Senators emerge shaken from screening of Hamas attack footage

‘It’s the face of evil,’ Sen. Ted Cruz said, clearly struggling with what he’d seen

Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Family belongings including teddy bears, and the Judaica shelf are destroyed in a home after Hamas militants attacked this kibbutz near the Gaza border on October 13, 2023.

Nearly 40 senators who viewed footage from Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel on Tuesday morning emerged from the screening seeming shaken, some of them in tears.

“We must bear witness to what they did, to honor the memories of the thousands of families who lost loved ones, friends, beloved family members,” Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who co-organized the screening with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), told reporters. “There are those who wish to deny what happened. We need to let the world know what happened here.”

As the world remembers the attack in the future, Rosen continued, “it will be sanitized, and memories will be longer gone. It’s important that we see it now, in real time, because Hamas has vowed to repeat this day over and over, over and over… They have promised to export this terror. So we need to show people who they really are and what they plan to do and how they plan to do it.”

Rubio expressed a similar view.

“I think it’s really important not to sanitize this. Over time these horrifying incidents sort of lose their impact,” he told reporters. “The one thing that struck me is how proud and gleeful these people were [about] what they were doing to civilians, unarmed children, people sitting around at home having breakfast, kids out at a rave party. It gives you insight into what human beings are capable of.”

Many of the senators who attended the screening told reporters they didn’t want to talk about what they’d seen.

“It’s the face of evil,” the usually voluble Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, clearly struggling with what he’d seen. “There is a level of evil and hate and depravity that defies words. And it is astonishing that there are still some in America and across the globe who deny these atrocities occurred. This was not combat. This was the slaughter of innocent civilians. And the joy and celebration among those terrorists as they were murdering children — it simply defies words.”

Cruz said the lawmakers had seen footage of terrorists celebrating as they killed women and children, “desecrated the bodies” and beheaded people.

“It was jarring and harrowing. It shook all of us up in the room,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said during a press conference on Tuesday. “I had to go sit in my office for a half hour alone after seeing it.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Senate majority whip, told Jewish Insider “it’s just graphic violence and death.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told JI that the footage was “just horrific.”

The screening comes amid conversations among Senate Democrats about potentially placing conditions on emergency U.S. aid to Israel. They’re expected to discuss the subject at a caucus lunch just a few hours after the screening. The screening was initially planned more than two weeks ago, before public discussion of conditions had begun.

“This is so important why we need to pass aid to Israel, so Israel can protect themselves. We need to move forward, get those hostages out,” Rosen, who vocally opposes conditions, said. “Israel has to protect themselves and the world from the brutal, brutal terror that Hamas waged in Israel and has promised to wage again.”

She did not say specifically whether she thought seeing the footage might change the way colleagues view the conflict.

“I think what we first have to focus on right here, right now, in the immediate, is there are still hostages,” Rosen told JI. “There are still children, women, babies, we need to get the hostages out… [My colleagues have] seen what they did to children, women and babies. We need to provide humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people that are victims of Hamas as well. And then we need to move forward to find a way to end the cancer that is Hamas terror.”

Asked if seeing it had impacted his views on the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, Van Hollen said, “I’ve known it was horrific and this makes it clear just how horrible it was.”

Cruz said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “was right in his response to this, pledging to utterly eliminate Hamas. That is the only reasonable response. And America should stand unequivocally with Israel in eliminating Hamas.”

The highly graphic footage, compiled by the Israeli government from Hamas body cameras and other sources, has been screened for House members, reporters and others in the international community in recent weeks.

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