Secretary of State Tony Blinken and President Joseph Biden have each echoed demonstrably false ZAKA testimonies about Hamas atrocities.
Marred by allegations of financial fraud, ZAKA is leveraging October 7 publicity to raise unprecedented sums of cash.
Its rival, United Hatzalah, has spun out bogus tales of babies baked in ovens as it closes in on a $50 million fundraising goal.
During an October 31 Senate hearing on Israel's war in Gaza, Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered his rationale for rejecting a ceasefire. Summoning as much emotion as a dour Democratic Party operative could muster, Blinken conjured up a gruesome scene intended to illustrate the savagery of Hamas, and the impossibility of negotiations with such an organization:
"A young boy and girl, 6 and 8 years old, and their parents around the breakfast table. The father's eye gouged out in front of his kids. The mother's breast cut off, the girl's foot amputated, the boy's fingers cut off before they were executed."The Secretary of State concluded, "That is what this [Israeli] society is dealing with."
Though Blinken did not state the source of his disturbing claim - and was not prompted to do so by any senator - it matched testimony delivered by Yossi Landau, the head of operations for the southern Israel region of a religious "disaster victim identification" organization called ZAKA. Indeed, Landau has rehashed various forms of the story Blinken referenced since October 12, detailing how Hamas militants viciously mutilated and killed a 6 and 8 year-old child and their parents in Kibbutz Beeri before dining in their home.
Despite the presence of multiple potential witnesses inside Beeri before ZAKA arrived to collect dead bodies, independent testimony corroborating Landau's claim has yet to surface. Further, there are no recorded deaths of siblings around the age of 6 to 8 in Beeri on October 7. Any record of a young child killed in the manner Landau described is similarly nonexistent, as are photos of the murdered family he described. In fact, the only siblings anywhere close to this age range who died in the community on that day — 12-year-old twins Liel and Yanai Hetrzroni — were killed by Israeli tank shelling.
Landau's story - and by extension, Blinken's testimony before the Senate - therefore appears to have been spun out of whole cloth; a cynical fabrication intended to dramatize the supposed barbarism of Hamas in order to widen the political space for Israel's rampage in the Gaza Strip. As this investigation will demonstrate, Landau's tale was merely one of many tall tales concocted by a small circle of dubious characters who have managed to shape the official narrative of October 7 in Western media.
Though Israeli officials played a central role in Tel Aviv's misinformation campaign surrounding the events of October 7 — falsely claiming, for instance, that the bodies of dead Jewish babies were found dangling from a laundry line in one kibbutz — the most inflammatory allegations have emerged from a collection of ultra-Orthodox volunteer organizations such as ZAKA. Though ZAKA specializes "in body collection and disposal," the group has no coronary credentials and is staffed by droves of poorly trained volunteers.
From "confirming" the fraudulent story of beheaded babies found in a kibbutz to blatantly inventing others about Hamas fighters cutting fetuses out of pregnant women's bodies, severing a little girl's arm, and baking a baby in an oven, ZAKA and rival groups have demonstrated a remarkable gift for seeding the media with depraved tales of alleged Hamas brutality. In doing so, they have armed Western leaders like Blinken and President Joe Biden with the narrative they would weaponize in order to block ceasefire proposals and rearm a military that has killed over 15,000 civilians in Gaza in less than two months.
ZAKA now sits at the center of the Tel Aviv's campaign to convince the world that Hamas not only raped Israeli women on October 7, but has continued to abuse female hostages ever since. Indeed, Israel's newly-unveiled, factually challenged "Civil Commission on Oct. 7th Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children" is heavily dependent on graphic second-hand claims provided by ZAKA. Yet it has been unable to produce a single firsthand testimony or video proving allegations of mass rape.
Legacy media outlets have since repeated the group's dubious allegations, with the UK's Sunday Times, for example, dutifully quoting a senior ZAKA staffer who claimed: "it was clear they were trying to spread as much horror as they could — to kill, to burn alive, to rape."
ZAKA's presence at the heart of a high-level rape investigation, however, is fraught with irony. Until recently, Israeli media coverage of the organization largely focused on gruesome sex crimes committed by its founder, ultra-Orthodox bigwig Yehuda Meshi-Zahav. Known among Jerusalem's Orthodox community as "the Haredi Jeffrey Epstein" due to his well-documented penchant for raping young people of both sexes, Meshi-Zahav's decades-long rampage of sexual abuse was undoubtedly known to ZAKA staffers — and only came to an end following his suicide.
In addition to being a serial rapist, ZAKA's longtime leader was a profligate hustler, financing a lavish lifestyle with millions of dollars illegally pocketed from his organization. Brad Pearce, an independent scholar who published an extensive profile of ZAKA's corruption in October 2023, described the group as "the most opaque and suspicious non-governmental organization I have ever investigated."
Since its volunteers first emerged on the streets of Israel on their trademark motorbikes during the 1990s, ZAKA has engaged in a publicity war with rival ultra-Orthodox rescue groups such as United Hatzalah in a bid for millions from wealthy Jewish donors abroad. The competition between these organizations appears to be driving the stream of fake atrocity stories pouring in from both volunteer groups. The more promotion each outfit generates from the media and Western leaders, the more likely they are to smash their own fundraising goals.
The shock of October 7 has indeed proven a fundraising bonanza for these notoriously unscrupulous religious organizations, enabling them to transform the Israeli government, Western media outlets such as CNN, and the Biden administration into free publicity agents.
ZAKA's Yossi Landau, master storyteller who duped Biden and Blinken
After militants from Hamas overran southern Israeli military bases enforcing the siege of the Gaza Strip and nearby communities on October 7, Jewish Israeli society descended into an unprecedented state of trauma. The widespread sense of insecurity soon morphed into an almost insatiable lust for vengeance as Tel Aviv's vast propaganda apparatus mobilized to justify Israel's ensuing slaughter of Gaza's civilian population, which Israeli leadership have held collectively responsible for the events of October 7. Indeed, even after the Israeli army destroyed the majority of residential structures in northern Gaza, only 1.8% of Jewish Israelis told pollsters this December that they believed their country's military was using too much firepower.
With the death toll in Gaza rising by the thousands each week, Israeli government spinmeisters have sought out the most lurid testimonies from October 7 to explain why their campaign of collective punishment is not only necessary from a military standpoint, but a morally sound response. With help from loyal international media outlets, Israel's propaganda complex found that Washington was all too eager to echo and promote its bunk stories of beheaded babies and families savagely mutilated by Hamas.
And as we will see, some of the most obscene fabrications disseminated by Israel's government and echoed in Washington originated from one man with an especially active imagination: Yossi Landau of ZAKA.
According to Landau, anyone who questions his version of events "should be killed."
against the advice of his aides. As CBS News reported on October 11, Landau said he "saw with his own eyes children and babies who had been beheaded."
An Israeli army spokesperson took Landau's claim and ran with it, declaring that "a senior official in the Israeli coronary service" had confirmed the allegation of beheaded babies. In fact, ZAKA is a religious service with no coronary qualifications.
The claim then made its way to CNN, which dedicated almost an entire hour of a primetime broadcast to the imagined atrocity based on "confirmation" from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. US President Joe Biden echoed the allegation next, sleepily proclaiming during a press conference that he had seen "pictures of terrorists beheading children." The president thus ignored the record of confirmed deaths from October 7, which showed that only one baby, a 10-month-old named Mila Cohen, had been killed.
Before long, both CNN's Sara Sidner and the Biden White House were forced to retract their claims about beheaded babies:
"The president based his comments about the alleged atrocities on the claims from Netanyahu's spokesman and media reports from Israel."Netanyahu and the Israeli media, meanwhile, had based their claims entirely on statements by ZAKA's Landau. Perhaps entranced by his ability to galvanize Israel's propaganda arsenal and manipulate the leadership of his own country and the global superpower that sponsored it, the religious nationalist activist soon expanded his elaborate fabrications about the events of October 7.
In an October 12 interview with the Israeli Foreign Ministry-funded i24 channel, Landau claimed that upon entering a home in Kibbutz Beeri:
"We see a pregnant lady lying on the floor, and then we turn her around and see that the stomach is cut open, wide open. The unborn baby, still connected with an umbilical cord, was stabbed with a knife. And the mother was shot in the head. And you use your imagination, trying to figure out what came first."Landau appears to have crafted this testimony based on a rumor that an anonymous military source spread online two days prior. According to the source, the supposedly pregnant victim was 30 years old. This alone discredited Landau's claim, because the only female victims recorded in or around Beeri were 44-year-old Rinat Segev Even and 22-year-old Tair Bira — and neither were pregnant. In fact, no pregnant women were registered among those killed on October 7.
Kibbutz Beeri tacitly denied Landau's claims in a December 3 statement to the Israeli paper Haaretz, declaring, "the story of the pregnant woman reported by ZAKA is not relevant to Beeri." As one source involved in examining the bodies explained to the outlet, "the volunteers are not pathology experts and have no professional tools to identify the murdered person and his age, or to declare the manner in which he was slaughtered." For their part, Israeli police assert they have no record of the incident.
In a desperate bid to validate Landau's dubious claims, an Israeli social media user created a video combining the ZAKA volunteer's testimony with footage of a Mexican drug cartel torturing a prisoner to death. The fake video quickly went viral in Hebrew social media circles, even attracting the attention of Israeli President Isaac Herzog's wife. In a November 22 op-ed for Newsweek, Israeli First Lady Michal Herzog asserted that "a Hamas video from a kibbutz shows terrorists torturing a pregnant woman and removing her fetus."
Of course, no such video existed. The only source was Landau, the master storyteller from ZAKA.
Meanwhile, Landau insisted that he "saw 20 children shot, burned and piled together in two piles." He added that the children's hands had been tied before they were supposedly burned by Hamas militants. Yet this was an absolute impossibility, as a total of 13 children were killed during the October 7 attack — and the most found in a single location was 3. And as The Grayzone previously revealed, the largest pile of burned Israeli bodies in Kibbutz Beeri were scorched after the Israeli military decided to deliberately shell a home filled with 13 Israeli captives.
Landau then told i24 that he stepped into a neighboring house and witnessed yet another gut-wrenching atrocity:
"In the living room we see two parents, mother and father, with hands tied behind their backs. Lying by their side were two small children, with their hands also tied behind their back. They were all burned to death. The terrorists were sitting at the table and eating while they torched them to death."The bogus testimony quickly reverberated on Washington's Capitol Hill, where it was repeated almost word-for-word by Secretary of State Blinken during an October 31 Senate hearing. As explained above, there is simply no record of any children killed in the manner Landau described, or any dead matching the ages of 6 and 7 which he claimed. (Blinken said they were 6 and 8). The closest match among all those killed on October 7 was Eitan and Alin Kapshitter, who were 5 and 8 years old, respectively. They were not killed in a house, however, but in a car when their parents tragically drove into the crossfire of Israeli and Hamas forces by mistake.
As Landau's macabre tales generated international headlines, his colleague at ZAKA, Simcha Dizingoff, spouted off a few made-for-foreign-media-consumption stories of his own. Describing an October 11 visit to Kfar Aza, Dizingoff told The Guardian that he saw "a woman, naked from the waist down, [who] had been bent over a bed and then shot in the back of the head. When the team tried to move her, a live grenade rolled out of her clenched hand."
Considering the Israeli army had already cleared the kibbutz by October 11, his account raised serious questions. How did the army's bomb disposal experts miss a live grenade in the hand of a naked woman splayed out over a bed? And why has Israel's newly formed "Civil Commission on Oct 7th Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children," which is frantically searching for any shred of evidence implicating Hamas in mass rape, so far failed to mention this shocking incident?
Yet Dizingoff's feverish imagination kept churning, as he claimed to have seen "one child, aged about six, had been killed by a knife plunged into his skull."
The official record of deaths from Kfar Aza shows that no child younger than 14 was killed in the kibbutz, making Dizingoff's version of events virtually impossible. As with the graphic fables spun by Landau, Dizengoff provided no documentation to back up his claims — no cellphone photos, forensic evidence, or even corroborating testimony.
As cynical as the ZAKA fabrications may seem, they were entirely consistent with the ethos of the organization and its founder: a serial sex abuser who funneled millions from donors into his own decadent pursuits.
Founded by "the Haredi Jeffrey Epstein," corruption-stained Zaka raises a fortune off October 7 fabulism
ZAKA was officially established in 1995 with the aim of enabling ultra-Orthodox Jews who do not serve in Israel's military to assist security operations by collecting the bodies and body parts of those killed in accidents or conflict, washing away their blood and arranging their proper religious disposal. According to ZAKA's website, the group "works in close cooperation with Israel's Foreign Ministry, the IDF and other government bodies."
The group's founder, Yehuda Meshi Zahav, an ultra-Orthodox bigwig from a rabbinical family that had lived in Jerusalem for 11 generations, ran Zaka until March 2021. That month, after winning the prestigious Israel Prize "for contributions to society" — granted to him by current Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant — Meshi Zahav was bombarded by a wave of sexual abuse and rape allegations from people of both sexes, including children.
Sexual abuse allegations surrounding Meshi Zahav and his family first emerged in 2003, when YNet reported that Yehuda's brother, Moshe Meshi Zahav, had been arrested under suspicion of indecent acts with minors, and of financially enticing young girls into sex. Having joined ZAKA at its foundation, it is virtually impossible that Landau was unaware of his boss' reputation. It's similarly difficult to imagine how Zaka's myriad of secular boosters within Israeli leadership, who depend on the group as a rare bridge to Israel's ultra-Orthodox community, were ignorant of its scandalous past.
By March 2021, Israeli news sites were awash with detailed accounts of alleged sexual abuse experienced at the hands of Meshi-Zahav provided by male and female victims alike. One accuser told Haaretz that Meshi-Zahav warned her, "If you say anything to anyone, a ZAKA van will run you over."
Another Orthodox source told YNet that:
"ZAKA founder's record of rape was no secret. We're talking about loads of people. For him, everything goes - women, children, boys and girls, and if animals could talk and tell their stories, I've no doubt we would've found out he was playing around with them too. Everything that moves, essentially.Meshi-Zahav's illicit behavior extended to ZAKA's financial operations. A 2013 report by Israel's Mako found the CEO successfully siphoned off millions of donations to the organization to finance his opulent lifestyle, including a luxury villa. When the rape allegations emerged eight years later, Israeli media revealed that Zaka's used shadow organizations managed by Meshi-Zahav's family to funnel money back into the private accounts of the organization's leadership.
"I remember a story where he went to a matzah bakery and groomed young boys who worked there ahead of Passover so they would have intercourse for his enjoyment. He was truly the Haredi Jeffrey Epstein."
In 2022, a Haaretz investigation established that ZAKA increased its share of state funding by lying to the Israeli government, inflating its number of volunteers by 2,000. Landau appeared to be involved in the grift, claiming in 2019 that his group oversaw 3,000 volunteers when, in fact, only about 1,000 were active.
From early October to the time of this article's publication, ZAKA has raked in $3.3 million of a fundraising target that was recently updated from $3 to $4.5 million. Donors who chip in over $1,000 are promised a decorative medal commemorating Israel's "Iron Swords" military assault on Gaza.
As a 2016 Haaretz investigation explained, Zaka has been engaged in an intense battle for publicity — and the money that follows it — with similar Orthodox auxiliary rescue teams. Among its top rivals is a group called United Hatzalah, which is also capitalizing on October 7 and Israel's ensuing campaign of ethnic cleansing in Gaza to raise loads of money for its operations.
In their own bid for attention, United Hatzalah's director cooked up perhaps the most absurd atrocity fabrication yet.
Lying big in Las Vegas
"We saw a little baby in an oven. Those bastards put these babies in an oven and [turned] on the oven. We found the kid a few hours later," Eli Beer, the director of United Hatzalah declared on October 30, recalling his organization's rescue operation in southern Israel earlier that month.
Clad in the orange safety vest that has become the trademark of United Hatzalah volunteers, Beer stood before an audience of wealthy Zionists gathered in Las Vegas, Nevada for the annual Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) summit. The confab was held in its traditional venue, the Venetian Resort established by its top funder, the late Likudnik oligarch Sheldon Adelson. While shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to Netanyahu-friendly media outlets, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, managed to rank as the top individual donors to the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump.
By stirring dark memories of Nazi Germany's gassing of Jews during the Holocaust, Beer's shocking story became the highlight of the RJC conference, earning tabloid headlines and sending pro-Israel pundits into an indignant frenzy.
Caroline Glick, the rabidly anti-Palestinian Jewish News Service editor, led the attempt to validate Beer's claim: "They BAKED A JEWISH BABY ALIVE in an oven." Glick shrieked on Twitter/X: "They murdered his father. They gang raped his mother, over and over and laughed all along. While they baked her baby alive in the oven. The Palestinians support Hamas. They LOVE Hamas. NO RESUPPLY. NO CONCESSIONS. NO MERCY."
John Podhoretz, the editor of the once-influential neoconservative Commentary Magazine, echoed Glick: "THEY BAKED A BABY IN AN OVEN. Say ceasefire one more time you fucking baby-murdering-loving ghouls," he ranted on Twitter/X. The posts by Glick and Podhoretz have been retweeted over 22,000 times.
Chaim Levinson, an Israeli reporter for the liberal Haaretz newspaper, took a more skeptical view of Beer's performance. "Like any good Jew who sees the rich, [Beer] thought about the money and told a story that did not exist...about a baby in an oven," Levinson tweeted.
Indeed, Beer's story was another fraud debunked via one simple fact: as we have seen, the only baby killed on October 7 was 10-month-old Mila Cohen, who tragically died from a gunshot wound. A United Hatzalah spokesman publicly acknowledged Beer's deceit on December 3, blaming "a volunteer who thought he saw such a case."
That volunteer was likely Asher Moskowitz, a United Hatzalah operative who claimed to have seen the burned corpse of the non-existent baby. While at Camp Shura, the Israeli military base transformed to a center for identifying October 7 casualties, Moskowitz said he saw the severely charred body of a baby arrive from Kfar Aza, a kibbutz with no recorded infant casualties. "They took the baby and put it, literally, in a kitchen oven," the United Hatzalah volunteer alleged in video testimony.
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which cited Moskowitz, the baby "arrived in a small bag whose contents told a grim story: a tiny body, burnt and swollen, with the telltale marks from being pressed against a heating element."
"The body hardened and, unfortunately, appeared to have also swollen," he said. "And really, the heating element of the oven was on the body itself."
Thus, the claim that the baby had been discovered in an oven was pure speculation — based solely on the state of the supposed corpse, or of body parts Moskowitz might have viewed. For droves of credulous pro-Israel media consumers, the story stopped here.
But the existence of charred bodies and body parts like the kind Moskowitz claimed to have seen suggested an alternate scenario which was no less disturbing: as The Grayzone reported, many Israelis and Palestinian infiltrators were comprehensively burned in their vehicles by Hellfire missiles fired by Israeli helicopters on October 7 - an unsettling fact confirmed by a police investigation and an Israeli citizen recently released from captivity in Gaza.
Though the "baked baby" claims Beer and Moskowitz were resoundingly debunked, United Hatzalah staff continued to find new high-profile venues to spin their tall tales about October 7.
Hatzalah leader fabricates child's mutilation-murder for CNN's Jake Tapper
During a November 1 interview with CNN's vehemently pro-Israel host Jake Tapper, United Hatzalah Deputy Director of International Emergency Operations Linor Attias tearfully recalled discovering an entire family in Kibbutz Beeri — two parents, a 6-year-old boy, and an 11-year-old girl — who had been tied up and shot execution-style.
There was no 6-year-old boy recorded among the dead in Beeri, however. Further, only two girls close to 11-years-old died in the small community on October 7: 12-year-old Liel Hetzroni, confirmed to have been killed by an Israeli tank shell alongside her twin brother, and 13-year-old Yahel Sharabi, who was killed in a home with her family in a manner eerily similar to Hetzroni. (Hetzroni's body was so badly burned it took 30 days to identify her). It was therefore clear that Attias fabricated the account she provided to an unquestioning Tapper.
Attias was not done with her yarns, however. Sobbing openly while making a slicing motion across her forearm, she told Tapper that she discovered "a little girl around 8 or 9 years old, and they cut her hand over here."
"They just cut it off," she added. "No hand." Attias said she attempted to perform a tourniquet, but the girl suddenly stopped breathing and died.
"How old was she?" Tapper asked.
Having described the child one minute before as "8 or 9 years old," Attias now replied that she was "around 10. 10 or 12 years old. I don't know."
But as explained above, only two girls were recorded among the dead in Beeri within the age range Attias described. And neither girl died alone like the one in Attias' account, or under remotely similar circumstances.
Two weeks before her on-camera appearance with CNN's Tapper, Attias granted an interview to Jay Ruderman, a wealthy Zionist philanthropist and former AIPAC deputy director who chairs the Ruderman Family Foundation. For 20 minutes, she spoke calmly, without tears, delivering clinical details of what she saw on October 7. These included "one emotional thing" she said she encountered during a visit to Kibbutz Beeri, but strangely contained no mention of the mutilated girl who supposedly died in her arms.
So why did it take the United Hatzalah deputy director three weeks to divulge the horrific death she supposedly witnessed? Why has photographic evidence of the young girl mutilated by Hamas failed to materialize? And why was she the only person to ever mention this horrific death?
The answers all point to yet another highly imaginative fabrication by a staff member of an organization which recently announced a whopping $49.6 million fundraising target to support 7000 volunteers supposedly operating under its watch.
ZAKA's Landau: those who question me "should be killed"
So far, only a minuscule number of the news organizations that amplified the many deceptions, distortions, and half-truths by ZAKA and United Hatzalah have issued corrections. For his part, ZAKA's Yossi Landau proclaimed in a December 3 interview that anyone who questions his stories "should be together with the Hamas terrorists, and he should be killed."
As Landau wishes death on his critics, ZAKA and its rivals in United Hatzalah continue to rake in unprecedented sums from the Jewish diaspora.
"These things cost money," Yerach Tucker, a media advisor to the co-founder of United Hatzalah, said of his organization's operations. "There are costs and it requires donations. This is where public opinion and the desire for publicity come into play."
About the Author:
Max Blumenthal is editor-in-chief of The Grayzone, Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of several books, including best-selling Republican Gomorrah, Goliath, The Fifty One Day War, and The Management of Savagery. He has produced print articles for an array of publications, many video reports, and several documentaries, including Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded The Grayzone in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America's state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.