The Israeli government is making a concerted effort to show a raw video compilation of the murder and mutilation of its citizens and civilians by Hamas, as pressure and condemnation mounts against its military assault in the Gaza Strip.
A 45-minute video compiled from body cameras of Hamas attackers, closed-circuit television footage, video from victims’ cellphones and first responders gives an unprecedented look into how events unfolded Oct. 7.
Israel is showing the video to U.S. government officials, members of the media and outside groups as it faces international pressure to agree to a cease-fire in Gaza, where Hamas says thousands of civilians have died due to Israel’s onslaught. The U.S. recognizes Hamas as a terrorist organization.
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) called the video footage “harrowing,” after a viewing Tuesday for approximately 150 Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) saw the video for the first time Tuesday and described the footage as “unthinkable.”
“I’ll never be able to unsee any of it, but it furthers my resolve to ensure Israel has what she needs to crush Hamas and get the hostages home,” he said.
Gottheimer wants to organize another screening in partnership with the Israeli Embassy so that reporters working on Capitol Hill have the chance to see the footage. “The only way to fight antisemitism is probably with education. As painful as this, I think it’s important for as many people as possible to see it.”
A House Democrat, who asked for his name to be withheld because he wanted to think through his on-the-record comments, said: “I know that part of what we take from that is the brutality and the barbarity of Hamas and what they did, but I think it also speaks to the need to protect innocent life wherever it is, including Gaza.”
And another Democratic member, who asked not to be identified to speak candidly, said it was deeply disappointing that members who are outspoken in their criticism of Israel did not show up for the screening.
Eliav Benjamin, deputy head of mission at the Embassy of Israel, said it was “not an easy decision” for the government to screen this footage, but that the point is to provide it to audiences with influence on policy and with the public.
“I’ve seen this already more than once, unfortunately. But I think it’s important for the world to remember, to internalize and to understand what these savages have done — not what they’re capable of — what they have done.”
Benjamin spoke with The Hill before a screening at the Israeli Embassy on Monday for a group of about 120 Christian leaders and community members, flown from across the country into Washington through an anonymous grant provided to the organization the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
“This group here today, which comes with a very clear Christian affiliation, they have their own influence on their own followers,” Benjamin explained.
“We’ve screened it to people from within the administration. We will continue to do this to other people within the administration. … We’re doing this with other groups around the country. Again, to internalize, never to forget, never ever to forget what happened. And also to understand where Israel is coming from.”
While President Biden has offered stalwart support for Israel, he is increasingly raising alarm over the high death toll for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli military’s surrounding of the Al-Shifa hospital, even as the White House supports Israeli intelligence findings that Hamas — and the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad — use the hospital as cover for tunnels it uses for military operations. The White House further said that it supports Israeli intelligence that Hamas has held hostages in the tunnels under the hospitals.
“My hope and expectation is that there will be less intrusive action relative to hospitals, and we remain in contact with the Israelis,” Biden said Monday, adding that additional humanitarian pauses are being negotiated for the potential release of hostages and also to increase humanitarian delivery to civilians in the besieged strip.
“So I remain somewhat hopeful, but hospitals must be protected.”
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to eliminate Hamas for the Oct. 7 attack. But much of the international community is appalled at the death and destruction being wrought in the Gaza Strip by Israel’s military, with thousands of children and women among those killed under Israeli air strikes and more than 1 million forced to flee from their homes as Israel seeks to evacuate civilians from the zone of conflict.
Humanitarian deliveries of water, food, fuel and electricity are far below the scale needed to support the population caught in the crossfire between Hamas and Israel; 57 Arab and Gulf leaders decried Israeli “war crimes” at an extraordinary summit held in Saudi Arabia over the weekend. French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Israel to stop bombing Gaza.
And United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement Tuesday that a humanitarian cease-fire must be implemented “in the name of humanity.”
“The Secretary-General is deeply disturbed by the horrible situation and dramatic loss of life in several hospitals in Gaza,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for Guterres.
But Israel said a cease-fire cannot take place without the guarantee that 240 hostages — to include babies, children, women, elderly, the sick and infirm — are released unconditionally.
“A lot of people are already forgetting what happened on Oct. 7,” Benjamin, of the Israeli Embassy, said.
“They’re looking at what happened on Oct. 10 or 15 or today on what’s going on the ground offense that Israel is busy with at this point. We need to remember where it started with, and what basically began this whole story, with Hamas. This is where it started and this is where the blame should be put.”
This is the point of the increasing tempo of the screenings of the Hamas massacre, Benjamin explained.
Israelis are calling Oct. 7 “Black Shabbat”; an estimated 1,000 civilians were massacred in communities in southern Israel, including 260 people gunned down at a music festival and an estimated 240 taken hostage and still being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The video compilation is being shown with the permission of the families of the victims, but many have not seen it themselves, and viewers have to forfeit their mobile phones and electronics to protect against footage being recorded and disseminated.
In addition to screenings for lawmakers on Capitol Hill and at the Israeli Embassy, the video has been screened for journalists in Jerusalem and Washington.
A screening took place at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles last week, and the Israeli consulate in New York is expected to host a screening, too.
The footage is shocking. Previous media reports have detailed the atrocities of Hamas attackers that are shown in the video.
This reporter watched the screening at the Israeli Embassy on Monday. The audience was nearly silent throughout the 45-minute footage, except for momentary gasps and cries. One woman began praying. Few left.
In the room where the screening took place, there were posters of the people Hamas kidnapped. And while these viewers are all stalwart supporters of Israel, the constantly changing events and influx of information surrounding the six weeks of war had overshadowed for some attendees that Hamas was still holding Israelis and others as hostages.
“I really want to know the truth,” said Luis Morales Jr., 31, a member of the congregation Vida Real in Boston, explaining why he flew to Washington to watch the screening.
Morales said his church had planned to go on a pilgrimage to Israel at the end of November with 150 members, but that was canceled in the wake of the Hamas attack.
“I think it’s very hard, because obviously there’s two sides to the story, but what happened on that day was something that really changed and accelerated a lot of the change that Israel wants to do,” he said.
“Israel didn’t really sugarcoat it; this is what it is, this is what really happened. Reality of video, dashcam, video from Hamas fighters; reality. I’m going to put it bluntly: They’re savages.”