Local organizations unite for powerful screening of ‘Screams Before Silence’
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Local organizations unite for powerful screening of ‘Screams Before Silence’

Hamas’ premeditated use of sexual violence on Oct. 7 is well-documented, but there are still those who say it didn’t happen. This film puts any doubts to rest.

Sheryl Sandberg at a memorial at the site of the Nova Music Festival (Still from film)
Sheryl Sandberg at a memorial at the site of the Nova Music Festival (Still from film)

The evidence that Hamas used sexual violence as a tool of war on Oct. 7 is overwhelming and incontrovertible. Reading written reports of the eyewitness testimony of that violence is harrowing, but hearing multiple witnesses recount exactly what they saw that day is much more profound.

Sheryl Sandberg, former chief operating officer of Meta and founder of LeanIn.org, made the documentary “Screams Before Silence” for that very reason, and to counter the denial or justification of those atrocities by anti-Israel activists and antisemites.

Following a showing of the film to a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol last month, Sandberg told JTA: “Some pretty mainstream people are either ignoring or worse denying this happened. So this aspect, I think, gets to the heart of what people need to believe to understand what happened and what this kind of terror really is.”

The film is available on YouTube, but several organizational partners — the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, StandWithUs, the Jewish Women’s Foundation, the National Council of Jewish Women and Classrooms Without Borders — held a screening at the JCC in Squirrel Hill last week so that the community could bear witness together.

While efforts were made to invite a broad coalition of Pittsburghers, the majority of the audience was comprised of members of the Jewish community. Several local politicians were present including City Controller Rachael Heisler; Pittsburgh City Councilwomen Erika Strassburger and Barb Warwick; Allegheny County Controller Corey O’Connor; Allegheny County Councilmen Sam DeMarco III and Paul Klein; and Zeke Rediker, Mayor Ed Gainey’s executive advisor on legal policy.

Representatives from Pittsburgh Action Against Rape and the 10.27 Healing Partnership were also in attendance.

Hamas’ premeditated use of sexual violence on Oct. 7 is well-documented, but there are still those who say it didn’t happen, especially on social media platforms which “have largely allowed Hamas apologists, Israel critics and others to spread and bolster the false narrative that accounts of sexual assaults, gang rape and other atrocities are either made up or wildly inflated,” The Times of Israel reported earlier this month.

That denial motivated the organizational partners to screen the film in Pittsburgh.

“It was really important for us to partner with other Jewish organizations to bring this film in for the community,” Laura Cherner, the director of the Federation’s Community Relations Council, told the Chronicle.

The organizations, she said, have “been unified in this moment around a number of goals, and two of those I see as making sure that we tell the story of what really happened on Oct. 7 and creating a society that does not allow nor tolerate something so horrific to ever happen again. This film is one step of that bearing witness, and bearing witness we hope will translate into a commitment to action.”

The film was screened in Pittsburgh on June 20, just one day after the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence Against Women In Conflict, and days after the antisemitically motivated gang rape of a 12-year-old Jewish girl in France.

In the documentary, Sandberg interviews attendees of the Nova Music Festival — where Hamas murdered more than 360 people and abducted dozens more — residents of the Hamas-ravaged Kibbutz Kfar Aza, former hostages and first responders, all recounting evidence of the sexual brutality that occurred that day in various locations.

While no graphic images are shown out of respect for the victims and their families, the details conveyed in the interviews are horrifying and heartbreaking. The testimony includes that of a captured Hamas terrorist who admits to raping an Israeli woman during the attack.

One former hostage recounts facing terrorists at the music festival and calculating whether it would be better to be kidnapped, raped or shot. “What’s worse?” she wondered. “What’s better?”

Many women were sexually abused, then murdered, their bodies mutilated. Nails and other objects were found shoved into the female organs of deceased victims. Some were shot so many times that their faces were obliterated.

Witnesses told of the women’s screams they heard during the raid — piercing prolonged screaming while being sexually assaulted by terrorists. Then gunshots. Then silence.

Denial of the violence “has caused a massive spike in danger to Jews around the world,” Julie Paris, Mid-Atlantic regional director of StandWithUs, said before the screening.

“I think that showing films like this plays a critical role in making sure that we do believe all women — including Israeli women — and that we bear witness to what took place on that day and what continues to take place for women who are currently being held and have been held for over 250 days inside of Gaza.

“We believe that women who remain captive are at risk of sexual crimes,” Paris added, “and so we want them to know we believe them. We want to stand up for them. We want to bear witness, and make sure to honor the memories of those who did not survive.”

Laurie Gottlieb, co-chair of the Jewish Women’s Foundation, stressed the imperative of getting the film out to a wider audience.

“We seem to live in a world where folks can see a circle and insist it is a square,” Gottlieb said. She suggested that universities might show the film “to their students in class, so it’s not optional.”

“If it can end up touching some of those uninformed pro-Hamas supporters, perhaps this stark and disturbing reality staring them in the face will change the dialogue,” Gottlieb added. “It is critically important to continue to let the world know we will not be silent or be passive bystanders.” PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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