Israeli major Libby Weiss points out in advance that the images she is going to show are unprecedentedly bloody and shocking. “Even those of you who think you have a strong stomach, I would caution you,” says Weiss. “What you are about to see is very, very horrific.”
This Monday afternoon, the Israeli army invited several dozen journalists, including many from foreign media, to a press room in Jerusalem to watch a compilation of images of the massacre carried out by members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad a month ago in the south of Israel. The reporters had to hand over their cellphones, cameras and recording equipment at the entrance and promise not to distribute the photos and videos. “We do not want relatives of the terrorist attack to be confronted with these images,” says Major Weiss.
“A glimpse of what happened that day,” is written in white letters on the black screen at the start. What follows is about 40 minutes of beastly violence.
According to army officials, the images come from body cameras of the militants, security cameras of attacked kibbutzim and mobile phones of victims. It shows how Hamas and Islamic Jihad go on a killing spree on pickup trucks and motorcycles. They shoot random civilians in cars and houses and start firing at a dance festival in the desert. Some militants seem to enjoy it.
There is a lot of cheering and ‘God is great!’ shouted during the killing. And there is even an audio recording of a militant calling his father from the mobile phone of one of his victims. “Dad, open my WhatsApp and see how many Jews I killed with my own hands!”
The performance ends with the announcement that these are images of 138 people who have been murdered. “This is less than 10 percent of the number of people Hamas has killed.”
The display does not miss its effect. There are occasional sighs in the room with journalists. Eyes fill, two women throw their arms around each other. When the photos of mutilated and burned victims of the dance festival pass by, a reporter with tear-stained cheeks covers her mouth.
At the same time, some attendees also wonder what exactly the Israeli armed forces intend to do with the presentation. A British journalist mutters that the information officers seem a bit frustrated. He suspects that they feel like they are losing the propaganda war in the rest of the world.
While Israel has traditionally been adept at this type of public diplomacy. Hasbara they call it that themselves, which you could loosely translate as ‘explaining’. Which amounts to explaining to the world why Israel has a right to exist and why the small Jewish country, surrounded by enemies, has the right to defend itself.
Remembering how war started
To the annoyance of Israeli officials, sympathy for their country seems to be declining in other parts of the world. Immediately after the attack on October 7, there was still great astonishment about the ruthlessness of the Palestinian fighters. But a month later, outrage about this is increasingly giving way to compassion for the residents of the Gaza Strip who are suffering from the continued Israeli air and ground attacks.
To remind the world of how the war began, the Israeli government now organizes the displays of the horrors. The presentation this afternoon in the room in Jerusalem is the third and, if all goes according to plan, more will follow, including abroad at Israeli embassies.
“Of course we are concerned,” agreed Nitzan Chen, director of Israel’s Government Press Office, after the screening of the atrocities. “There are even media outlets that deny that it happened.”
Chen, one of the key figures in Israel hasbaradevice, some foreign reporters are speaking to some foreign reporters in the room in Jerusalem. “I was a journalist myself for thirty years, so I know how it works,” he says. “Some media are now portraying us as the bad guys because of what is happening in Gaza. But you must remember: we are the good guys in this story.”