Rape as a weapon of war – why Israel was traumatised by Oct 7

Screams Before Silence is a harrowing, yet sensitively crafted and ultimately viewable, documentary film about the weaponisation of rape by Hamas during the atrocities committed on October 7 last year.

The film features Sheryl Sandberg, who was chief operating officer of Facebook and Meta Platforms until August 2022. She is also founder of LeanIn.Org, a women’s leadership network. She has become an outspoken advocate for Israeli women who suffered the full force of the violence of October 7.

Produced by Kastina Communications and directed by Anat Stalinsky, the film provides a platform for the testimonies of survivors, eyewitnesses, first responders and forensic experts to be heard by the general public as they recount what they saw or heard and, in some cases, endured as a result of the attack by Hamas militants in southern Israel.

In a rampage of killing in streets, homes, kibbutzim and at a music festival, some 1200 Israelis were murdered, thousands more wounded and 240 hostages taken to Gaza.

Make no mistake: the subject matter is distressing in what it reveals of the extent to which the bodies of women and girls were sexually abused, tortured, slaughtered and mutilated, especially at the site of the Nova music festival.

However, Screams Before Silence is no horror film of gruesome pictures, nor a demonisation of Palestinians. It is a sensitively delivered piece of storytelling and truth-telling that showcases not only the depravity of which human beings are capable, but also examples of extraordinary courage and human resilience.

Relying largely on a series of interviews by Sheryl Sandberg and video footage from October 7, the film draws the viewer into the violent world of the massacre without plunging into a sea of traumatising images. Apart from the people speaking, most of the footage shows destroyed homes and cars, not dead bodies. Occasional images of a corpse are fleeting and have been deliberately blurred. The film carefully leads the viewer down into the depths of its dark subject matter before moving upwards towards the light (if one may call it that) of an ending that strikes a note of resilience, purpose and empowerment.

Screams Before Silence places front-and-centre what should be an uncontroversial message: that weaponisation of rape and sexual violence is never acceptable, can never be excused by a larger political “context”, and must be condemned forthrightly by every decent human being and treated as criminal conduct without prevarication.

What makes this film especially relevant is that the crimes of October 7 are not over. Some 129 hostages remain in Gaza, including women and children. From the testimony of released hostages we know that there is good reason to fear that sexual abuse of those who remain behind continues. “Bring Them Home Now!” should be on the lips of every vocal feminist protesting violence against women.

 

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It is not wise for all people to see this film. Protection of one’s mental health must be a priority. However, I urge those who feel they can do so, to watch the film. Its content and message need to be processed, in the same way that Holocaust documentaries play a critical role in our grasp of historical and present-day events. Holocaust footage is always disturbing to watch, but it is downright dangerous for societies to turn a blind eye.

And, just as Holocaust denialism is widespread today, so too has October 7 denialism been embraced by some anti-Israel activists. Such a wilful distortion of history is inadvertently exacerbated by the tendency of good and well-intentioned people to downplay these crimes through half-hearted reporting or utter silence, whether for political reasons or simply out of discomfort, ignorance, or confusion.

Rather than wallow in a sense of helplessness, the gift of this film is that it empowers a constructive response. By simply setting aside an hour to view it, anyone can bear witness to what actually occurred on October 7. I believe strongly that non-Jewish people have a special responsibility to view the film, so that Jewish communities are not left alone to bear the burden of witness.

So, I appeal to all non-Jewish adults who are able to do so: Please, set aside an hour to watch online Screams Before Silence. Allow yourself to be confronted by the raw truth of what occurred on October 7. Deal with your emotions: your tears, grief, anger, or disbelief. Pray for the dead and the bereaved. Then, share the link; discuss the film with family, friends, and colleagues; if you have a public platform to write or speak, then write, then speak!

Be a voice for the voiceless — for the women, and for the men too, who were mercilessly abused on October 7 in unspeakable acts which appear to have been part of a calculated, targeted, systematic plan to destroy not only the bodies of women, but the soul of a nation.


If you have watched “Screams Before Silence”, tell us what you think in the comments box below. 


Dr Teresa Pirola is a Sydney-based freelance writer and faith educator, and author of Catholic-Jewish Relations: Twelve Key Themes for Teaching and Preaching (Paulist Press, 2023).

Image: Sandberg surveying the destruction at a kibbutz. 

The trailer and full film of "Screams Before Silence" can be viewed here: https://www.screamsbeforesilence.com/ 


 

Showing 8 reactions

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  • Kathy Ungar
    commented 2024-05-08 05:55:09 +1000
    No sensible person – including the film-maker I recommended – is denying Hamas atrocities took place on October 7. But accepting each and every claim without proper enquiry is never a good idea. Many of us now know the beheaded babies story was untrue, but some of the very same individuals and groups making those claims have also made claims about rape that kept changing and don’t make sense (see below and also this https://thegrayzone.com/2023/12/06/scandal-israeli-october-7-fabrications/) That matters, because rape claims are in practice extremely useful for those wishing to defend Israel’s own unconscionable actions after the Hamas atrocities of October 7.
  • mrscracker
    For goodness sakes, it’s a sad commentary on human nature. You just know that any article on Israel will attract the usual comments.
    The UN has made nine resolutions so far about the war in Gaza & not a single one condemned the October 7th massacre. Nada. Which is pretty typical for the UN.
    Thank you for sharing this article. Some of us know the truth & some refuse to believe.
  • Kathy Ungar
    commented 2024-05-07 20:39:17 +1000
    Truth is the first casualty in war, and we’ve had many, many false claims made about this war in particular, which should make us all very careful: people with the best intentions can be caught up in warring parties’ propaganda and journalism does need to be rigorous. I urge everyone to watch an excellent short summary video https://www.doubledown.news/watch/2024/april/10/what-really-happened-on-october-7 picking up points from an excellent longer documentary (or just watch the longer documentary). The sober and very reputable documentary maker is absolutely not denying that some atrocities were perpetrated on October 7 but casts series doubt on others – not limited to the now-discredited ‘40 beheaded babies’ story but including rape stories as well. See also this US article https://thegrayzone.com/2024/01/10/questions-nyt-hamas-rape-report/ which is a devastating take-down of some claims made.
  • David Page
    commented 2024-05-07 19:30:03 +1000
    Francine, I don’t know anyone who defends Hamas. I know lots of people who are appalled by the slaughter of innocents in Gaza. But there are questions that need to be answered. Why was Netanyahu funneling money to Hamas? Two Israeli newspapers say he was. Why were repeated warnings from us and from Arab countries ignored? Where was the Israeli military for hours and hours as the Hamas attack went on? Have the claims made in this film been independently verified? Israel has been forced to retract many of their initial statements. And even if everything in this documentary were true, how does that justify the massive slaughter of innocents in Gaza?

    I suggest looking into the massacre of Palestinians in 1948 at Deir Yassin. A group of Israelis attacked this village even though it has signed a non aggressive treaty. Menachem Begin, who later became prime minister of Israel, led the attack. Up to 250 villagers were murdered, including women and children. Women were raped and mutilated. Villagers were paraded through the streets of Jerusalem before being shot.

    The history of this area has been a sorry one indeed. Bad leadership on both sides, and a long history of abusing, terrorizing, and killing Palestinians.
  • Peter
    commented 2024-05-07 18:57:46 +1000
    This film was shocking to watch. The depravity of humanity depicted is haunting and cruel.
    I hope another film will be produced depicting the atrocities committed by the Israeli army responsible for the (accidental?) killing of many of the 1,400+ Israelis on the 7th October 2023 and for the mass murder of over 35,000 Palestinians, including rape and torture.
  • Francine Pirola
    commented 2024-05-06 22:22:47 +1000
    Although the film was not as graphic as I expected, it was still harrowing. That people defend Hamas is incomprehensible to me but I suspect it is willful ignorance. The film should be compulsory viewing for them.
  • Teresa Pirola
    published this page in The Latest 2024-05-06 14:51:20 +1000