itself repeats October 7 testimonies that have been previously published and already debunked and discredited, but the Times investigation hinges predominantly on one central story, the story of the rape of “Gal Abdush,” who is described by the Times as “The Woman in the Black Dress.”

Although claiming its story proves that “the attacks against women were not isolated events but part of a broader pattern of gender-based violence on Oct. 7,” the veracity of the New York Times story was undermined almost as soon as it was published, including from the Abdush family itself who says there is no proof Gal Abdush was raped and that the New York Times interviewed them under false pretenses.

The New York Times’ omissions and anomalies

A heartbreaking photo of Gal Abdush’s family — a working-class Mizrahi Jewish family who lost their daughter and son-in-law, Nagi Abdush—appeared on the newspaper’s cover. The newspaper devoted a third of its report to the Abdush story. The report centered around a video that was captured on October 8 by a woman called Eden Wessely, which was published on her social media accounts.

According to the Times, “The video went viral, with thousands of people responding, desperate to know if the woman in the black dress was their missing friend, sister or daughter.” The newspaper did not link to the video but released a distant, indistinct image from it that revealed nothing.

It’s unclear how the Times confirmed the existence of these responses since Wessely’s Instagram account has been banned, and she created a new account in mid-December.

The newspaper narrates the tragedy of the family, how they learned about their daughter’s fate, and how the video and their daughter became known as “the woman in the black dress.” The Times states that her husband, Nagi Abdush, who was also killed, sent his last message at precisely 7:44 a.m., asking the family to take care of their children.

What the newspaper omitted, and the family later confirmed, is that the husband contacted them at 7:00 a.m. and reported his wife’s death.

The Times says the family saw the video recording and “feared that she might have been raped” based on the body’s condition. The Times also states that the Israeli police used the video as evidence that rape occurred: “The videos caught the eye of Israeli officials as well — very quickly after Oct. 7 they began gathering evidence of atrocities. They included footage of Ms. Abdush’s body in a presentation made to foreign governments and media organizations, using Ms. Abdush as a representation of violence committed against women that day.”

There is currently no trace of the video on the internet despite the Times claim that it “went viral.” Moreover, the Israeli press, despite reporting on hundreds of stories about the October 7 victims, never mentioned “the woman in the black dress” even once previous to the December 28 story.

It does not appear that the video had, in fact, become the widely circulated symbol the Times claimed it had. But regardless, within a day of the report being published, facts began to emerge that undermined the Times story.

“The media invented it,” “stop spreading lies”

On December 29, the Israeli website ‘YNET’ published an interview with Etti Brakha, Gal Abdush’s mother. In the interview, the mother says that the family knew nothing about the sexual assault issue until the piece in the Times was published: “We didn’t know about the rape at all. We only knew after a New York Times journalist contacted us. They said they matched evidence and concluded that she had been sexually assaulted.”

Then, on January 1, Nissim Abdush, Nagi’s brother, appeared in an interview on Israeli Channel 13. During the 14-minute interview, Nissim repeatedly denied that his sister-in-law was raped. He explained that his brother Nagi had called him at 7:00 in the morning, saying his wife was killed, and he was next to her body. Then he continued to communicate until 7:44 and never mentioned anything related to sexual assault.

Nissim also stated that no official party informed them of these doubts or this investigation, neither the police nor forensic experts. In the interview, Abdush reiterated that his brother’s wife was not raped and that “the media invented it.”

Gal’s sisters also denied allegations of rape. Her sister Tali Barakha posted on Instagram, saying: ‘No one can know what Gal went through there! Also, what Nagi went through, but I can’t cooperate with those who say many things that are not true. I plead with you to stop spreading lies, there is a family and children behind them, no one can know if there was rape or if she was burned while alive. Have you gone mad? I spoke to Nagi personally! At 7 o’clock, Gal was killed by those animals, and they shot her in the heart. Nagi was alive until quarter past eight…”

Likewise, Miral Altar, Gals’ sister, wrote a comment on Instagram in response to a video of a hasbara account. Altar said:

I can’t understand all these reports. There were many difficult stories, why this story in particular? It’s based on only one video published without the family’s knowledge… It is true that the scenes in the video are not easy, but it’s clear that the dress is lifted upwards and not in its natural state, and half her head is burned because they threw a grenade at the car.

I don’t want to be understood as if I’m justifying what they did; they are animals, they raped and beheaded people, but in my sister’s case, this is not true. [NOTE: no proof of “beheading” has been presented.]

At 6:51, Gal sent us a message on WhatsApp saying ’we are at the border, and you can’t imagine sounds of explosions around us’.

At 7 o’clock, my brother-in-law called his brother and said they shot Gal and she’s dying. It doesn’t make any sense that in four minutes, they raped her, slaughtered her, and burned her?

Other comments from Abdush family friends and relatives (whose relationships have been confirmed through social media connections) also suggest that the “Woman in the Black Dress” video itself lacks enough information to support the claim of rape.

Shiran Maluka, Miral’s friend, wrote: “Based on what does Eden Wessely conclude that she was raped? based on the video she took there is no evidence, it’s not true that half of her body was burned, only her face, and there is nothing but a dress pulled up.” Another friend, Almog Peretz Hemo, wrote a similar comment.

Many of the comments from those in and around the Abdush family point to the role of Eden Wessely in pushing the rape allegations. Although Wessely’s quotes in the Times didn’t contain a graphic description, her following statements to the Israeli media were very explicit and clearly stated that Abdush was raped, burned, and murdered.

Those who pushed back on the story seem to believe that it was in fact Eden Wessely’s testimony and personal interpretation that initially raised these allegations of sexual violence rather than the video itself. They argue that Wessely’s testimony is inaccurate, and does not match with what’s seen in the video.

A look at Eden Wessely’s Facebook account reveals extreme right-wing opinions.

For example, in the early days of the war, Wessely posted fake news, debunked by the Israeli media, about “Israeli traitors who supported Hamas fighters during the attack on October 7th.” Wessely also shared many posts by the extreme right-wing organization ‘Im Tirtzu‘ and posts by the far-right rapper ‘Hatzel,’ considered a symbol of Israeli fascist racism. In another post, Wessely shared a picture of the Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel, calling her: ‘The devil incarnate.’

Weaponizing “the woman in the black dress”

The family’s testimonies unmistakably confirm that the Israeli authorities did not have the decency to inform the family about the investigation into their family member’s rape. But, three months following her death, Israeli authorities and the Israeli police are weaponizing her case and using the death of Gal Abdush as propaganda material to garner support for and justify the genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.

Likewise, the New York Times also joined in exploiting the family in a highly unethical manner. Despite mentioning the element of rape to the family, the Times reporters did not make clear this was the focus of the story and evidently got them to agree to participate by saying they wanted to cover the family’s tragedy.

According to Abdush’s sister, Miral Alter, this is why the family agreed to speak to the reporter. As Alter explains in the Instagram comment above, the Times reporters “mentioned they want to write a report in memory of Gal, and that’s it, if we knew that the title would be about rape and butchery, we’d never accept that.”

In the end, it appears that the New York Times manipulated a working-class Mizrahi family in the service of Israeli hasbara in order to score a journalistic achievement, which in reality is nothing more than a repetition of fake news and government propaganda.

The Short String is an anonymous group of Palestinian journalists in Israel who analyze the role of international media and organizations in promoting Israeli propaganda. The authors have requested anonymity in the face of persecution, violence, and threats from Israeli authorities, which would put them in severe danger.

Also read: NYT pushes Israeli propaganda on ‘rape’ by Hamas, ends up with egg on face

NYT’s Disgraceful “Investigation”: Weaponizing Sexual Violence Against Women for Occupation Propaganda

from the feminist organization Speak Up

Following the allegations of rape cases on October 7, and 80 days of subsequent developments, The New York Times released an “investigative report” on December 28, 2023. This report, allegedly detailing the events and claiming to “verify” incidents of rape, spans over 3500 words. However, it fails to present any concrete evidence or include accounts from the alleged victims.

As MENA Human Rights organizations and feminist groups dedicated to supporting victims of gender-based violence and striving to eradicate sexual violence in all its forms, we recognize the possibility of sexual violence occurring in times of war and conflict. Women often bear the brunt of such conflicts, facing multilayered levels of violence, including sexual assault.

Despite this, we find the report profoundly disturbing for its lack of credible arguments, evidence and failure to engage with any of the alleged victims. We vehemently oppose the exploitation of women’s bodies and experiences in perpetuating misleading propaganda.

Here is why we find this report unreliable and detrimental to women and gender-based violence survivors around the world:

1. The absence of direct victim testimonies or involvement in the investigation

We believe victims, but where are they? The reporters claim that the investigation is based on testimonies from 150 people (including witnesses, medical personnel, soldiers, and rape counselors), most of whom were not eyewitnesses. A close reading of the report shows that none of the accounts included in the investigation or used to “verify” the events were from the victims themselves.

The absence of direct victim testimony or involvement in the investigation, along with the unconvincing explanation provided to justify their absence, raises significant concerns about the validity of the reported events.

2. The report claims to have been “steadily gathering evidence”, yet it provides none. 

The investigation, relying mainly on the unverified claims of Israel’s “top national police unit,” offers no concrete figures. It claims that all those who were assaulted are now deceased and buried. Furthermore, the report acknowledges that no survivors have spoken publicly and that the police have not collected any semen samples from women’s bodies, nor have they requested autopsies or conducted thorough examinations of crime scenes. Despite this, they assert that the report’s conclusions are based on evidence.

When such a thorough investigation concludes without any evidence, it casts doubt on the validity of the claims and the motives behind publishing them. While we understand that it’s not always possible to provide evidence of assaults, the failure to collect forensic evidence, examine crime scenes, and the acknowledgment of not prioritizing these procedures, contradict the report’s assertive tone, which repeatedly claims that evidence has been gathered.

Also noteworthy is that Israel declined to cooperate with the UN commission investigating these allegations, citing bias, and refused to provide any evidence.

3. Graphic, trope-laden, and sensational testimonies with no indication of fact-checking.

The report presents lengthy, graphic details purportedly described by “eyewitnesses.” One testimony comes from an individual who describes being shot and feeling faint, which could impair their ability to perceive and recall events accurately. Physical trauma or distress can significantly affect memory and perception. Yet, this individual provides a detailed, fiction-like account that appears to have undergone no fact-checking, and is suspiciously identical to wartime atrocity propaganda.

4. “She said she then watched another woman “shredded into pieces.” While one terrorist raped her, she said, another pulled out a box cutter and sliced off her breast. “One continues to rape her, and the other throws her breast to someone else, and they play with it, throw it, and it falls on the road.”

Aside from the physical, biological, and anatomical considerations that render this scenario implausible, there would likely be forensic evidence, such as blood spatter patterns or traces of bodily fluids, in the described scenario. However, such evidence is notably absent in the report. The lack of this physical evidence further casts doubt on the credibility and plausibility of the “eyewitnesses” testimonies.

5. “She said the men sliced her face and then the woman fell out of view”. Around the same time, she said, “she saw three other women raped and terrorists carrying the severed heads of three more women.”

These acts would typically leave substantial physical evidence, yet the narrative does not mention any supporting forensic or physical proof to validate these events, not even the bodies.

6. “Sapir provided photographs of her hiding place and her wounds, and police officials have stood by her testimony and released a video of her, with her face blurred, recounting some of what she saw.”

However, they chose not to collect any forensic evidence from these locations, which would have been feasible given the bloody scenarios described, to fact-check and confirm these testimonies.

7. “Mr. Karol said he barely lifted his head to look at the road but he also described seeing a woman raped and killed.”

He barely lifted his head, yet he also described it??

8. “I did not take pictures because we are not allowed to take pictures,” said Yossi Landau, a ZAKA volunteer. “In retrospect, I regret it.”

“Yossi Landau” one of the eyewitnesses who served as a source for this investigation, also informed CBS News on October 11th that “he saw with his own eyes children and babies who had been beheaded.” He provided numerous stories to the media about this now-debunked incident, and anyone who googles articles, interviews, or testimonies from Yossi will notice fluctuations in the details within his quotes. It really doesn’t take much digging to determine that Yossi Landau is a highly unreliable witness.

He is not the only one exhibiting this pattern. Raz Cohen, another eyewitness mentioned in the article, follows a similar pattern. Therefore, the investigation not only lacks evidence and victim testimonies but also heavily relies on eyewitness accounts that have previously spread misinformation for propaganda purposes.

9. Medical staff “inadvertently destroyed evidence”

“Hours later, the first wave of volunteer emergency medical technicians arrived at the rave site. In interviews, four of them said that they discovered bodies of dead women with their legs spread and underwear missing — some with their hands tied by rope and zip ties — in the party area, along the road, in the parking area, and in the open fields around the rave site.”

Several aspects raise skepticism about the validity of these claims. The depiction of multiple bodies found in various locations, each with nearly identical patterns of positioning and undress, is highly implausible in such chaotic alleged crime scenes. The narrative of victims with their hands tied and underwear missing seems sensational and more aligned with a dramatized portrayal than with the expected outcomes of real-life violent incidents. The absence of corroborative evidence or official reports detailing these findings casts doubt on their accuracy.

10. “Because his job was to look for survivors, he said, he kept moving and did not document the scene.”

A medical team arrives at a crime scene, discovers women in positions suggestive of sexual assault, but fails to collect any forensic evidence to confirm such suspicions. It is too convenient that professionals tasked with locating survivors did not document the scene. This raises questions about the reliability of the information provided. Documenting the scene is crucial for establishing the sequence of events and collecting evidence. Without this, the credibility of their testimony as a factual account comes into question.

11. “Some emergency medical workers now wish they had documented more of what they saw. In interviews, they said they had moved bodies, cut off zip ties, and cleaned up scenes of carnage. Trying to be respectful to the dead, they inadvertently destroyed evidence.”

The actions described appear highly irregular and inconsistent with standard emergency medical protocols or forensic procedures for preserving crime scenes and collecting evidence.

12. “But Moshe Fintzy, a deputy superintendent and senior spokesman of Israel’s national police, said, “We have zero autopsies, zero,” making an O with his right hand.” “According to Jewish tradition, funerals are held promptly. The result was that many bodies with signs of sexual abuse were put to rest without medical examinations, meaning that potential evidence now lies buried in the ground.”

In a Reuters article published on October 15, it was reported that, “Military forensic teams in Israel have examined bodies of victims of last week’s Hamas attack on communities around the Gaza Strip and found multiple signs of torture, rape, and other atrocities and around 1,300 bodies have been brought to an army base in Ramla in central Israel where forensic checks to determine the identity of the dead and the circumstances of their death are carried out by specialist teams.” as per officers.

Also a reserve warrant officer named Avigayil informed reporters in October that, “multiple cases of rape were found by forensic examination of the bodies, which have been stored in refrigerated containers.”. This implies most (if not all) bodies recovered were brought in for examinations.

13. “Many people are looking for the golden evidence of a woman who will testify about what happened to her.” “The corpses tell the story.”

The main premise of the findings of the “investigation” is a poetic statement from the executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, “The corpses tell the story.” Yet, this is followed by a lengthy round-about explanation of why said corpses with signs of sexual abuse were—again, very conveniently— buried without medical examinations, implying the evidence is now irretrievable.

This narrative suggests this hypothetical evidence exists but is unfortunately buried, making it impossible to extract, yet still asserting its presence to prove the horrific claims.

The key takeaways from the investigation are:

1. Lack of Forensic Evidence: The absence of substantial forensic evidence, such as DNA samples, blood spatter analysis, bodily fluid traces, CCTV photos, and videos, raises doubts about the credibility and factual accuracy of the reported events, despite allegations of knowing the locations of events and possessing the victims’ bodies.

2. Questionable Testimonies: Several testimonies provided by witnesses contain graphic, extreme, and medically improbable details, which appear unrealistic upon scrutiny and raise doubts about their validity. Additionally, the report heavily relies on eyewitness accounts that have previously spread misinformation for propaganda purposes.

3. Absence of Victim Involvement: The investigation reportedly failed to contact or engage with any survivors of the incident, potentially limiting the collection of firsthand accounts and critical evidence.

4. Potential for Misinterpretation: The article’s emotive language, combined with a lack of verifiable details and the absence of direct victim accounts, allows for bias, misinterpretation, and misrepresentation of the events by readers or other entities.

5. The summary of this investigation’s pattern is: suggesting strong proof of evidence, explaining why this hypothetical evidence doesn’t exist, then bombarding the reader with emotional punches whose main premise is “Just believe us because we said so.”

Important Points to Highlight and Clarify Our Position:

1. Is it possible that women experienced sexual assaults during the events of October 7th?

Yes, it is possible. In times of war and conflict, women are often the most affected and face multiple layers of violence, including sexual violence.

2. But does this mean there were definitely incidents of sexual violence during the October 7th events?

No, as of now, there are no direct allegations from any woman claiming she experienced sexual violence on October 7th, and there is no evidence to support the occupation’s allegations. Contrarily, hostages recently released by Hamas have provided several testimonies confirming that they were not subjected to any form of assault.

3. If incidents of sexual assaults occurred on October 7th, is there any evidence identifying the perpetrators of these assaults?

No, none of the accounts provided in the Times investigation offer any clear indication of the alleged events or perpetrators. All we have is the confirmed history of the Israeli army’s  involvement in gender-based violence towards women, both Israelis and Palestinians and even within their own army.

4. How is the use of women’s bodies and rape allegations harmful to women worldwide?

Exploiting women’s bodies and rape allegations as war propaganda carries profound and extensive implications, affecting not only the immediate conflict but also influencing global attitudes and perceptions about women. This approach undermines the credibility of legitimate cases of sexual violence. It may lead to skepticism and disbelief when survivors share their experiences, perpetuating a culture of silence and impunity. Additionally, it could provoke a global backlash against efforts to address gender-based violence and advocate for women’s rights, and it diminishes the credibility of international initiatives aimed at preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict.

5. Should we believe these allegations based solely on claims from the Israeli  forces and hearsay?

No, we should exercise extreme caution when considering claims made by the Israeli  forces. This is not only due to the apparent bias intended to sway public opinion in favor of their genocide in Gaza but also because of the Israeli occupation’s lengthy and documented history of fabricating events and evidence. This pattern has been observed on various occasions.

For instance, in the case of the killing of journalist Shereen Abu Akleh, the Israeli side initially claimed she was killed by Palestinians, a claim that was later disproven. Similarly, after bombing the largest hospital in Gaza, home to almost 50,000 refugees, the Israelis attributed the attack to Hamas’s rockets, a claim which was also later confirmed to be false. And most recently, the widely circulated claim of beheaded babies on October 7 has been repeatedly debunked and retracted.

In light of the foregoing, we, the undersigned MENA organizations and feminist initiatives:

  • Firmly reject The Times’ discreditable report and its exploitation of women’s bodies and struggles as a means to fabricate assault incidents and push propaganda for an unlawful occupation, thereby abetting the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.
  • Unequivocally condemn the weaponization of sexual violence in conflicts and wars. Simultaneously, we oppose pinkwashing and the misuse of rape allegations as tools to silence voices speaking out against the genocide in Gaza, and continue to manufacture public consent for it.
  • Urge media outlets committed to genuine journalism to conduct comprehensive investigations into the well-documented, live-streamed, and uncontested violence inflicted upon tens of thousands of Palestinian women, children, and men—sexual and otherwise.

(Go here to sign the petition.)

Speak Up is an Egyptian feminist initiative, initially founded in July 2020, against sexual harassment and violence in all its forms. The initiative’s main role is to raise awareness, support victims. provide legal and psychological support for free, and receive testimonies from survivors and share them with the public.


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