Photo: Yossi Aloni/Flash90

What are we to make of the new hour-long movie about the rape and sexual assault of Israeli women on October 7 and since?

This is a segment from The “Calamities, Past and Not” Edition.


Now it’s time for our second discussion, which we are calling On Film, and here is why.

A movie called Screams Before Silence had a somber premiere lately in New York City.

The one-hour documentary, almost one-hour documentary, is directed by a Ukraine-born Israeli director named Anat Stalinsky, anchored by former Facebook COO and feminist activist Sheryl Sandberg, paid for by an American venture capital bazillionaire philanthropist named Joey Lowe, whose support makes it possible for the movie to be distributed everywhere, all the time, and for free on YouTube.

The capsule description of the movie you’ll find on IMDb reads, quote, “This documentary interviews survivors and first responders “about the 2023 Hamas attack on Israel, “highlighting reported sexual violence cases “during the incident, “presenting factual accounts without opinions,” end quote.

More specifically, the movie presents interviews with dozens of people, of whom most are survivors and/or direct witnesses.

Two are scholar experts, and one is the mother of a victim who remains a hostage.

Anat Stalinsky decided early on in making the film that it would not include graphic images of victims.

There is another short 47-minute-long movie edited by the IDF that compiles many of these images that, when shown to politicians, diplomats, and once to a limited audience at Los Angeles’s Museum of Tolerance, had viewers sobbing, shaking, covering their eyes, and running out of the screening room in the middle.

“Screams Before Silence” makes its case mostly through the accounts of witnesses, and these are also devastating enough on their own.

Words, even discreet words, paint pictures.

And it is so devastating, in fact, that I had to stop the video a number of times, taking breaks, before I got all the way through it, even though it’s not even an hour long.

Sheryl Sandberg is our guide throughout the movie.

She is the one who conducts most of the interviews, and you feel her distress, sadness, and outrage at many moments in the movie.

Anat Stalinsky explains that, quote, “Having someone like Sheryl go to the scene, “seeing it with her own eyes, “asking and talking and asking again “because she doesn’t understand something “is a very powerful tool “that creates a stronger connection for the viewer,” end quote.

The accounts that the movie shows describe rape and sexual mutilation that happened on the day, and describe the sexual assault of hostages in Gaza.

Chaim Otmazgin, the head of the Zaka Search and Rescue Organization, that in many instances was first on the scene to discover victims, describes dozens and dozens of cases of women found murdered, naked, their genitals bloodied and savaged.

I carefully recorded passages of the movie to play here.

Amit Susanna describing her being assaulted as a hostage in Gaza.

The New York Times reported on this a month and some ago.

Or Dr.

Ayelet Levi-Shachar, the mother of Naamaa Levi, the 19-year-old in that Hamas video from October 7th being dragged by the hair from a Jeep in Gaza, her pajama bottoms bloodied.

Her, the mother, saying how, quote, “You’d like to think this couldn’t be possible.”

And I saved tapes of other heartbreaking moments like this, but I don’t have the heart for playing them here on the podcast.

In the end, I’ll play one passage, a long one, but one that has a little more distance maybe than the rest.

This is Tali Biner, who hid in a random enclosure at the Nova Festival on October 7th and survived unseen as most everyone right around her was killed.

And here is what she tells Sheryl Sandberg. (somber music) – I started to hear yelling of women.

I heard a girl that started to yell for a long time.

It was like, “Please don’t, no, no, stop, stop, stop, stop.

No, no, no.”

It was like she was asking someone to stop.

Someone is abusing her, someone touching her, someone is doing something. – How do you know that?

Or why do you think that? – I know how it sounds.

Like, I can understand how it sounds.

There’s no way that women will scream that loud for so long if it’s not for asking for help because someone is doing something sexually to her.

When you hear this chaos for like 20 minutes, you understand that something much worse happening right over there.

And it’s not, it doesn’t stop.

That was the time when I started to be afraid I’m going to be raped.

I thought about the fact that I have a piercing in an intimate place.

Like, and I was thinking about how can I take it off as fast as possible because they probably will rip it off.

And then I’m starting to calculate what is worse, to get kidnapped or to be raped or to get shot.

What’s worse, what’s better?

(soft music) When I got out, I saw so many bodies.

Their shirts were ripped off and girls without skirts, without pants, their legs were spreaded.

They were abused.

The bodies were abused. – This week, the website, the Electronic Intifada put out its own video longer than Anat Stalinski’s movie called “Debunking Screams Before Silence,” Sheryl Sandberg’s October 7th mass rape film, arguing that testimonies like Talibiners are just hearsay and Amit Susanna’s first woman account is a he said, she said sort of thing.

And anyway, Israelis have been raping Palestinian women for years and you don’t see people making movies about that, which is depressing.

I guess, Allison, what I wanna hear from you is what does this movie do and what doesn’t it do?

And how does it matter, this movie, if it matters?

I guess, Allison, what I wanna know from you is two things.

What should I think and what should I feel? – Oh, I don’t know what you should think or feel.

No, I’ll tell you what I think and feel.

How’s that? – If that’s the best you can do.

(Allison laughs) – So I think and feel a lot of things.

One is any effort to get the stories out is good.

And this gets the stories out.

And honestly, true confession, it gets the stories out in a way that I can digest them and see them and listen to them.

None of this is new to me because I’ve seen a lot of this on the news in Israel.

But again, it’s mostly in English and it’s translated and it’s palatable.

There are those of us who just won’t look at the videos of the bodies as they exist, who won’t look at the visuals ’cause they’re so disturbing.

So the fact that it’s been laid out this way in words is important.

I’m not so sure if the celebrity vehicle of Sheryl Sandberg being our witness and being the stand-in, I’m not sure how much that works, maybe to an American audience, it makes it better or it makes it more accessible than just regular documentary style where they tell their stories. – She’s very soulful.

I don’t know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her speak before in this movie.

She was more soulful and empathetic, more like humane than I expected. – I kept looking at the reaction shots of her listening and her, I don’t know, I wondered if they were necessary.

I wondered if they added to it or took away from it.

I wasn’t sure, but it was a little odd to me, but I guess it works.

And if you’re gonna have her go on all the talk shows and be interviewed, that celebrity or a well-known face brings more attention to something, then so be it.

Maybe that’s the fact and that’s what makes it important.

Or maybe it took her initiative of doing it to make this thing happen.

So that was good.

So other things that I felt, you either believe all women or you don’t.

Don’t call yourself a feminist and a liberal and say that all you have is these stories and the accounts and this electronic intifada.

I mean, these are people on the left who are saying, you know what, yeah, he said, she said, it’s ridiculous.

And honestly, it’s not he said, she said, because they have clips of the terrorists saying like, yeah, I raped women. – Oh yeah, in the movie, they show three terrorists being interrogated who describe how they raped women. – Right, so they’re not even denying it.

So that’s ridiculous.

They weren’t dumb.

You know, the people, the women, they did these things too.

They killed to hide the evidence.

So all we have in a lot of these cases is the hearsay.

And that’s where I get to where, you know, this is not really a journalistic document is that it glossed over what in hindsight, and hindsight is 2020, was a huge, huge, huge fuck up by Israel.

This was a crime scene.

It should have been treated like a crime scene.

The body should have been treated like bodies at a crime scene.

This should have been, each body, you know, it should have been documented.

There should have been more, you know, official pictures.

There should have been one freaking police forensic person on the scene who was, you know, actually recording it.

But it was, in Hebrew, it was a balagan.

It was a mess.

Let’s get them identified.

Their families are waiting.

Let’s get them buried, you know.

So this, you know, the fact that we have to rely on the accounts of the, you know, the volunteers who were all very well-meaning of like, I saw this, and then I heard this, and all of that, we shouldn’t be having to rely on that.

We should have had more forensic evidence to build our case, and we don’t have it.

And it was a huge fuck up.

And, you know, that has not really been said, investigated, you know, in a kind of comprehensive way.

And, you know, in this film, you know, some of it was well-intended.

I covered it up, and I, you know, I cleaned up the body, and I, you know, whatever.

It was all very well-intentioned.

And to show dignity, just like, you know, we didn’t immediately show our terrible photos after October 7th, you know, in order to protect the dignity and the sensitivities of the families.

Again, 2020 hindsight, maybe that wasn’t a good idea.

Maybe the world did need to see how bad it was, and we wouldn’t be riding this wave of denial of what’s going on.

So that’s sort of the random salad of my thoughts. – Yeah, though there’s something really admirable about the people’s first impulse to just not let the people who were killed be shown in this way.

So, but I understand what you’re saying.

I’m not disagreeing.

But all of that at the beginning, there was Israelis, including the Israeli, you know, government, which was barely functional at the time, was so reticent to talk about this for fear of hurting the families’ feelings, or for fear of doing further damage to people even after they were dead, to their honor, to their dignity, or whatever.

There’s something very moving about that.

And there’s something really sad and dismaying about the need for this whole thing, the need to have people who, in some of the women who are interviewed, say, you know, I didn’t want to talk about this, but after thinking about it, I realized that I have a responsibility to. – Not just after thinking about it, but having people in the world denying that it happened, saying that I have to speak out because people are saying that it didn’t happen. – And there’s something just really dismaying about that this movie needs to exist at all.

I should say, like, going into, because this movie doesn’t really bring evidence in the sense of forensic evidence, no pictures or things, and because– – It was necessary because there isn’t forensic evidence.

That’s what I’m saying, is if there had been forensic evidence, we wouldn’t necessarily need a movie like this. – But just, I would say that my own reaction, just as somebody watches it, is that the movie is completely persuasive, like that clip that we showed, is of a woman who’s cowering in this little, like, basically this sort of little metal trailer enclosure, just a few yards, meters away from people who are being raped and being murdered.

For over the span of several hours, she’s hearing these voices, and I find, and it’s completely, so then the deniers, the electronic intifada people and the people who happily listen to that and are persuaded by what they have to say, they say, “Well, she was inside this little enclosure.

“She didn’t actually see what was going on.”

But it’s, listening to her, to me, there is no, it leaves no room for doubt.

It’s entirely persuasive, and then it makes me wonder how the people, including the, not to spend too much time on this counter video, which doesn’t deserve it, but the woman who is sort of the anchor of it, mostly she’s discussing, she’s talking to a very, very, very male man who is passing his judgments about this right and left, but the woman is a Jewish, young Jewish woman who is the, who is a journalist who, quote-unquote, or not quote-unquote, who works for electronic intifada, and she’s Jewish, and I, and she, she is utterly unpersuaded by these things, and I’m just for a moment trying to understand what it is that she’s thinking, like try to understand what it would, what it takes to cause you to listen to Talibiner and to say, “Ah, that’s just full of shit.”

And I think that maybe what is going on is that like the feeling that what the accusation is is that these Hamas people, and by extension, maybe Palestinians in general, are like uncultured, they’re like primitive, animalistic, they’re brutalizers, and that maybe like the sort of proxy argument going on here is, and maybe there’s an element of this in both sides, including in the people like me who find very, very significant the subject of this movie, maybe the proxy argument is, could it be that these people that we are now fighting in Gaza, which is to say Hamas, are people who just don’t go by the canons of human decency, who just have no truck with that.

And I think that the people who are arguing against it are saying, “No, by focusing a harsh light “on these horrible things, “which may or may not have happened, “you’re essentially arguing that Palestinians aren’t human.”

And to which, I don’t know, what do you think of that? – Well, I mean, there is a conversation as to whether this was systematic and whether they were given orders of, you should kill and disfigure and maim the bodies.

Those were their marching orders, or weren’t they their marching orders?

And also there’s a lot of evidence that they were given drugs, like super amphetamines before they did this.

And I mean, my big reaction is it doesn’t matter.

It matters that it happened, whether or not they were given orders to do it, whether or not it was systematic.

And this whole, ooh, this is their nature, it’s just part of, and how the electronic intifada or whoever it is who’s denying or against it, they’ve just chosen their black hats and their white hats.

And so anything that the people that they say are evil or bad, AKA Israelis, yeah, they’re big liars and manipulators and just trying to make their case, just like people see before their eyes, evidence of a horrible situation in Gaza and say, oh, that’s Hamas and that’s propaganda and they’re manipulating.

I mean, those are just people who are digging into their ideological sides and beliefs and are unwilling to entertain the possibility that there could be nuance or complications. – The movie is on YouTube, you Google it, you’ll find it.

It’s like 57 minutes long.

If you have the stomach for it. – It’s worth watching.

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