Israel’s claim 40 babies were ‘beheaded’ has no evidence
Israel Foreign Ministry repeats the claim in a YouTube video addressed to parents
Claim: 40 babies were beheaded during the 2023 Hamas attack in Israel as tensions escalate in Gaza.
Fact: The reporter who broke the story says she “believes” an account provided by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), while other journalists who visited the site of the attack said they were not shown any bodies. The Israeli army told Anadolu Agency that they did not have a “confirmation” about allegations that “Hamas beheaded babies”; however, they told CNN that women, children, toddlers, and the elderly were “brutally butchered in an ISIS way of action” in Kfar Aza. The claim is dubious as there is no evidence that proves that babies were beheaded.
On 10 October 2023, X (formerly Twitter) account @Israel — which describes itself as the “State of Israel’s official Twitter account managed by the Israel Foreign Ministry’s Digital Diplomacy team” — posted (archive) a video containing a news package and captioned it as follows:
“40 babies murdered.”
Produced by i24NEWS English, a Tel Aviv-based Israeli news channel, the package contains reporting by Nicole Zedeck, who reported (archive) from the Kfar Aza kibbutz in southern Israel. Kibbutz means a group of people voluntarily living and working together. The area was one of the first and hardest hit when Hamas launched an attack on Israel.
Based on Zedeck’s reporting, several social media users and media outlets claimed that Hamas “beheaded”, “killed” or “murdered” 40 babies in Kfar Aza. X user @lalayloosh identified (archive) some of the newspapers that carried the same claim as well.
“I mean, I — I’ve been doing this a long time. I never really thought that I would see and have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children. I never thought I’d ever — anyway. I — But there are countries in the region that are trying to be of some help, including Arab nations that are trying to be of some help. So, anyway,” Biden said.
What’s going on in Gaza?
The post is part of a deluge of pictures, videos, and claims that surfaced following Israel’s declaration of war (archive) against Hamas after the group launched a “surprise attack” (archive), resulting in hundreds of casualties.
Hamas — a Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip — used its armed wing, the Izzeddin al-Qassam Brigades, in the 7 October 2023 attack that was formally named Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. In his response, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told (archive) residents of the area to evacuate as his country’s forces would “turn all Hamas hideouts into rubble”.
Over 2,300 Palestinians have been killed and close to 10,000 wounded by the Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip. Moreover, “at least 53 people have been reported killed in the West Bank, with more than 1,100 wounded,” according to a report by The Guardian (archive).
On the other hand, the Israeli army says “at least 279 of its soldiers had been killed” since the 7 October Hamas attack, while 1,300 Israelis were also killed and at least 3,400 wounded in total, the publication reported.
Fact or Fiction?
Soch Fact Check found that the reporter quote-tweeted (archive) the story and wrote that the soldiers she met “believe” that 40 minors were “killed”. She wrote “babies/children”, further leading to doubts over the claim that those allegedly murdered were actually babies or not.
“The exact death toll is still unknown as the military continues to go house to house and find more Israeli casualties,” she wrote.
She has based her claim solely on IDF’s David Ben Zion’s testimony. During an interview (archive) with i24NEWS, Zion can be heard saying, “We walk door after door. We carry a lot of tourists. We are stronger than them [Hamas], they are aggressive, they are very bad. They cut [the] heads of children, cut [the] heads of women but we are stronger than them.”
In another tweet, Zedeck wrote (archive) that she “saw a blood spattered baby crib flipped on its side, children’s bicycles lining the sidewalks, one of the commanders told me they saw babies heads cut off.” This is again a secondary account and does not provide evidence that she saw the bodies, decapacitated or otherwise, only that she witnessed things used for children in the aftermath of the attack.
Another journalist, Bel Trew, who is the chief international correspondent associated with The Independent, tweeted (archive) that an Israeli major told her “they found decapitated bodies of women, children”.
However, she added, “To clarify we were not shown these bodies, I cannot independently verify),” which makes her claim baseless as well. She has referenced “babies were slaughtered” in this piece (archive).
Trew later deleted that tweet, instead writing (archive) on X, “I just wanted to clarify that I did not tweet 40 babies had been beheaded. I tweeted that foreign media had been told women and children had been decapitated but we had not been shown bodies – which was my response to reports which had gone viral about the 40 babies. I realised the way my tweet was written was too short to explain the full context, so deleted it. My headline of my story references that toddlers were killed.”
Her story published in The Independent (archive), nonetheless, still makes the same claim with the title, “Inside the border village where ‘babies slaughtered’ in Hamas attack.” Interestingly, it, too, mentions that the claim was “impossible to verify”.
On the other hand, Anadolu Agency (archive) quoted the Israeli army itself saying they did not have “confirmation” about allegations that “Hamas beheaded babies”. When asked about the claim, the Israeli military spokesperson unit told the agency over the phone, “We have seen the news, but we do not have any details or confirmation about that.”
Sky News said (archive) they have not seen the evidence of 40 dead babies, including those beheaded. “We have asked the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) three times to confirm those numbers. They have not yet. [It] does not mean it didn’t happen. We saw a body bag with one child in it today when we were at Kfar Aza with this facility by the Israeli army.”
Meanwhile, the IDF said women, children, toddlers, and the elderly were “brutally butchered in an ISIS way of action”, according to a CNN report (archive). It makes no mention of babies or the number of babies allegedly killed.
Journalists were allowed to speak to the soldiers on site without the supervision of the army’s team of spokespeople, Ziv said. They also quoted (archive) the army’s spokesperson as saying, “We can not confirm at this point… we are aware of the heinous acts Hamas is capable of.”
French journalist Samuel Forey, who also visited Kfar Aza, said that the emergency service personnel he talked to could not verify the claim.
“I checked with two emergency services (wishing to remain anonymous, as the subject is sensitive), who collected a number of corpses. Both claim that they have not witnessed such abuses — without saying that it did not exist,” his tweet (archive) reads.
On 11 October, Tal Heinrich, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also made the claim that babies and toddlers were found with their “heads decapitated” in Kfar Aza, as reported by CNN (archive).
A day later, on 12 October, CNN presenter Sara Sidner wrote (archive) on X that the “Israeli government now says today it CANNOT confirm babies were beheaded”. She apologised and said she should have been more careful with her words.
The post Sidner quote-tweeted was by CNN, which wrote (archive), “Babies and toddlers were found with their ‘heads decapitated’ in Kfar Aza in southern Israel after Hamas’ attacks in the kibbutz over the weekend, a spokesperson for Israel’s prime minister says.”
An article (archive) by CNN stated that an Israeli official whom the outlet spoke with contradicted the previous statement by the Israeli PM’s office about Hamas attackers cutting off the heads of babies.
The media outlet further clarified that despite going through multiple media shared online, it “has not seen anything that would appear to confirm the claims of decapitated children” and its team “saw no evidence of beheaded youths” during their visit to Kfar Aza, neither did Israeli officials release “any photographs of the incident”.
As for the US President Biden’s claims of having confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children”, the White House itself denied Biden’s claims, with a spokesperson saying that neither the US officials nor the president had “seen pictures or confirmed such reports independently”, according to The Washington Post (archive).
“The president based his comments about the alleged atrocities on the claims from Netanyahu’s spokesman and media reports from Israel, according to the White House. […] An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson declined to comment on the state of victims’ bodies,” the publication wrote.
The excerpt above is available under an update titled “Netanyahu says ‘every Hamas member is a dead man’ in televised speech” on The Washington Post.
Several media outlets also picked up the claim, including NBC Montana, LBC, NDTV, The Times of Israel, Fox News, Daily Mail, OpIndia, Metro, National Post, Business Insider, The Independent, The Jewish Chronicle, The Yeshiva World, The Messenger, The Australian, First Post, The New York Post, Times of India, and Jewish News Syndicate.
The claim was also carried by numerous newspapers such as The Daily Express, Metro, Daily Mail, and The Times. It was also picked up by Indian channel Times Now.
Interestingly, the Israel Foreign Ministry’s verified YouTube channel uploaded a brief clip (archive) titled “Babies Can’t Read The Text In This Video But Their Parents Can,” which has rainbows and unicorns on a bubblegum pink background and features the following text:
“We know that you child cannot read this
We have an important message to tell you as parents
40 infants were murdered in Israel
By the Hamas terrorists (ISIS).
Just as you would do everything for your child.
We will do everything to protect ours.
Now hug your baby and stand with us.
The clip, which is also reportedly being promoted as an advertisement for people watching other videos, has the following text in its description:
“Infants and toddlers can’t read the text in this video, but their parents can. 40 babies were murdered by Hamas terrorists. We know you’d do everything you could to keep your children safe. That’s what we plan on doing.”
The video by the Israel Foreign Ministry has been viewed more than a million times as of writing time.
Conclusion: The reporter who broke the story says she “believes” an account of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which seems to be her sole source of information. She has not stated that she independently verified the news before reporting. Other journalists who visited the site of the attack said they had not seen any evidence to support the claim. The Israeli army has also said they do not have “confirmation” about allegations that Hamas “beheaded” babies.
Background image in cover photo: Oleg Vakhromov
To submit an appeal on our fact-check, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org