A first-hand report on raw footage from terrorist bodycams and dashcams, terrorist social media, community CCTV, victims’ mobile phones, and first responders. WARNING: this account contains graphic details.
They didn’t even show us the worst parts. Mercifully, the film I saw edited out the footage of rape, sexual torture, and sexual abuse of corpses that other viewers have seen. I was part of an audience of Christian leaders invited to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., to view the footage from the October 7th massacres, and the moderators took out the most nightmarish parts.
A Trained Observer
We were invited as witnesses to go out and give testimony about what we had seen. I am a diplomat by training. I spent ten years as an American career diplomat in the Middle East and a lifetime working at the intersections of the worlds of diplomacy, energy, finance, and intelligence. I am fluent in Arabic and have literally hundreds of Arab friends (not one of whom is like the terrorists of Oct. 7th). More to the point, I am a trained observer and an honest reporter.
This is my testimony.
First, to address the basest of charges: is the footage doctored, or is it real? Some news consumers have cast doubt on reports of this footage; they have questioned its authenticity and asked whether it could have been staged. It was not staged. In fact, not one of the people who have seen the footage has made that charge. Not hard-bitten journalists, not the glitterati of Hollywood who attended the screening arranged by Gal Gadot, and not anyone in our group.
What We Witnessed
The footage was carefully documented. It showed many venues of attacks from multiple perspectives, without commentary. Before each venue, white captions on a black screen listed the sources of the video we were about to see. Each video in that group had a caption identifying the source: terrorist webcam or body cam, kibbutz security footage, victim’s cell phone, etc.
We saw incredible carnage—the murder of 139 unarmed civilians, to be exact. That was about a tenth of the total number of people killed that day. We also saw aerial drone footage taken by responders of several hundred bodies, some burned, some lying in the dirt. We saw human beings hunted down, shot summarily, and shot again and again, while the terrorists encouraged one another and celebrated.
However, another terrorist had a large knife; he successfully sawed through the neck of a dead Israeli soldier, cutting off his head without removing his helmet. He carried the head away as a trophy, leaving the decapitated body in the street.
We saw a Palestinian screaming for a knife so he could cut off the head of a dead man. Not finding a knife, he found a primitive garden hoe and chopped wildly at the neck of the corpse, giving up after leaving the soft tissue in tatters but without succeeding in cutting through sinew and bone. However, another terrorist had a large knife; he successfully sawed through the neck of a dead Israeli soldier, cutting off his head without removing his helmet. He carried the head away as a trophy, leaving the decapitated body in the street.
At each fresh killing or atrocity, we heard the incessant cries of “Allahu Akbar” (“God is most great”) and “Al hamdu l’illah” (“Praise be to God”). We heard Hamas commanders issuing orders to drag a dead Israeli soldier out of a tank and bring his body to Gaza to be hung in the public square. Informed that the group had five severed heads, he ordered, “Let the boys play with them (the heads) for a while, and then bring them back to Gaza.”
One item, filmed at close range, was unrecognizable at first. It was flat, with a roughly oval shape. It was being turned over in front of the camera lens. As it rotated, we could see that it was a severed human head, smashed nearly flat, nearly beyond recognition. It looked to have been crushed after decapitation, perhaps by a vehicle.
The Home Security Camera
One scene taken from the perspective of a home security camera system will live in my nightmares until I die. A father and two pre-teen boys were running in only briefs, clearly having just been roused from bed. They ran hesitantly from room to room, peering outside, around corners, seeking safety. They then ran outside into the garden of their home and hid in a shed.
After a delay of half a minute, a terrorist leaned over a gate next to the shed and quite casually tossed a grenade against a wall facing the shed door. The grenade bounced off the wall and into the shed. Seconds later, there was a blast and a shock to the camera, and the body of the father fell out, inert. The terrorist then came and pulled the two boys out and shoved them back into the house. He spent a few minutes inside and outside the house, while the boys sat in shock, talking to one another.
The younger brother asked whether their father was dead and got an affirmative reply. The older boy said he was blind in one eye. Both were in shock, dazed, and asked why they were still alive. Then the terrorist came back inside, opened the refrigerator, and grabbed things to drink as casually as if he’d come in from mowing the lawn.
The Banality of Evil, Again
That casual attitude toward the violent deaths of so many unarmed civilians was jarring. At one point, we saw about 20 Hamas terrorists sitting down against the walls of a large room or enclosure, taking a rest, as if it were their lunch break. The camera panned around the room, taking in a pile of fresh human corpses stacked atop one another in a corner. None of the terrorists paid any attention to the corpses, any more than a tired laborer would look at a pile of debris he had made in a morning’s work.
Most of the murders were committed without a word or delay; as soon as they saw Jews, they shot them repeatedly until they were sure they were dead. In some cases, women and young boys were held alive in groups under heavy guard. Mercifully, the scenes of their eventual fate were edited out for our viewing. There are journalists who have seen what happened to them and have testified about it.
Why Is There So Much Video Available?
Even more chilling than the casual attitude were the joyful celebrations of murder, torture, rape, and desecration. Over and over, in footage obtained from social media posts by the attackers and in mobile phone footage they recorded, we saw scenes of jubilation. We heard a terrorist call his parents, using the phone of an Israeli woman he had just murdered, and tell his father with joy and pride that he had killed ten Jews that day with his bare hands. He repeated it many times, then asked to speak to his mother. She was crying with joy at his murders and praised God—not for his safety but for his triumph in killing Jews.
It was a shock to all the viewers that most of those young men—the ones casually shooting unarmed civilians without hesitation, taking selfies with corpses or with injured Israelis just before shooting them dead—didn’t look like cartoon images of terrorists. That was the hardest part: they looked like normal human beings, filled with joy. They could have been members of a soccer team, celebrating a goal or a victory, before heading down to the pub for the after-party. But the victory they were celebrating was that they had killed hundreds of unarmed Jews.
… Even more critical is to understand why the terrorists took so much video in the first place. They took the footage so they could boast to their friends, and to gain credit among Palestinian voters…. These videos that so sicken Western audiences are the Gaza equivalent of political campaign ads.
For those in Washington and other world capitals who are trying to make public policy related to the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict, seeing this footage is critical. Even more critical is to understand why it exists—why the terrorists took so much video in the first place. It is not that they have a compulsion to document history, as the Nazis did during the Holocaust. They took the footage so they could boast to their friends, and to gain credit among Palestinian voters.
Most of the terrorists were members of the Al Qassim Brigades, the most heavily militarized arm of Hamas. Killing Jews makes them popular among their people. The ability of Hamas to kill Jews is why Hamas won the only election held in Gaza in 2006. It is why Fatah, the PLO faction that controls the West Bank, has not held an election in 18 years: Fatah knows that in any fresh election, Hamas would win—because Hamas has killed more Jews.
Video evidence of carnage, brutality, and depravity is the essence of how to gain popularity among the people of Gaza. These videos that so sicken Western audiences are the Gaza equivalent of political campaign ads. That’s why the young men were celebrating so joyfully: they had achieved the pinnacle of glory in their imagination. They had killed Jews.
From The River To The Sea
Many young American college students are suddenly fond of marching and chanting “from the river to the sea,” the ubiquitous Palestinian slogan. Most of them don’t know that it is a call for the complete genocide of the Jews. Three weeks after the attack, Ghazi Hamad, a member of the Hamas leadership, said, “We will repeat the attack again and again, until Israel is completely destroyed.” From the Jordan River (the eastern border of Israel) to the Mediterranean Sea (the western border of Israel), the land will be free—free of Jews. That’s what your sons and daughters in college are marching for.
It is fatuous and disingenuous for western policymakers to call for a cease-fire or a mathematically balanced body count. It is specious to suggest that once Palestinians suffer the same number of casualties as Israelis did on October 7th, Israel should stop fighting.
… Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip is not vengeance for October 7th. It is a defensive war, to eradicate the people who have pledged to kill every last Israeli, every last Jew. And if Hamas ever succeeded in destroying the Jews, they would not stop there. Europe and America are next on their target list.
Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip is not vengeance for October 7th, driven by primitive bloodlust. It is thoroughly a defensive war to eradicate Hamas, the organization that has pledged to kill every last Israeli, every last Jew. And if Hamas ever succeeded in destroying the Jews, they would not stop there. Europe and America are next on their target list. Eradicating Hamas and destroying their ability to wage war is a defense of all of western civilization.
Inexplicably, the U.S. State Department is considering officially recognizing a Palestinian state after the Gaza war is over. Could you, reading this account, feel safe knowing that all the power of statehood would be granted to people who have no greater aspiration than your violent murder? An army, a navy, and an air force with full military weapons and an unquenchable thirst for your blood, only hundreds of yards away from your home?
If the Jews are not allowed to live in the ancient land of their heritage, where are they to go? As Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said over 50 years ago, “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.”
Bart Marcois is a former career Foreign Service Officer and was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for International Affairs. He is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant.