This afternoon, at a military base north of Tel Aviv, the Israel Defense Forces held a grisly matinee screening of 43 minutes of raw footage from Hamas’s October 7 attack. Members of the press were invited, but cameras were not allowed. Hamas had the opposite policy on cameras during the attack, which it documented gleefully with its fighters’ body cams and mobile phones. Some of the clips had been circulating already on social media in truncated or expurgated form, with the footage decorously stopped just before beheadings and moments of death. After having seen them both in raw and trimmed forms, I can endorse the decision to trim those clips. I certainly hope I never see any of the extra footage again.
It was, as IDF Major General Mickey Edelstein told the press afterward, “a very sad movie.” Men, women, and children are shot, blown up, hunted, tortured, burned, and generally murdered in any horrible manner you could predict, and some that you might not. The terrorists surround a Thai man they have shot in the gut, then bicker about what to do next. (About 30,000 Thais live in Israel, many of them farmworkers.) “Give me a knife!” one Hamas terrorist shouts. Instead he finds a garden hoe, and he swings at the man’s throat, taking thwack after thwack.
The audience gasped. I heard someone heave a little at another scene, this one showing a father and his young sons, surprised in their pajamas. A terrorist throws a grenade into their hiding place, and the father is killed. The boys are covered in blood, and one appears to have lost an eye. They go to their kitchen and cry for their mother. One of the boys howls, “Why am I alive?” and “Daddy, Daddy.” One says, “I think we are going to die.” The terrorist who killed their father comes in, and while they weep, he raids their fridge. “Water, water,” he says. The spokesman was unable to say whether the children survived.
The videos show pure, predatory sadism; no effort to spare those who pose no threat; and an eagerness to kill nearly matched by eagerness to disfigure the bodies of the victims. In several clips, the Hamas killers fire shots into the heads of people who are already dead. They count corpses, taking their time, and then shoot them again. Some of the clips I had not previously seen simply show the victims in a state of terror as they wait to be murdered, or covered with bits of their friends and loved ones as they are loaded into trucks and brought to Gaza as hostages. There was no footage of rape, although there was footage of young women huddling in fear and then being executed in a leisurely manner.
Edelstein said that the IDF chose to show the footage out of necessity. It is not every day that snuff films of Jews are shown at an IDF screening hall. (The original site of the screening was a commercial theater, which would have been even worse.) “What we shared with you,” Edelstein said, searching for words, “you should know it.” And he said he struggled to understand how some journalists could present the IDF and Hamas as comparable. This footage would refute that false equivalence.
“We are not looking for kids to kill them,” he said. “We have to share it with you so no one will have an idea that someone is equal to another.”
To me the most disturbing section was not visual at all. Like the clip of the father and his boys hunted in their pajamas, it was upsetting in part because it showed a relationship between parent and child. The clip is just a phone call—placed by a terrorist to his family back in Gaza. He tells his father that he is calling from a Jewish woman’s phone. (The phone recorded the call.) He tells his father that his son is now a “hero” and that “I killed 10 Jews with my own hands.” And he tells his family, about a dozen times, that they should open up WhatsApp on his phone, because he has sent photographs to prove what he has done. “Put on Mom!” he says. “Your son is a hero!”
His parents, I noticed, are not nearly as enthusiastic as he is. I believe that the mom says “praise be to God” at one point, which could be gratitude for their son’s crimes but could also have been pure reflex, indicating her loss for words after having learned of her son’s having done the unspeakable. They do not question what he has done; they do not scold him. They tell him to come back to Gaza. They fear for his safety. He says, amid rounds of “Allahu akbar,” that he intends “victory or martyrdom”—which the parents must understand means that he will never come home. From their muted replies I wonder whether they also understand that even if he did come home, he would do so as a disgusting and degraded creature, and that it might be better for him to not come home at all.