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Horror of graphic video is impossible to dismiss

“Dad, look at your WhatsApp. See how many I killed with my bare hands, Dad. Your son killed the Jews … I killed ten with my bare hands. Their blood is on my hands … I’m talking to you from a Jewish woman’s phone.”

By Rosie DiManno
National Affairs
November 17, 2023 Edition

When I’m asked – and the question is a blunt sword – what the difference is between Jewish children slaughtered by Hamas on Oct. 7 and Palestinian children torn limb from limb by Israeli bombs, my answer is this: One is deliberate murder, the other is a horrific consequence of war.

I saw the murder in raw footage shown to journalists. The world is now seeing the dreadful repercussions.

If there is a moral equivalence, it does not arise from weighing the value of some lives over others. This is not about Palestinian deaths versus Israeli deaths. It is, rather, about the evils of terrorism, of blood lust, and finding joy in the death of the reviled other. That is the shared tragedy.

But the Hamas strike, the genesis of this catastrophe, is intensely personalized and primevally dehumanizing – a shot to the head of a baby in its crib, a toddler set aflame, charred, a youngster’s torso severed from its limbs. And not just children of course, though there was no mercy granted them, but teenage girls raped, defiled, a garden hoe used to decapitate a young man, a father trying to shelter his young sons in a shed, incinerated by a grenade tossed through the door from three feet away.

The retaliatory carnage by Israel, engulfing civilians, is wreckage from violence which humans have inflicted on one another from time immemorial.

Neither is righteous, however soaked in ancient enmity and present-day bitterness.

Every life lost is of equal value. Every life lost is grieved. Every Jew I’ve heard from has expressed pain for innocent Palestinians caught up in this fulcrum of horror.

But the glee, my god the glee of the plundering, pillaging Hamas attackers.

I saw and heard it in Toronto at a screening at the Israeli consulate.

It is what they, the terrorists, wanted the world to see.

“Let history be my witness that this was the first man I killed. The first one. A Jew. Give me a knife, give me a knife. I swear to God I will cut off his head. Bring it!”

There have been radical Israeli voices as well – rightly choked off, held to account – and vengeance-driven settlers causing havoc in the West Bank. The eye for an eye cannot be allowed to continue or everyone will end up blinded. Except they’re blinded by hatred already.

It’s been over a month since the Hamas raids into Israel, four weeks since the butchering of 1,400 men, women, children and babies, the physically disabled, the mentally disabled. They weren’t soldiers. And their assailants wore no military uniforms as they arrived in their rifle-mounted Toyotas, astride their motorcycles and bicycles, massacring on a whim, firing into cars, dragging out bodies, chasing down without pity those who’d cowered in their homes and their useless “panic rooms,” picking off teens running away from a beach party, ambushing festivalgoers, heaving the wounded and the dead into the bed of their pickup trucks, dragging hostages across the border, back into Gaza, parading their human bounty. And they were cheered.

Lord knows how anyone can take pleasure, can take pride, in such depravity, all their humanity wrung out of them. Or how anyone can defend it, rationalize it, glorify it. Some will argue that occupation and humiliation, blockades and hopelessness has turned them into a monstrous parody of human beings. I say there’s no mitigation in the world for it.

On cellphones, with body cameras, even livestreaming the atrocities, the invaders documented it, they thrilled to it.

These were the images – buttressed with footage from CCTV and victims’ phones – that journalists were invited to witness by Israeli authorities, here and elsewhere. Because there are those who still refuse to believe it or brazenly exculpate the crimes.

And some will scorn it as barbarity porn.

The mother of a jihadist pleads with her fighter son, “Enough, come back.” He responds: “Come back? There’s no coming back. It’s victory or martyr’s death.”

A stalker, entering a Jewish home, searching stealthily: “How many? Two? Turn on the light. Be patient … Oh, you dogs.”

“Come, this one’s alive. Look at the camera, look at the camera, this one’s alive. Come, pull him by the hair, brother.”

These descriptions aren’t even the worst of them. I’ll spare you that, the mutilation and the desecration. I’ll leave out the religious exhortations as well, because it’s poisoning to a faith that does not condone such savagery, though there are too many clerics in the Middle East and beyond who have in these past weeks.

“WHEE!” yells one zealot, discharging his rifle. Another blows the tires off an ambulance to prevent flight and rescue. Another still empties his weapon into a row of Porto-o-potties where people, Jews and non-Jews, are futilely hiding.

“He’s dead,” one militant tells another, kicking at a body, pounding his foot into the man’s face. “Bring him and hang him,” responds his comrade.

Those who survived were not fated to die on that godforsaken day. And those who were abducted, some 240, their fate is unknown. Hamas said at least 60 hostages have been killed in the bombardment by Israel Defence Forces. Gaza’s Health Ministry claims more than 10,000 Palestinians have died by Israel’s wrath – but they include their own fighters.

The captives are a prize, a ticket out of prison for Hamas detainees, a negotiating chip for a ceasefire. Remember this: Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Canada, by the United States, by the EU, has broken ceasefires – with Israel and with their archrival Palestinian Authority – in 2006 … 2011 … 2014 … 2018 … 2021 …

“Bring more, bring, curse their country, bring more. Be careful not to shoot him … we want captives. Bring people from inside, do it fast, come, load them up, load them up.”

When first responders finally arrive at a stricken kibbutz, the camera probes into the corners of what looks like a café, searching for any sign of life but there are only bodies, beneath a table, next to the icebox, crumpled in a corner. “Give us a sign! Please, anyone?”

Another kibbutz, another pile of victims, some with their wrists bound, burned alive, blackened faces grimacing.

I have covered wars. I have covered suicide attacks. But this is in its own circle of hell.

The harrowing video compilation – there was sobbing in that room at the consulate – depicts images, mostly in brief flickers, many faces blanked out, of just 138 victims of the Oct. 7 blitz, not one-tenth of the mass murder. Israeli authorities are showing it with permission from families of the dead.

As soul-crushing as it is to watch, this is what I wish: That the footage be publicly shown on giant screens in every city, every town, around the world, at Nathan Philips Square and at the corner of University and Dundas in Toronto) where tens of thousands have demonstrated against Israel on the weekends.

Let me hear them cheer then.

Twitter: @rdimanno.

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