In the first weeks after the terrorist attack on Israel, information circulated in the media that Hamas had beheaded 40 children. Naturally, it evoked strong emotions. However, it quickly turned out that the news may not be completely true. Almost two months have passed since these events, so we decided to take a closer look at this issue after the emotions had partially subsided. We analysed where this narrative came from and whether we can determine how much truth there is to it.
CAUTION: The content of this article contains descriptions of murder and mutilation, as well as links to graphic content. We ask our Readers to take this into consideration and make an informed decision about reading this text.
At the same time, we want to emphasise that the article is a case study and should be treated as such. It is intended to show how chaotic the information circulating in the media can be, especially in the case of such traumatic events evoking extreme emotions. We leave it to our readers to evaluate the situation described in the article.
Hamas commits a massacre at the kibbutz
On 7 October, 2023, there was a brutal attack by Hamas militants on the Israeli border territories. In addition to a music festival, targets included kibbutzim (cooperative farms). Typically, several hundred people live there and they constitute a small, somewhat closed community. It was in one of them, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, that the massacre of civilians took place.
Hands-on investigation in Kfar Aza
3 days after the attack, on 10 October, media representatives were invited to the crime scene. As indicated by the PolitiFact and Tjekdet portals, it was then that news about the decapitated children in Kfar Aza first appeared on the Israeli news channel i24 News. It was reported by Nicole Zedeck, who obtained it from Israeli soldiers. During her second live appearance on 10 October, she reported that decapitated children had been found at the kibbutz. However, during the last live segment, she stated that 40 children corpses had been found. Some people probably incorrectly merged these two statements by the journalist, and the discussed narrative originated from the misinterpretation of these words.
Manipulated words by Nicole Zedeck
At the same time, however, a manipulated recording of Nicole Zedeck’s words was circulating on the Internet. It was presented during the American radio program The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show, during which the journalist was interviewed. She was asked to refer to a viral recording in which the presenter’s words about the decapitated youngest victims were questioned. The segment about this case starts at 4:50. Nicole Zedeck responded by saying that it was “sickening” to demand evidence in the form of photos and videos of dead children. While adding that it should apply to the whole situation, not only fragments of her material from Kfar Aza.
Indeed, Nicole Zedeck’s words, which were spoken during the presented recording, were cut and edited to change their context. They can be heard at 5:30. They were prepared in such a way as to suggest that the journalist stated that she had seen decapitated children with her own eyes. However, when we look at the original reports from Kfar Aza, it turns out that this was never the case. Two sentences from Nicole Zedeck’s second segment were used to create the manipulated recording. It can be found here (below the tweet embedded in the article). The sentences used for manipulation can be heard at 0:17 and 1:36. In fact, the reporter emphasised twice that she received information about the decapitated youngest victims from Israeli soldiers, without ever claiming to have seen them with her own eyes.
Reports from other journalists
French journalist with the LCI channel, Margot Haddad, confirmed Nicole Zedeck’s reports, saying that she had photos and recordings of decapitated children, but would never share them due to their brutality. She also emphasised that the total number of victims was unknown and she was unable to confirm how many children died.
Information about beheaded people was also reported by CNN’s Nic Robertson, although he did not state that it specifically concerned the youngest victims. Similar statements appeared in a Reuters article, and here too it was not specified which of the dead were found decapitated.
Where did the narrative come from?
This information then reached other media, both foreign and Polish. Kfar Aza was called “Israeli Bucha”. Fakt daily clearly stated in one of the headlines that “infants were beheaded.” The Belarusian opposition news portal Nexta reported on its X profile that all 40 murdered children were beheaded. The same number was repeated by an American actor of Jewish origin, Noah Schnapp, and it also appeared on TikTok. This is the number that has been circulating the most on the Internet.
The President of the United States, Joe Biden, also commented on this topic, which caused the issue to become global. During the press conference he stated:
“I never really thought that I would see and have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children.”
Due to such claims, social media exploded with heated discussions about these events, generating extreme emotions.
Did Hamas behead 40 children? Conflicting reports
The next day, 11 October, the White House had to clarify Joe Biden’s words. As the U.S. president’s administration stated, he had not actually seen the photos he mentioned and was only referring to media reports. Meanwhile, journalist Oren Ziv from the Israeli reported that during his visit to Kfar Aza he saw no evidence of beheadings of children. Israeli soldiers and commanders also did not provide him with such information. Samuel Forey, a French journalist for Le Monde and Le Soir, was also unable to confirm the reports circulating online. Based on information from the spokesman of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Turkish website Anadolu reported that the Israeli army also cannot confirm that such a situation took place.
On 12 October, CNN informed that the Israeli government are not able to confirm the information about beheadings of children. At the same time, CNN also emphasized that its journalists on site did not see evidence of the claims in question. However, on the same day, the Jerusalem Post reported “based on verified photos” that children had been beheaded. The newspaper referred to photos shared on X (WARNING: graphic content!) by the official account of the Prime Minister of Israel. However, they depict burned remains of infants and it is impossible to confirm whether their heads were cut off.
In just three days, contradictory information began to circulate on the Internet. The information chaos surrounding the events at Kibbutz Kfar Aza was considerable. The situation was not improved by emotional discussions on social media.
IDF representatives in the media
On 11 October, Jonathan Conricus, spokesman for the IDF, stated “with relative certainty” during a broadcast on X that children were decapitated at Kibbutz Be’eri, several kilometres southwest of Kfar Aza. Meanwhile, Yossi Landau, head of the ZAKA organization (which brings together civilian, volunteer crisis response teams) for southern Israel, presented his experiences regarding the events in question within a few days.
On 11 October, he said that he had personally seen beheaded children in Kfar Aza. On 13 October, in an interview for the Indian TV Republic World, he clearly stated that Hamas was chopping off heads of babies. On 17 October, in an interview with CNN, he reported that he had seen a body of a teenager with a chopped off head. The same day, on Fox News, he described extreme violence, including against children, but did not mention decapitations. During an interview on Israeli television Now 14 on 24 October, Landau said that he personally carried bodies of murdered children and babies who had been decapitated.
At the same time, within a few days of the on-site inspection in Kfar Aza, many other representatives of the Israeli military provided information about the decapitations of the youngest civilians. They included IDF spokesman Libby Weiss, IDF search and rescue chief Golan Vach, IDF Chief Rabbi Haim Weisberg, and an anonymous person from the IDF North America press office.
Israeli and American authorities comment on the events
As already mentioned, Joe Biden commented on the events in Kfar Aza on 10 October. However, the meaning of his statement had to be clarified by the White House press office. On 15 October, during a conference, he reiterated that Hamas beheaded children. Three days later he also raised this issue. On 12 October, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Israeli showed him photos of „depravity and inhumanity directed at babies, at small children, at young adults, at elderly people, at people with disabilities.” However, he did not confirm that they had been decapitated. He only saw the decapitated bodies of Israeli soldiers.
On 11 October, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN that babies and toddlers were found in Kfar Aza with their “heads decapitated.” The next morning, neither an anonymous representative of the Israeli authorities nor (as already mentioned) the IDF could confirm the claim that Hamas beheaded babies, contradicting the previous statement of the prime minister’s office. However, Netanyahu claimed both during Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Biden’s visits to Israel that Hamas beheaded people. Just like the previously mentioned representatives of the armed forces. This means that only on the evening of 11 October and the next day did the Israeli authorities state that the circulating information was uncertain, and at the same time they did so through the mouths of anonymous representatives. Yet, both the day before and the day after, the narrative from Israel was clear: Hamas had beheaded children. However, the exact number of the youngest victims with such injuries was never given, nor whether they were found in Kfar Aza, because the reports were not clear.
On 20 October, Israel’s National Center for Forensic Medicine invited journalists to view the bodies of Hamas victims. The Media Line news agency confirmed (WARNING: graphic content!) that its representatives saw bodies of decapitated children during their visit.
Finally, it should be noted that Hamas has unequivocally denied any reports of children’s decapitations, calling them lies.
Did Hamas behead 40 children at Kibbutz Kfar Aza? The number in this question comes from combining two statements made by an Israeli journalist during her reporting from Kfar Aza. Official Israeli statements never indicated exactly how many children were decapitated. The media and Internet users reported this number without verifying its source. At the same time, the information chaos surrounding this case made it very difficult to figure out what was true and what was not. In the above article, we presented the facts we managed to gather in connection with the Kfar Aza massacre. Many of them contain contradictory reports and it is impossible to say unequivocally at this point which ones can be considered fully reliable. Therefore, no final conclusions can be drawn based on the information presented.