Source of dubious ‘beheaded babies’ claim is Israeli settler leader who incited riots to ‘wipe out’ Palestinian village

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After an Israeli reserve soldier named David Ben Zion told a reporter Palestinian militants “cut [off] heads of babies,” Biden, Netanyahu, and the international media amplified the dubious claim.

The Grayzone has identified Ben Zion as a fanatical settler leader who incited riots by demanding a Palestinian town be “wiped out.”

An international outcry erupted when Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced that Palestinian militants from the besieged Gaza Strip had killed 40 “babies,” and beheaded several of them during an incursion into Kfar Aza, a kibbutz on the Gaza border. President Joseph Biden repeated the inflammatory claim during an October 10 White House Rose Garden address, while networks across the West carried the story without a shred of critical scrutiny.

According to CNN correspondent Nic Robertson, apparently citing Israeli military sources, Palestinian militants carried out, “ISIS-style executions,” in which they were “cutting the heads off of people,” including babies and pets.

The Grayzone has now identified a key source of the claim that Palestinian militants beheaded Israeli babies. He is David Ben Zion, a Deputy Commander of Unit 71 of the Israeli army who also happens to be an extremist settler leader who incited violent riots against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank earlier this year.

In an October 10 interview with reporter Nicole Zedek of the Israeli state-sponsored i24 network, Ben Zion stated, “We walked door to door, we killed a lot of terrorists. They are very bad. They cut heads of children, they cut heads of women. But we are stronger than them.”

He added, “We know that they are animals,” referring to Palestinians, “but we found that they don’t have any heart.”

Hours after his interview with i24, still in the village of Kfar Aza, a uniformed Ben Zion could be seen repeatedly grinning ear-to-ear in a video posted to his Facebook – an odd disposition for a supposed witness to the methodical butchering of babies.

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Earlier that day, i24’s Zedek declared during a live report from Kfar Aza, “About 40 babies were taken out on gurneys… Cribs overturned, strollers left behind, doors left wide open.’” Zedek’s report has been viewed tens of millions of times on Twitter and promoted by Israel’s Foreign Ministry – which underwrites her network.

Hours later, she qualified her statement, stating, “Soldiers told me they believe 40 babies/children were killed. The exact death toll is still unknown as the military continues to go house to house and find more Israeli casualties.”

Yet the unverified tale quickly made its way to the highest levels of leadership, as if by design. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman stated unequivocally that babies and toddlers were found with their “heads decapitated,” while President Joe Biden himself vaguely gestured towards “stomach-churning reports of babies being killed.”

Likewise, cable news has flown into a frenzy, breathlessly reporting the story despite the IDF walking back its initial confirmation.

Meanwhile, some reporters who initially carried the official Israeli allegations about beheaded babies began issuing qualifications of their own.

Oren Ziv, an Israeli reporter who joined the military’s official tour of Kfar Aza, commented on Twitter, “I’m getting a lot of question about the reports of ‘Hamas beheaded babies’ that were published after the media tour in the village. During the tour we didn’t see any evidence of this, and the army spokesperson or commanders also didn’t mention any such incidents.”

So who is the source behind the explosive claim?

David Ben Zion in a video from a settlement construction site (left) and hours after he told i24 the IDF had found babies beheaded by Hamas (right)

Calls for Palestinians to be “wiped out,” “no room for mercy”

David Ben Zion, is a leader of the Shomron Regional Council of 35 illegal West Bank settlements who called this year for the Palestinian village of Huwara to be “wiped out.”

“Enough talk about building and strengthening the settlements,” Ben David said in a Twitter post on February 26, 2023. The deterrence that was lost must return now, there’s no room for mercy.”

Ben David was quoted in Israeli media proclaiming soon after, “The village of Huwara should be wiped out, this place is a nest of terror and the punishment should be for everyone,” a clear call for the collective punishment of Palestinians.

Ben David’s tweet was ‘liked’ on Twitter by Israel’s-then Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a move which prompted 22 legal scholars to call on the Attorney General to open an investigation into the official for “inducing war crimes.” When Smotrich later echoed Ben David, calling to “wipe out” Huwara the following month, the US Department of State condemned his rhetoric as “dangerous.”

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The village of Huwara was at the time the target of violent rioting by settlers operating under Ben David’s watch. Following the settler assault on the town, which resulted in the torching of scores of homes and vehicles, as well as injuries to locals, Hamas characterized the attack as a “declaration of war.”

But Ben David’s call for collective punishment in Huwara was far from his only genocidal imprecation against Palestinians. Indeed, he has used his social media accounts to repeatedly call for war crimes as well as the “deportation of the [Palestinian] masses.”

“The Palestinian people… [are] an enemy,” Ben David wrote in 2016. “We can’t change their barbaric DNA.”

During his failed campaign for the Israeli Knesset in 2021 with the pro-settler Jewish Home party, Ben David described his mission as follows: ”I am committed to the task of restoring the political home of religious Zionism.”

Lead member of Israel’s apocalyptic Temple movement

Ben David appears to have been at the forefront of settler extremism for years. He was photographed in 2015 (below) holding a microphone for the fanatical settler ideologue Noam Livnat, a self-described “radical right-wing messianist.”

According to the book, “Murder in the Name of God: The Plot to Kill Yitzhak Rabin,” Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, “especially admires” Livnat. In 2005, Livnat led a mutiny of 10,000 IDF soldiers and reservists who vowed to refuse then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s order to remove illegal settlements from Gaza.

Ben David appears to share Livnat’s messianic obsessions. In 2018, he took his nephew to the base of the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, which Jewish extremists have sought to replace with a Third Temple. “Why do Muslims still walk proud on this mountain?” he wrote, adding “there is a lot of work ahead of us.”

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“Israel should build a Shul (synagogue) on the Temple Mount, followed by a 3rd Temple. We don’t need anyone’s permission,” a Facebook user wrote in response to the photo, which Ben David liked.

In another post from the holy site, Ben David wrote that “The Temple Mount is not only the past of the Jewish people but also the future.” He then urged his followers to donate to Beyadenu, an organization whose members attempt to slaughter lambs for sacrifice there.

Ben David on the outskirts of Gaza before the Israeli invasion of July 2014

Ben David also appears to also share Noam Livnat’ obsession with the destruction of Gaza. Days after Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, the 50-day bombardment against Gaza that left nearly 1,500 Palestinian civilians dead, Ben David posted a photograph on Facebook of himself and fellow IDF soldiers posing in front of artillery positioned to spell out “The people of Israel live” in Hebrew. “The nation of Israel is with you until the end (of Gaza) Amen,” one Facebook user replied, which, again, Ben David ‘liked.’

As Netanyahu deploys the dubious allegation of beheaded babies to draw his US sponsors deeper into his war, Ben David’s apocalyptic fantasies draw closer to their fulfillment.

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