[Reader caution advised. This article includes descriptions of events on Oct. 7, when terrorists attacked kibbutzim and towns in southern Israel and a rave concert in the nearby desert.]
A 43-minute video of atrocities committed by Hamas on Oct. 7 —compiled by the Israel Defense Forces — left the audience at a Nov. 9 screening angry and appalled.
Several also were vexed by the relatively small number of invitees who showed up to watch “Bearing Witness to the October 7 Massacre.”
The Israeli consulate sent hundreds of invitations to news media, academia, clergy and communal organizations, law enforcement, and elected officials. Roughly three dozen people turned up for the screening at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
“We invited very broadly,” a clearly disappointed Israeli Consul General to the Southeast Anat Sultan-Dadon said afterward. “I am grateful for those who are here,” was all she would say when asked about the invitation list, though she noted that none of the invited university presidents attended.
Rabbi Peter Berg, senior rabbi at The Temple, called the video “horrifying” and “the worst 45 minutes I can remember.”
Berg added: “Also horrifying. No ministers showed up. No university or school leadership showed up. Countless invitations were extended. A few rabbis. A few news outlets. A few law enforcement officials. A few communal leaders. Watching real footage of Hamas trying to eliminate the Jewish people in an empty room . . . Never felt more alone.”
Eric Robbins, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, called the footage “Horrendous and sickening. I had to close my eyes through much of it. For me it made it all that much more real and that’s important for everyone!”
Robbins called the attendance “very concerning and I’m not sure what it means, but it left us feeling quite alone.”
Dov Wilker, regional director of the American Jewish Committee in Atlanta, said it was “terribly disappointing that friend partners from Atlanta’s civic, religious, and ethnic communities weren’t in attendance.”
The video was produced in response to two issues Israel faced in the aftermath of Oct. 7: Claims that Israel overstated the savagery of the attacks and assertions that the brutality was justifiable as a legitimate act of resistance by Palestinians oppressed by Israel.
“Bearing Witness” contains a fraction of hundreds of hours of recordings from the body cameras and cellphones of captured or killed terrorists, the cellphones of Israelis (some taken by the terrorists who killed them), car dashboard cameras, home security systems, and Hamas social media. Much of the video previously has been accessible online, some previously used by news media.
What left the greatest impression on a writer for the AJT was not the varied ways that the terrorists abused, tortured, and executed their victims but how the terrorists smiled, laughed, cheered, boasted, and generally reveled in the killing and the cruelty they inflicted.
The video shows the terrorists hunting — moving street by street, house by house, room by room, and in the desert by pursuing fleeing partygoers in open territory and by setting up ambushes on roadways.
The terrorists shot their victims, in some cases multiple times, even as they lay dead; threw grenades into safe rooms in homes and in shelters at the concert. Some were found zip-tied to other people or with their hands bound behind their backs. Houses were burned, trapping victims inside.
The video is replete with blood-streaked walls and floors, bodies lying in random positions, and bodies burned beyond recognition and mutilated so badly (including at least one that appeared to be missing a head) that the work of identifying the dead has yet to be completed.
“As much as I thought I could prepare for it based on prior descriptions, I was stunned by the glee that I saw from the terrorists as they were killing innocent civilians just trying to live their lives,” said Democratic state Rep. Esther Panitch.
“Here, there was so much overkill, as if each victim’s existence was a personal affront to the terrorists.”
In what the IDF said was an intercepted audio, a Hamas commander is heard saying, “Walla, save ammunition, what are you doing.”
Israel had not — until recently — made public some of the most damning evidence, out of respect for the families of those killed.
“Bearing Witness” showed the bodies of those whose families had approved of their use. The video showed the deaths of 138 people, young and old, men and women, individuals, and families. Many of their faces were blurred, particularly those of children, some of whom were shot while in their beds. The footage included living, but terrified young men and women.
The first screening was held Oct. 20 for international journalists in Tel Aviv. Since then, the video has been shown in 30 countries.
Those who attended the Nov. 9 screening were not permitted to bring in devices capable of recording sound or video. Anyone taking notes did so with pen and paper.
“I decided to go to the screening because, as the invitation said, we have a responsibility to bear witness to what happened on Oct. 7. In the same way that I have watched footage and viewed photos of the horrors of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem and other places, I felt an obligation to watch this footage to be able to tell the story, especially when it feels like the rest of the world has forgotten,” Rabbi Loren Lapidus, of The Temple, said.
Doug Ross, the Vice Chair of Birthright Israel Foundation, and an active supporter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said: “I admit to having had a lot of trepidation about subjecting myself to this emotional torture knowing that I would never be the same after the experience. Even as I walked into the Federation building, I still wasn’t sure that I would be able to go through with it. I kept questioning why I was even there. This is why I chose to sit near an exit door in case it got to be too much.
“As I watched the video, I grimly resolved to watch as much as I could in order to bear witness and honor the lives of these poor, innocent souls. There were a number of times that I and others gasped and turned away,” Ross said. “As the minutes ticked by, though, I was slowly filled with a grim resolve that I needed to be there to bear witness and honor the lives of these men, women, children and babies who were so callously and savagely murdered. I experienced shock, rage, disbelief and revulsion at everything I saw, as well as an overwhelming sense of compassion toward fellow Jews and, ultimately, guilt and helplessness.”
Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly has expressed interest in showing the footage to the Israeli public, an idea opposed by psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and therapists, who fear further traumatizing of a nation already rocked by what happened on Oct. 7.
Early that morning, an estimated 3,000 terrorists, both uniformed Hamas and others in civilian garb, broke through a fence separating Israel from Gaza — traveling in cars, trucks, and motorcycles, as well as by motorized hang-gliders — killed an estimated 1,200 people (a figure revised downward from 1,400 as the bodies of the victims and slain terrorists are identified).
According to the Foreign Ministry, at least 318 active Israel Defense Forces personnel were killed, with a civilian death toll of about 800. The dead were overwhelmingly Jewish, but also included Israeli Arabs and Bedouin, as well as foreign nationals, such as those working as caregivers for elderly Israelis.
Another 240 people were kidnapped and, at this writing, are believed to be captives in Gaza. The video includes scenes of Israelis, some of them wounded, being shoved into vehicles, and driven away, and cheering in Gaza when the kidnappers arrive with their captives.
In another audio clip, an order is given: “Nobody kills, we want captives. Yes, bring them . . . bring people from inside, do it fast, come, load them up.”
“Bearing Witness” includes a scene that contrasts the callousness of a terrorist with the humanity of an Israeli boy.
A father runs across a patio with his two young sons into the “safe room” at their home. The boys go in first, while the father struggles to close the door. He is killed when a grenade explodes close to him.
The boys — bleeding and in shock — run back into kitchen. “It’s not a prank, he’s dead,” one says. “I know, I saw,” the other replies.
The younger one says that he cannot see out of one eye. As the older brother tends to his wounds as best he can, a terrorist casually rummages through the refrigerator, eventually drinking from a liter bottle of Coke before calmly leaving. [The boys survived and were reunited with their mother, who was away but is shown going limp and screaming when brought by kibbutz security personnel to the scene.]
The audience was repulsed listening to a terrorist — using the cellphone of a murdered Israeli — call his parents, boasting that he has killed 10 Israelis and has their blood on his hands. Go on WhatsApp, he tells his father, “Look how I killed them with my bare hands.”
The rave concert became a killing field, where 260 died. The terrorists fired on people running away, hiding behind cars or in bomb shelters, and even using porta-potties.
A police officer wearing a body camera arrived a few hours later. He calls out for the living but there are no answers. Talking into his radio, he counts off the dead found in and around a refreshment tent, until he can go no further and says, “I have dead people, everybody’s dead.”
Rabbi Ron Segal, of Temple Sinai, said: “The most gruesome horrors that screenwriters dream up for inhumane monsters to perpetrate in slasher films are no longer a thing of fiction. While I pray that devastating and heartbreaking civilian casualties [in Gaza] are as few as possible, I also recognize they are an unavoidable consequence of war and armed conflict. What we witnessed was far from a video showing the deaths of innocent civilians amidst a war; it was evidence of savagery, terror, barbarism, and the face of evil for which there should be no place on Earth.
“Though sad to admit it, I do not think the video will be helpful [to Israel’s cause] for a few reasons,” Segal said. “In order to appropriately honor all who were killed, the video is not being shared or widely broadcast. This, in and of itself, will limit its efficacy and impact. Perhaps it was with respect for the deceased as well as with a desire to spare viewers even worse content, the video – as terrible and gruesome as it already is – seemed to shelter viewers from even more shocking and inhuman acts of terror.”
- Dave Schechter
- Israel Defense Forces
- jewish federation of greater atlanta
- Israeli Consul General to the Southeast
- Anat Sultan-Dadon
- Rabbi Peter Berg
- The Temple
- Eric Robbins
- Dov Wilker
- Bearing Witness
- state Rep. Esther Panitch
- Yad Vashem
- Loren Lapidus
- Doug Ross
- Birthright Israel Foundation
- American Israel Public Affairs Committee
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Rabbi Ron Segal
- Temple Sinai