Middle East

Despite refutations from Israeli military, headlines that Hamas 'beheaded babies' persist

Claim initially made by Israeli news channel allegedly employing dozens of ex-military staff, with close ties with Netanyahu government

Mehmet Solmaz and Enes Calli  | 11.10.2023 - Update : 16.10.2023
Despite refutations from Israeli military, headlines that Hamas 'beheaded babies' persist


Despite international journalists and news agencies debunking allegations that Palestinian resistance group Hamas "beheaded babies" in Israel, the claim continued to make headlines on Wednesday in Israeli and Western media, receiving millions of social media views.

Even as thousands of people have been killed in the conflict between the Israeli army and Gaza-based Hamas' armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, the disinformation front of the conflict persists on social media.

Israeli news channel i24 alleged on Tuesday morning that the Al-Qassam Brigades, "beheaded many Israeli babies" during an early-Saturday attack from the Gaza Strip.

The i24 reporter who first made the allegation took to the X, saying "soldiers told me they believe 40 babies/children were killed."

Hours later, Anadolu contacted the Israeli military over the phone to ask about the claims, with their spokesperson unit saying: "We have seen the news, but we do not have any details or confirmation about that."

Following Anadolu's reporting on the allegations, some international journalists posted on X confirming that the claim was untrue, showing how the misinformation propagates through social media.

No confirmation

A French reporter based in Jerusalem, Samuel Forey, said on X that he was in the Kfar Aza settlement, located less than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from northeastern Gaza, on Tuesday but no one had mentioned the alleged decapitations.

"I have verified with two emergency services (wishing to remain anonymous, as the subject is sensitive) that have collected many corpses. Both affirm that they have not witnessed such atrocities, without saying that it did not exist."

"I do not downplay the atrocities committed by Hamas fighters. I have documented them (an article coming in a few minutes). I wanted to clarify that I cannot verify these child decapitations," he added.

Aren Ziv, an Israeli photojournalist, likewise said he saw no evidence of beheaded infants, while neither the Israeli army nor spokesperson also did not mention any such incidents.

"During the tour, journalists were allowed to speak to the hundreds of soldiers on site, without the supervision of the army's spokesperson team. I24 reporter said she heard it 'from soldiers.'

"Soldiers I spoke with in Kfar Aza yesterday didn't mention 'beheaded babies.' The army's spokesperson stated: 'We cannot confirm at this point ... we are aware of the heinous acts Hamas is capable of.'"

He added that Israel uses false claims to intensify the bombing of Gaza and to "justify its war crimes."

Failure of British press

Almost a dozen British newspapers — including The Times, Metro, The i, Daily Express, The Scotsman, and Financial Times — have run stories on their front pages Wednesday, citing the i24 claims.

While some said "40 babies murdered by Hamas," others made claims of "babies being murdered," citing no verification.

Reports that the Israeli army refused to verify the claim surfaced on the web Tuesday afternoon, giving these newspapers time to check their sources and confirm their authenticity before printing.

Going through the day's newspapers on Wednesday morning, Sky News showed the mentioned newspapers, with the host then going on to say: "We have not seen the evidence of that. We have asked the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) three times to confirm it. They have not yet."

i24 enjoys close ties with Netanyahu, military

Israeli newspaper Haaretz previously reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was indicted on several corruption charges, has leveraged the issuance of a broadcasting license to i24 in exchange for favorable coverage.

The channel — which broadcasts in English, Spanish, French, and Arabic — is known for making unfounded claims on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

British-Iraqi activist Kareem Dennis of MintPress News, an independent US-based watchdog journalism organization, claimed that i24 "has employed at least 35 veterans of the Israeli occupation forces as staff."

He then went on to list various names and their ties to the Israeli military.

"Channa Rifkin is an i24News correspondent who transitioned from the channel's Social Media editor to the Israeli military, then returned to work for i24News."

"David Matlin, the host of a daily flagship show on i24News, is a former Israeli military sergeant and the regional director for Israel lobby group AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee)." Matlin is also a founding member of the channel.

"Eyal Pinko, who was the head of intelligence in the Israeli Navy before becoming the head of division in the Israeli prime minister's office, is another correspondent for the channel," Dennis said in the X thread.

He also mentioned Daniel Tsemach, a former i24 journalist who joined the channel after serving as a social media manager for the Israeli military. Tsemach recently left his position at i24 to join Israel's state-owned defense company, Rafael.

Millions of views in mere hours

Marc Owen Jones, a Qatar-based scholar who wrote a 2022 book titled "Digital Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Deception, Disinformation and Social Media," said the unconfirmed report had at least 44 million impressions, 300,000 likes, and over 100,000 reposts within about 24 hours on X.

The original story was based on a report by i24NEWS correspondent Nicole Zedek, who reported from Kfar Aza.

"She also stated on X that some babies heads had been cut off. However, those reports, which came from an IDF soldier(s), have in some cases morphed and gone viral," Jones said.

"Some outlets are reporting '40 babies killed', or '40 babies beheaded', while some are reporting '40 babies killed, some beheaded'. Neither the 40 babies being killed and/or beheaded has been independently verified."

He said some highly influential people, including British author J.K. Rowling, spread the report on X.

"There is no doubt that civilians have been brutally massacred, but narratives around slaughtered babies are particularly emotive and useful in propaganda and jingoism," he added, pointing to historical examples from World War I to "false information around the invasion of Iraq in 1990."

"Regardless of how you frame this, there is clearly misleading information around two things: a) ages killed (Zedek said 'babies/children') b) how they were killed (some/all beheaded)."

"The lack of clarity & consistency, singular sourcing is enough to indicate caution with the story," he said.

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