Screenings happen in Hollywood every day, but there has never been a screening in Los Angeles anywhere close to “Bearing Witness,” the uncensored collection of video clips of the Oct. 7 massacre of 1,400 civilians in Israel.
Before leaving my West Hollywood home to attend the screening, I paused. Did I really want to see the murder of innocent people on the silver screen? Was it ethical to watch people butchered in broad daylight? I reluctantly left, grabbing a black yarmulke on the way out, not sure if I was attending a film or a funeral.
The auditorium slowly filled with studio execs, producers and invited members of the public. I was surprised how chatty people were. I also noticed the aisle seats nearest the exits were occupied first. The lights dimmed, and over 200 people fell deathly silent. What unfolded over the next 43 minutes were the last moments of 138 innocent civilians, mainly Jews.
Video sources were clearly identified. Much of the footage was taken from Hamas body cameras, a sure sign the killers thought they were murdering in impunity. CCTV cameras and victims’ phones provided time-stamped evidence too.
I am a dedicated Jew, a lover of Israel, and a teacher of the Holocaust. Notwithstanding, the emotional investment I have, the only version of me that showed up to watch, was the genocide scholar in me. I wanted to know what I could verify.
Here is what I can tell you:
The terrorists were well organized. There is a chain of command as evidenced by radio communications, uniforms, weaponry and personnel dispersion. It was a pre-planned and managed massacre.
The terrorists were not well-trained. Some went about their murderous work precisely. Most appear to be amateurs, conducting mass murder in a haphazard manner. They will not fare well against the Israel Defense Forces.
Civilians were the principal target. We see killers going house to house in search of unarmed civilians. Many of the victims were still in pajamas when they were hunted down. Killings are carried out in close quarters, victims executed one by one in their kitchens, bathrooms and bomb shelters.
Corpses were mutilated. There are missing limbs, with punctures to the chest, broken bones, some burned beyond recognition. Mutilation appears to be coordinated. One radio intercept to Gaza reveals an instruction to bring back the dead body of an IDF soldier and posthumously crucify him.
Victims were terrified. This was evidenced by many who kept their social media feeds live until the moment of death. The fear in their eyes as their killers approach is captured in their last posts.
The killers relate their conquest to Islam. They were killing in the name of Allah, yelling “Allahu Akbar” — Allah is the greatest — while standing over the corpses of dead Jews.
Murdering Jews is socially acceptable. One terrorist called his parents from a dead victim’s phone. “Mom, I killed 10 Jews!”, he says with great pride. In the streets of Gaza, civilians rushed to praise the terrorists when they returned with hostages and corpses.
The killing of children and sexual assault were not shown in the reel, to protect the victims, but are implied.
At times members of the audience whimpered as an impending murder was anticipated. Several people left the auditorium. It was too much for some to confront. Once seen, the images cannot be unseen. They are permanently etched in my mind’s eye.
Two young boys are being protected by their father. As they run for safety to their shelter, the terrorists throw a grenade. The father defends his children and takes the full force of the grenade. He is killed instantly. His body protects his own children. The two boys emerge unscathed and return to the kitchen. There they discuss their father’s death. A terrorist enters the kitchen to raid their refrigerator. After he leaves, one young boy, who moments earlier had been sleeping peacefully on a tranquil Saturday morning, is heard screaming on the security camera, “I wish I was not alive!”
A first-responder arrives at the scene of the Supernova music festival. We hear him counting corpses by the makeshift bar. His voice is horrified when he reaches four, then five corpses. He then turns to look behind the bar. His camera scans the scene, of bodies sprawled lifeless on the floor. He stops counting. There are too many corpses to count. “Hello, can anyone show a sign of life?” he asks over and over. There is no response.
As the killers depart, they take their prey: hostages, maimed and sexually assaulted, thrown into flatbeds. The scene they leave behind is an Armageddon of destruction. Corpses hang out of their cars; people are left for dead under their kitchen table; there are charred remains; twisted broken limbs; a decapitated soldier.
I have studied genocide in Rwanda, Cambodia, Guatemala, Armenia and the Holocaust. I have rarely seen such carnage carried out with such fervor in such short a period of time.
As the last frame ended, there was silence. I bolted for the closest exit. I now knew I was not attending a film screening or a funeral. I was there to bear witness to the evidence of genocide.
Stephen D. Smith is emeritus executive director at the USC Shoah Foundation and CEO and co-founder of StoryFile, which recently produced “Tell Me, Inge,” an immersive Holocaust education experience in partnership with Meta, the World Jewish Congress, UNESCO and Claims Conference. He was the inaugural UNESCO chair on Genocide Education, the editor of the “Routledge Handbook of Religion, Mass Atrocity, and Genocide,” and the founder of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Rwanda.