Documentary reviewWarning: Text includes graphic descriptions

Sheryl Sandberg’s new film testifies to Hamas’s brutal sexual violence on October 7

In ‘Screams Before Silence’ documentary, survivors and witnesses share details of inconceivable cruelty by Palestinian terrorists in Israel and Gaza in hopes the world will listen

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Sheryl Sandberg visits the site of Hamas's October 7 Nova festival massacre, in 'Screams Before Silence.' (Kastina Productions)
Sheryl Sandberg visits the site of Hamas's October 7 Nova festival massacre, in 'Screams Before Silence.' (Kastina Productions)

Following a world premiere in New York on Thursday, “Screams Before Silence,” former Meta chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s new documentary on the systematic sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas against Israelis on October 7, is now available for open-access online viewing.

The hour-long film, created in cooperation with Israel’s Kastina Productions, provides first-hand accounts from survivors, freed hostages, first responders, and legal, medical, and forensic experts. Sandberg is present throughout the film either interviewing individuals in a studio or accompanying them to October 7-related sites.

What emerges is not only an understanding of the mass scale and barbarism of Hamas’s sexual attacks against women but also their deliberate, pre-meditated, and systematic nature.

“When the body of the woman is violated, it symbolizes [the violation] of the body of the whole nation,” Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, former vice-president of the United Nations Commission on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, says in the documentary.

The film’s testimonies detail a horrific truth that was largely brushed aside by a report released earlier this week by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in which he declined to include Hamas among organizations suspected by the UN of committing acts of sexual violence during conflict. That report noted there is evidence that sex crimes were committed during the Palestinian terror group’s devastating October 7 attack on Israel, but did not specifically attribute responsibility to Hamas.

The film also comes at a critical moment as mass anti-Israel demonstrations overtake a growing number of American university campuses, with many participants refuting the facts of October 7. Some flat-out deny that Hamas breached the border with Gaza and ruthlessly tortured, murdered, and wounded thousands of Israelis that day.

“Screams Before Silence” is clearly aimed at American and international audiences, as nearly everything in it has already been shared or reported in one form or another in the Israeli media. In addition, most of the October 7 footage — mainly shot by Hamas terrorists’ own GoPro cameras — has already appeared on television or social media.

However, even for those who have seen the footage or heard survivor or witness testimonies, it will be hard to watch the documentary. It begins with a trigger warning and mentions at the end that graphic images were not included out of respect for the victims and their families. Just listening to the vivid first-hand descriptions is traumatic enough.

Sheryl Sandberg interviews a Nova festival survivor in ‘Screams Before Silence.’ (Kastina Productions)

Revisiting the site of the Nova festival, where 360 mainly young people were massacred, four survivors tell Sandberg how they fled and hid. All four recount hearing women screaming and begging Hamas attackers to stop raping them.

I also heard a couple. She didn’t say words. She was just screaming and he was begging for someone to leave her [alone]. I remember he said, ‘Leave her.’ The guy was crying for a long time

“There is no way that [a woman] will scream that loud and for so long if it is not for asking for help because someone is doing something sexually to her… That was the time when I started to be afraid I am going to be raped,” says Tali Binner, who hid for seven hours in a trailer.

“I also heard a couple. She didn’t say words. She was just screaming and he was begging for someone to leave her [alone]. I remember he said, ‘Leave her.’ The guy was crying for a long time,” Binner adds.

When Sandberg asks her what happened after the screaming of the many women she heard all around, Binner says she heard shots and then silence.

A shaken Raz Cohen recounts hiding 40 meters from where he could see and hear a group of men grabbing a woman. One man pulled down the woman’s pants and raped her from behind.

“They just did what they wanted to her. There were no rules. Then he stabbed or slaughtered her with a knife and continued to rape her. She could have already been dead as he continued to rape her,” he says. “I wish I could have helped her. I wish I had a weapon with me so I could have attacked the terrorists and tried to save her.”

When Binner was finally able to emerge from her hiding place, she saw the bodies of women, many fully or partially unclothed, with their legs spread.

Elad Avraham, who worked security at Nova, saw corpses everywhere, including a woman who had been bound and bent over a car’s bumper with her legs apart. He also saw bodies with parts cut off.

“Bodies whose breasts were cut off were found in several… locations. It depicts a pattern that could not have been unless it was premeditated and preconceived by Hamas themselves,” Halperin-Kaddari notes.

ZAKA personnel at the forensic center in the Shura military base near Ramle, where hundreds of dead bodies arrived following the start of the war with Gaza on October 7. October 13, 2023. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The mutilation extended to women’s vaginas, as well. Rami Davidian, a local farmer, made many trips to and from the Nova site to locate and extricate survivors. In the film, he stands in a wooded area with Sandberg and breaks down as he recounts coming across more than 30 dead, stripped, young women who were bound to trees. Legs apart, some of them had metal rods and wooden boards rammed up their vaginas.

Sandberg interviews experienced ZAKA rescue and body retrieval organization volunteers Haim Otzagin and Simcha Greiniman. Both say they had never previously encountered the kind of atrocities they witnessed on October 7.

“Bodies were cut to pieces. You couldn’t identify if a person was a man or a women. Everything was ripped apart. And many bodies were naked. I had dealt with hundreds of bodies [of people violently killed] before and none had been naked,” Greiniman says.

Sandberg is visibly shaken as the ZAKA volunteers show her photos they took to document what they saw, including vaginas ripped open by stab wounds and gunshots.

“We found one woman in her home under a mattress. She was naked, and nails and other things were hammered into her female area,” Greiniman says.

“[An attacker] can’t get to that area unless it’s deliberately targeted,” Otzagin adds.

Shari Mendes, an IDF reservist who served at the October 7 morgue at the Shura military base, testifies that she and her colleagues witnessed the results of deliberate genital mutilation and sexual violence as a systemic weapon of war.

“Women were shot in the head so many times that it seemed like there was an intention, an objective, to obliterate their faces. Most often, families couldn’t be shown the faces of their daughters. And we began to see that some of it was sexual in nature — directly targeted sexual violence,” Mendes says. “It did seem systematic — to use sexual violence as a weapon of war.”

“Screams Before Silence” also weaves the experiences of the hostages in Gaza into the narrative, highlighting that the sexual violence did not end once they were on the other side of the border.

The film was shot in February when the hostages had been held for around 100 days. It is now more than 200 days since October 7 and there are still 133 Israelis in captivity, not all of them alive.

Amit Soussana, who was freed after 55 days, was the first to speak publicly about being sexually abused. She agreed to be interviewed for the film and a New York Times article about how her captor forced her at gunpoint to perform a sexual act on him.

“I felt guilty and disgusted with myself even though I had no choice,” Soussana tells Sandberg.

Ultimately, Soussana decided to go public with her experience so the world would know the truth about Hamas’s brutality and take action to save the hostages still in Gaza, especially women vulnerable to sexual violence.

Teenager Agam Goldstein-Almog was kidnapped to Gaza with her mother and two younger brothers after her father and older sister were murdered by terrorists in the family’s Kfar Aza home on October 7. Released in late November, she reported having been groped by captors and being constantly afraid she would be raped.

“Half of the girls and young women I met in captivity told me they experienced sexual or physical abuse or both. They are still living there with their rapists,” she says in the film.

Prof. Itai Pessach, who treated released hostages at Sheba Medical Center, says he fears the “unthinkable possibilities of pregnancies” among some of the [raped] Israeli women still held in Gaza.

According to Israel Police Chief Superintendent Mirit Ben Mayor, over 200,000 pieces of visual evidence and 2,000 testimonies from October 7, including substantial evidence of sexual violence, have been collected.

Some of those testimonies are from captured Hamas terrorists themselves, as recorded on videos during interrogations by Israeli security services.

This film is one way in which Sandberg, who declined to be interviewed for this article, is attempting to bring attention to these crimes against humanity. She has also written op-ed articles and spoken at the UN and with the leaders of several nations.

At the end of the film, Sandberg moves over into the interviewee’s chair, from which she tells director Anat Stalinsky why spreading the evidence of Hamas’s sexual violence is important to her.

With most of Hamas’s victims silenced by murder, Sandberg says she hopes those who watch the film will listen to the testimonies and share them.

“Anyone who watches this film can bear witness,” she says.

TOI staff contributed to this report.

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