No Mental Health Without Democracy, a large group of mental health professionals in Israel, has issued an urgent call to the government to scrap Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported plan to show a film of the murderous atrocities committed by Hamas against Israelis on October 7 to the general public.
According to reports in Hebrew media, Netanyahu is leaning toward widely releasing the film in order to shock a worldwide audience, boosting Israel’s position internationally and justifying its war against Hamas in Gaza.
The psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and arts therapists warned that showing the film — especially in its entirety — is an uncalled-for move that will only deepen Israelis’ and world Jewry’s trauma and newly traumatize many others.
They also made the point that the relentless news cycle will only lead the film to be quickly forgotten as it is replaced by newer headlines and horrific images from elsewhere.
“From what I understand from media people, the film will only have an effect for a couple of days, so there is really no point,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Yarden Mendelson.
The graphic 47-minute film was put together by the IDF Spokesperson’s Office from footage retrieved in large part from video cameras worn by the terrorists, who documented the carnage in real time.
On the morning of Saturday, October 7, several thousand terrorists burst through the border from Gaza by ground, air, and sea. They attacked over 20 Israeli towns, kibbutzim, and IDF bases, leaving many of them in total ruin.
The terrorists savagely murdered 1,400 Israelis — mainly civilians, including 260 young people at an open-air music festival. Dozens of people are still missing, and more than 240 Israelis and foreign nationals were taken captive to Gaza and are still being held there.
The film has already been screened by the IDF and the Foreign Ministry for some members of the local and foreign press and foreign officials at Israeli consulates around the world. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan organized a screening in New York for ambassadors and other high-level officials.
It has been reported that Israeli actor Gal Gadot and Israeli director and screenwriter Guy Nattiv are organizing screenings for the Hollywood community in Los Angeles and New York.
“I know that [the IDF and Foreign Ministry] are handling the film very responsibly. They are not just showing it to anyone. They are showing it only to influential people,” Mendelson said.
“They are also requiring those viewing the film to leave their cellphones outside the screening rooms and to sign forms stating that they agree not to publish or share any footage from the film. It’s not like they can do that if the Israeli authorities have the only copy and they can’t bring in recording devices, but they have to sign the forms anyway,” she added.
After much deliberation, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana arranged a screening of the film for the members of Knesset last week. According to the Hebrew-language Ynet, “he said that it is necessary to know with whom Israel is dealing, to see the evil, to know how justified the war with Hamas is, and how to be factually accurate.”
The Knesset had psychologists on hand and many of the 56 members of parliament who attended took sedatives offered by the physician before entering the screening. Many members could not make it through the entire film without leaving the room.
“I spoke to one of the members of Knesset who saw the film and she told me that she had to take sedatives for three days afterward and was having chest pains,” Mendelson said.
Since October 7, Mendelson, who is in private practice, and her colleagues from No Mental Health Without Democracy have shifted their focus from fighting the government’s judicial overhaul to treating the traumatized Israeli public, especially those directly affected.
Survivors of the Hamas attacks and the families of the hostages have opposed the wide release of the film because they do not want horrific images of their loved ones made public. However, at this time the IDF is considering producing a limited cut of the film that would be responsive to the survivors’ and families’ sensitivities.
Mendelson said she and her colleagues firmly believe it’s simply not worth releasing any of the footage to the general public. Almost everyone has seen some scenes from October 7, and that is more than enough, she asserted.
Asked whether it would be less painful for Israelis if the film was released abroad —which is where the prime minister wants to improve Israel’s image — Mendelson remarked that in today’s hyper-connected world, it does not make a difference.
“Once it is out somewhere in the world, it will immediately be everywhere. And once it is out, our children will see it, and that is something we definitely don’t want to happen,” she said.
Mendelson said she does not know a single mental health colleague who is in favor of releasing any of the footage, as the first rule of treating psychological trauma is not to reintroduce the trauma.
The mental health system has been inundated in the last month with hundreds of thousands of requests for help from distraught Israelis who have been exhibiting symptoms of acute trauma.
With the condition also affecting the body, some people have experienced physical manifestations, such as chest pains and breathing difficulties.
“I know of a case of an IDF officer in charge of informing families that their loved ones have fallen in battle, and another of a ZAKA [a group that retrieves human remains] worker. Both of these people ended up in the hospital. Their hearts gave out,” Mendelson said.
“There have also been cases where the psychological trauma has been too much and people have died by suicide in the last month,” she added.
Despite the healthcare system’s quick and well-intentioned response to the country’s psychological pain, it simply doesn’t have enough resources — human and otherwise — to meet the demand for appropriate treatment.
“The Knesset members had psychologists on hand to help them immediately after they watched the film. The average Israeli has to wait a long time to get an appointment with a psychologist, even now,” Mendelson said.
With Israel’s psychologists scrambling to learn how to treat trauma, this is not the time to add to their load or to further endanger the mental and physical health of Israel’s citizens.
“I don’t think that it’s worth risking the souls and the lives of so many people, and not just in Israel,” Mendelson said.