Bearing Witness To October 7

The word “atrocities” is used a lot when it comes to discussing Hamas and the actions the terrorist group took when it invaded Israel on October 7. But when you watch the video of the events – raw and unredacted – the word takes on an entirely different, more visceral, more grotesque meaning.

Nearly 43 minutes of video compiled from Hamas body cameras, dashboard cameras, social media, as well as Israeli rescuers, closed-circuit television cameras, and the phones of Israelis – rescuers and victims alike – was screened Wednesday at the home of Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. in a Minneapolis home for 25 journalists, law-enforcement officials, and community leaders. Itay Biran, the consul for political and commercial affairs at the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest in Chicago, hosted the event.

I was one of those invited to bear witness. It’s a solemn responsibility. One that I take seriously. But I left the event shaken; how could you not? Bearing witness to a slaughter. You hoped that the video would cut away but it didn’t. People were in tears. Or turned away from the television or otherwise shielded their eyes. It was, in fact, that bad.

The video showed the murders or bodies of 139 people – roughly 10 percent of the people killed by Hamas on that day. Most of what we watched is just beyond horrific: 


Gunning down unarmed female soldiers in their pajamas. 

A Hamas leader who told a terrorist to hang a dead Israeli tank driver in the street for his body to be beaten.

The father who took the force of a grenade to save his two sons; the two boys then back in their kitchen, one saying to the other “I don’t want to be alive.” 

The rescuer at the Nova Music Festival counting the dead only to look behind the bar to see bodies piled up. “Is anyone alive?” he asked. “Give us a sign of life.”

That’s not even the worst of it. Plenty wasn’t shown, as Biran said, to protect the dignity of the victims.

“I think that before you share your thoughts, before you give any kind of statement, before you act, you have to be aware of the facts. You have to know the truth,” Biran said. “Unfortunately, during the last few weeks, we found ourselves fighting for the truth. The very basic truth. And that is the main reason why we showed it today.

“People are trying to minimize it. Trying to say that maybe it didn’t even even happen. This is something that we need to fight immediately.”

That last notion is absurd, but some people trying to push that narrative are at the University of Minnesota. The faculty of the school’s Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies released a statement on Oct. 13, saying in part that there are “unsubstantiated claims of ‘uncivilized’ violence.” The statement was amended on Nov. 20, yet left the line about unsubstantiated claims in, even as more information was coming to light about what took place.

“I think that it’s really important for journalism and for academics and for others to understand what are substantiated claims of violence and conflict,” said Dr. Elisia Cohen, the director of the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Minnesota. “And there are definitely fogs of war and asymmetries around information. But once that fog clears, we have a responsibility to report the truth and to evidence the claims are being made. And in this place, there is a lot of evidence of some horrific violence against Jews in Israel and that Jewish people were targeted by Hamas. And we need to be clear about that.”

Cohen acknowledged that there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation around the events of Oct. 7. 

“The process of reporting allows for the sifting of facts and for truth, and in this case, I think the truth is really clear,” Cohen said. “It’s really clear what the Hamas mission statement is…and it’s also clear that there was a ceasefire that was in existence before there was the violence on October 7. That has provoked war, and there are consequences.”

Biran isn’t surprised at those doubting or minimizing the events, but he’s disappointed.

“After October 7 happened, we thought that it’s not something that we will have to convince people ever happened,” he said “So we’re quite disappointed. I think that it made our decision (to show the video) much, much easier.”

Early in the video were scenes from Nativ HaAsara, a moshav in southern Israel near the border of Gaza. Ethan Roberts, the deputy executive director of the JCRC, said it’s a community that the trip of Minnesota legislators would have visited in November had the trip not been canceled. And it’s one they’ve visited on previous stops.

Twenty people were killed there. 

“This Moshav like many of the communities that are on the border, were among the most progressive, liberal, peace-minded Israelis,” Roberts said. “It’s been reported in many places that many of the people who were murdered were peace activists. They wanted to live in these border communities so they could bring Palestinians to hospitals who needed urgent medical care or [had]  severe illnesses. They employed many of the people, who, it turned out, were giving intelligence to know where were the vulnerable points. Where the guns were stored.”

Said Biran: “They knew each and every family.” 

Minnesota legislators at the Path To Peace Wall in Nativ HaAsara with the artist, Tsameret, kneeling in front. (Photo courtesy Ethan Roberts/JCRC).

Minnesota legislators at the Path To Peace Wall in Nativ HaAsara with the artist, Tsameret, kneeling in front. (Photo courtesy Ethan Roberts/JCRC).

The Moshav is probably best known for the mosaic mural that visitors can buy tiles and glue them to the wall, which is meant to prevent snipers from shooting into the Moshav from Gaza. The mural is meant to beautify the drab wall. The English translation of the Hebrew means “Path To Peace.” Ironic.

“The ‘ceasefire now’ people; yeah, and then what?” Roberts said. “Do they see a future where Israel and Hamas coexist? [What we watched] was the plan. This wasn’t one or two terrorists. They have said ‘What we did we’ll do again, and again.’

“I just don’t understand, especially when it comes from leaders in our community. I mean, isn’t it like your responsibility to just kind of think beyond, like, the next day, and just think, how will Israel or Gaza ever be anything other than this, with Hamas still in control?”

There was a haunting joy in voices of the terrorists, whether they were exclaiming “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) or the audio captured of a Hamas member calling their parents to talk about how excited they were to have killed 10 Jews. 

“How these terrorists could so gleefully do this right to other human beings?” Roberts said. “You can’t negotiate out of that. You can’t compromise out of that. The only way that things can be better in Gaza is if Hamas is removed. I don’t know how on earth anyone can see this and think anything else. They did not act like soldiers. Honestly they did not act like human beings.”

“It’s not vengeance. It’s just that this is an enemy that you can’t negotiate with, but you can’t work around. It’s an enemy that has to be defeated.”

In discussing with my 14-year-old what I would be doing last night, she was a little horrified. Did I want to go? Of course I didn’t want to go. No one should want to see that. Why would I do it then? I’ve said to my family in the past “Anything for a story.” It’s a good motto for a journalist, although one that probably needs a caveat or two every now and then. But this time, that’s not the case. Cohen said it best: “The process of reporting allows for the sifting of facts and for truth.” And she’s right; in this case, the truth couldn’t be clearer.

But after more discussion and a little contemplation, my daughter got to the heart of it: “I think of it like this: You should be honored to have been invited. And it’s terrible that you have to be invited.”

It was a late evening, but we lit the menorah anyway. More light was needed to push out the darkness.