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Weaponization and Denial
Weaponization and Denial
Since October 7th, Israel’s use of evidentiary claims as justification for its devastation of Gaza has fed a countervailing strain of untruth.
Linda Kinstler

In early December, the Israeli production company Yes Studios released a new film, #NOVA, which documents how the October 7th attacks unfolded for attendees of the Supernova trance music festival. The documentary, which is available on YouTube in Israel but has not yet been widely released, is composed almost entirely of mobile phone videos, recordings, and text messages from festivalgoers. It begins with an audio clip of one survivor calling her father as she tries to run away from the shooting. He tells her to hang up the phone and play dead. The next sequence is composed of video fragments from the hours leading up to the Hamas attack: Partygoers snap on their wristbands, show off their outfits in the mirror, sway to the thumping beat of the DJ set. In the dark, a girl waves a flag reading, “Universo Parallelo,” parallel universe, the rave’s tag line. The crowd is shown jumping in sync, neon lights flashing over their faces, a pair of digitized technicolor skulls nodding and shimmering overhead. The film then captures the moment, in the early hours of October 7th, when the music stops. A security guard comes up to the DJ and tells him to stop playing, that the party is over, red alert, and orders the crowd to disperse. One young man, still high from the rave, almost seems to be dancing to the beat of the explosions as they echo overhead, laughing as he chants: “bam bam, bam bam bam!” As the rockets continue, a woman tells herself, “You’re screwed—who throws a party in Gaza?”

#NOVA is one of several documentary films that chronicle the killings and kidnappings of Israelis by Hamas fighters and their accomplices on October 7th. It was preceded by Bearing Witness, a film composed of footage taken from the body cameras and cell phone footage of Hamas militants and distributed by the Israeli military, which has been shown to parliaments and legislatures in the US, Canada, and Europe, and screened at universities, Israeli consulates, synagogues, and Jewish museums. Another documentary chronicling the attack on the rave, Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre, aired at the end of December in Israel and has been optioned for international distribution. Yet another film about the festival attack, co-produced by the BBC, is in production.

These films are memory objects which their creators also present as much-needed forms of proof. Within days of October 7th, the Israeli government—then in the process of deploying its annihilating military campaign against Gaza—began to warn of a virulent new tendency to deny the scale or veracity of the attacks on Israelis. By using the language of “denial,” the government sought to invoke the precedent of Holocaust revisionism—a parallel that it soon made explicit. Ahead of the first official screening of Bearing Witness, on October 23rd in Tel Aviv, an Israeli government spokesperson framed the film as an effort to counter a “Holocaust-like denial phenomenon.” This aspiration defines the whole cohort of documentaries. Noam Pinchas, one of the directors of Supernova, told Haaretz that “I very much hope it will prove that these things really did transpire.” Dan Pe’er, the director of #NOVA, told the paper that “the world needs to understand the holocaust we went through, documented by many who were there.”

Conspiracy theories that dismiss or diminish the violence against Israelis have indeed circulated online since October. The Washington Post reported in January that “a small but growing group denies the basic facts of the attacks, pushing a spectrum of falsehoods and misleading narratives that minimize the violence or dispute its origins.” Chief among these denialist narratives is the contention that October 7th was a “false flag” attack, a disguised effort by Israel, or perhaps by the US, to create a pretense to commence bombing Gaza. This conspiracy has doubtless drawn fuel from the fact that Israeli soldiers did indeed kill Israeli civilians that day—and that Israel has said it will not investigate those incidents until it concludes its war on Gaza. A similar dynamic has played out around conflicting accounts of gender violence committed on and after October 7th: Some have denounced every allegation that Israeli women were raped in the attack as a fabrication, despite the UN’s assertion that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” some such reports are credible.

These denialist currents may be alarming, but they have been fed by the disturbing reality that the violence of October 7th—especially the reports of sexual violence—has been marshalled almost from the moment it occurred to justify retribution at a vastly greater scale. The accusation of rape, frequently racialized, has historically served to dehumanize the accused, dovetailing with Israeli officials’ claims that they are in an existential battle for their survival against, in the words of Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, “human animals.” This drumbeat echoes through reports in mainstream media outlets alleging that Hamas made systematic use of rape as a “weapon of war”—growing louder even in the face of a glaring lack of evidence to support that heavy claim. Many reports are not only largely unverified but also unverifiable, given that many of the dead were buried before forensic examinations or autopsies were performed. Meanwhile, credible reports of Israeli soldiers raping, humiliating, and threatening Palestinian women in detention have also emerged. With the stakes of these depictions so high and the hard facts so limited, it’s no wonder that the weaponization of evidentiary claims has fed a countervailing strain of untruth.

Under such conditions, the status of “evidence” itself is dangerously undermined. Israeli government narratives have amply contributed to its weakened power: The day the International Court of Justice heard arguments in the case of South Africa v. Israel over Israel’s alleged violations of the Genocide Convention, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs arranged to have #NOVA screened just outside the Peace Palace. The message was clear: The real evidence, the display suggested, was not being presented inside the court, where the South African legal team argued that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people, but rather outside, in the public square, where the Hamas atrocities against Israelis were broadcast for all to see. In this way, even as they aim to counteract one kind of denial, the films are also part of a media apparatus that amplifies another. They assemble filmic and photographic evidence not only to induce their viewers to look, but also to discourage them from considering what is occurring just outside the frame.