Why Israel showed searing images of the Hamas attack

Editor’s Note: This story contains graphic descriptions.

It begins on that early Saturday morning, October 7, as Hamas militants pile into the back of white pickup trucks while the sun is still rising, AK-47s slung around their chests. In one scene, they are grinning and taking video of themselves as their truck speeds down the road, on their way to slaughter people who are still asleep.

They set up checkpoints and shoot at any car that approaches. Later, they pull out the dead bodies so they can steal the vehicles.

The scenes are excruciating to watch. The tape lasts over 40 minutes.

On Friday, CNN was part of a small group of journalists in the United States shown a graphic video of the brutal October 7 attack carried out by Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces has been screening this raw footage — which was compiled from dash cam videos, body cameras, surveillance systems, CCTV and the phones of dead Hamas fighters, and not all of which CNN can verify — to world leaders and U.S. lawmakers. Friday was the first time the video has been shown outside of Israel, though a CNN reporter had already seen a version shown to reporters located within Israel.

Israeli officials explained they are not releasing the video publicly out of respect for the victims.

Israel has distilled and shared the footage as part of a response to growing international criticism of its military campaign and blockade in Gaza, which have sparked a humanitarian crisis. The IDF’s apparent intention is to underscore the scope of the massacre and to remind the world of the atrocities committed by Hamas as Israel’s government tries to build support for its ground campaign in Gaza, which Israeli officials have warned will be long and difficult.

As journalists watched the searing images in a silent room, the United Nations General Assembly – just a block away – approved a nonbinding resolution calling for a “humanitarian truce.” Hours later, Israel sent more forces into Gaza and ramped up its aerial bombardment.

In another scene from the video, two Hamas militants enter a kibbutz. One shoots the tires out of an ambulance parked near the front, ensuring that any survivors can’t be transported to safety later. The militants go on to ambush the houses, shooting people who are still in their beds or are sitting on their back porches. They even shoot the dogs wandering around the kibbutz. If they struggle to get inside a home, they set it on fire instead.

The scenes include a Hamas fighter standing on a dead man and continuing to fire into the body at close range. They show Hamas members arguing over who gets to attempt to decapitate a Thai laborer with a garden hoe, shouting, “Allahu akbar” with each swing. They show militants setting cars on fire and then gathering around for a selfie, smiling as if they’re at a tailgate.

In Netiv HaAsara, a small town that sits on the Gaza border, a man and his three sons are awoken by the attack, all still in their underwear. On home surveillance footage, the panicked father carries one child while the other two run behind him through the living room. They make it outside as he sprints into the home’s bomb shelter, launching his sons in first. Seconds later, two Hamas members throw a grenade into the entryway, killing the father instantly. The two older boys, who are around 10 or 12, emerge bloodied but alive. They go back into their living room.

“Daddy’s dead,” one says to the other. “It’s not a prank.”

“I know, I saw,” the other, hunched over the table, says, adding that he can only see with one eye after the grenade blast.

“You’re not joking?” his brother asks. “You can’t see?”

They are inconsolable — not that there’s anyone there to console them. A Hamas militant absentmindedly raids their fridge as they sob uncontrollably.

“Why am I alive? Why am I alive?” one boy cries.

When the boys’ mother arrives later with the village’s security, she has to be dragged away from her husband’s body to be taken to safety.

At the Nova music festival, where at least 260 bodies were found, you see as the panic sets in when revelers realize they are being attacked. The music is still playing as one person records a video with paragliders approaching in the background. Festival attendees quickly begin to hide in dumpsters and behind trees, but nowhere is safe. As a Hamas militant, wearing a body camera, walks by the porta-potties, he fires into each of them in case anyone is inside.

Many people ran to nearby bomb shelters. In one video, a festival-goer’s eyes grow wide as he pans around to show a crowded bunker filled with the sobs and anguish of his peers. Later, you see the neat rows of white body bags from those who were murdered.

In the three weeks since the attack, Israel has bombed Gaza constantly from the skies. Israeli officials say the country is targeting Hamas militants and their strategic locations, which officials say are embedded among the civilian population. Israel pushed some of its forces into the narrow strip of land Friday night as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the second phase of the nation’s campaign. The Israeli government has rejected calls for a ceasefire despite warnings from other nations about a regional conflict and widespread concerns about civilians who are unable to leave Gaza and who lack access to basic resources.

“There are innocent people in Gaza,” retired IDF Maj. Gen. Mickey Edelstein said after the screening — underlining the distinction between civilians and Hamas. But Israeli officials made clear the war’s next phase will go on, as Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, added, “There is no other way to defeat Hamas than a ground operation.”

On Saturday, an IDF spokesman again urged residents to leave northern Gaza.

“To the residents of northern Gaza and Gaza City, your window to act is closing. … Move south. This is not a mere precaution, it is an urgent plea.”

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