War on Gaza: Al Jazeera tells the 7 October story that British media will not

New documentary reveals how false and inflammatory allegations made their way into the journalistic mainstream 

By Peter Oborne
22 March 2024

Forensic. Sober. Clear-sighted. Scrupulous. Al Jazeera’s investigative unit has produced a film that tells the story of what really happened on 7 October.

This authoritative documentary does not flinch from detailing the atrocities and war crimes carried out by Hamas. But it shows beyond reasonable doubt that many of the lurid accounts that emerged from Israeli sources were false.

Deeply inflammatory stories, whether concerning allegations of mass rape or the beheading and burning of babies, were either unsupported by evidence or straightforward lies. Yet, they prepared the way for the murderous savagery of the ensuing Israeli assault on Gaza, which has been described by the International Court of Justice as a plausible genocide.

Al Jazeera painstakingly analyses how these accounts entered the public domain. This involves a sustained look at Zaka, Israel’s emergency response unit of trained paramedics who handle terrorist episodes and homicides.

Al Jazeera shows how Zaka gave details of atrocities that never happened, including of burned and beheaded babies, which made headlines around the world and were used for maximum propaganda effect by Israel to gain sympathy.

One Zaka employee, Yossi Landau, told reporters that Hamas burned to death “two piles of 10 children each” in a house in Kibbutz Be’eri.

This account was pounced on by the media, and a version was repeated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a conversation with US President Joe Biden: “They took dozens of children, bound them up, burned them and executed them.”

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Vital reporting

But as Al Jazeera shows, these accounts were untrue. An examination of the list of the dead showed that two 12-year-old twins were tragically killed when police and soldiers stormed the house in Be’eri, but there were no other children at that location, the documentary notes.

More generally, the list reveals that two babies died on 7 October. One was killed when a bullet was fired through a door, while the other died following an emergency caesarean section after the mother was shot. Neither was burned or beheaded

Al Jazeera also shows that there is no serious evidence to support claims of widespread and systematic rape, setting out the known facts before quoting British lawyer Madeleine Rees of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, who says: “Nothing that I’ve seen put forward so far suggests that [rape was] widespread and systematic.”

This is serious, measured and vital reporting. It raises one interesting and significant point: why was it left to Al Jazeera to carry out this work?

Why couldn’t the BBC have done it? ITN? Sky News? The famous Sunday Times investigative unit? Campaigning tabloids like the Daily Mail or Daily Express? Hard-hitting broadsheets like the Times of London?

The answer might be simple: the UK mainstream media has itself played a significant role in promoting and endorsing fabricated Israeli accounts of 7 October. The Express, the Daily Mail, the Times, the Independent and Metro all ran front-page stories amplifying Israeli claims about 40 dead babies. The Daily Mail front page read: “This was a holocaust pure and simple.”

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Even to question these terrifying accounts drew accusations of bad faith. According to one Telegraph headline: “Israel shouldn’t have had to prove that Hamas slaughtered babies.”

Dehumanising Palestinians 

The early reports of burned and beheaded babies presented Hamas as subhuman barbarians, comparable to the Islamic State.

These reports could be used to justify Israel’s own savagery towards the Palestinian population of Gaza. “I hear the calls for a ceasefire,” Israel’s then foreign minister, Eli Cohen, said at the United Nations. “Tell me, what is a proportional response for killing of babies? For rape women and burn them? For beheading of a child? The proportional response to the October 7th massacre is total destruction, total destruction, to the last of the Hamas.”

In the words of US Republican Senator Marco Rubio: “I don’t think there’s any way Israel can be expected to coexist or find some diplomatic offramp with these savages.”

According to researcher Marc Owen Jones, quoted in the Al Jazeera film, “sexual violence and other forms of violence are being weaponised to dehumanise an enemy, and dehumanisation is important in conflict. Why? Because dehumanisation lowers the threshold by which you will willingly agree to attack or harm another group of people. And how do you you do that? You see them as subhuman.”

This Al Jazeera film does much more than simply correct the record about events on 7 October. It also raises serious concerns about the British media failing to question the Israeli narrative.

It has been left entirely to non-mainstream outlets to exercise scrutiny and scepticism, and to behave like professional journalists. Let’s name them: excellent work has been done by the Grayzone, the Intercept, the Electronic Intifada, Yes! Magazine, Mondoweiss, and to some extent, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

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Meanwhile, the British mainstream media has laid itself open to the charge that it has been complicit in the dehumanisation of Palestinians, which in turn has opened the way to what looks more every day like a genocide in Gaza.

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