Why Utah leaders screened graphic footage of Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel

Utah lawmakers screened graphic footage of the Oct. 7, 2023 terrorist attacks at the state Capitol on Tuesday and reaffirmed support for Israel amid its ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

Utah lawmakers screened graphic footage of the Oct. 7, 2023 terrorist attacks at the state Capitol on Tuesday and reaffirmed support for Israel amid its ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Rabbi Avremi Zippel is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, and grew up hearing the common refrain to "never forget" the atrocities committed against Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Zippel, a prominent Jewish leader in Salt Lake City, said he never thought antisemitism would become as common as it is in some circles, nor that some would try to minimize or deny the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust: Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas militants killed some 1,200 people — Americans and at least one Utahn among them — in a brazen surprise attack launched against kibbutzes and villages near the Gaza Strip.

Nearly 250 people were kidnapped and taken by Hamas to Gaza, where about 120 remain, according to an Israeli official, although dozens are presumed dead.

The rabbi was one of several community members who joined some 30 state lawmakers, Attorney General Sean Reyes and several journalists Tuesday to screen grisly raw footage of the Oct. 7 attacks compiled by the Israeli Defense Forces. He said he participated to have the chance to "bear witness" to the horrors committed by Hamas for victims who "don't have the ability to be their own voice."

"I really believe there's nothing that prepares you for what you see on that film," Zippel said after the screening, adding that there's "no relation" any human being should have to the footage. "You wonder when the humanity kicks in. ... You almost wait for that to happen until it doesn't."

The screening was organized and hosted by Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, on behalf of the Israeli consul general. Adams said the screening was a chance for Utah leaders to "bear personal witness" to the events of Oct. 7 and reaffirm support for Israel in the midst of an ongoing bloody conflict that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza.

Adams cast the war in Gaza as a fight between good and evil, saying: "America will always stand for good against evil."

Senate President Stuart Adams speaks at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 1.
Senate President Stuart Adams speaks at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 1. (Photo: Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)

The 43-minute video is compiled from body camera, cellphone and dashcam footage uploaded to social media by Hamas, as well as video captured on victims' phones, CCTV cameras and cameras worn by Israeli first responders. It depicts brutal killings and the aftermath in several kibbutzes near Gaza and at the Nova music festival, where some 350 people were killed and many taken hostage.

An Israel Air Force major — who asked that he not be identified out of concern for his safety — presented evidence of sexual violence and torture.

Several screenings of the film have been held for U.S. officials, including President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as well as members of Congress. State lawmakers in Nevada and California have also viewed the footage, according to a Senate spokeswoman.

Attendees, including journalists, were required to sign a nondisclosure agreement promising not to film, photograph or record audio during the screening, out of respect for the victims and their families.

Most disturbing to some in the room was the apparent jubilation expressed by many of the Hamas militants — many of whom posed for photos with the bodies of Israelis or marched cheering through the street.

One man could be heard on a recorded phone call bragging to his parents about having "killed 10 with my own hands."

The U.S. has long held close ties with Israel as a key ally in the Middle East, but Israel's retaliation against Gaza in an effort to eradicate Hamas and the ensuing eight months of war have enflamed tensions in the U.S. as pro-Palestinian protests have spread across the country — including at the University of Utah, where 19 were arrested in April.

About 1.7 million Palestinians are estimated to have been internally displaced by the conflict, according to the International Rescue Committee, and Gaza health officials say at least 37,296 Palestinians have been killed.

Officials on Tuesday did not address the growing death toll in Gaza, and state leaders repeatedly called for ongoing support for Israel in a war they described as a fight of "good vs. evil." Adams recalled a visit in 2022 to war-torn Ukraine, and said, "There's an element of the world we don't understand."

"Time and time again throughout world history, we have learned education is vital in working to prevent future atrocities," Adams said. "Given Utah's ties with Israel, it is imperative we understand the nature of the conflict through viewing this footage for ourselves."

The screening was not tied to a specific request from Israel, he said. State lawmakers passed resolutions of support for Israel last fall.

When asked why Israel thinks it important to share the footage, the Air Force major asked: "Why is it important to see the atrocities of the Holocaust?"

"Never again," he said. "And sadly, never again happened again."

He said Hamas leaders would like to commit another attack like the one on Oct. 7, and said Israel's war in Gaza aims to prevent that.

Zippel said he believes the footage should be shared "as far and broad as possible" to spread awareness of what happened. He said he views the conflict not as a religious war between Muslims and Jews, and said he holds "no acrimony" toward followers of the Muslim faith.

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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for KSL.com. He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.


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