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Amazon reverses rejection of book of Oct. 7 testimonies

Book includes testimonies from Nova survivors, ZAKA volunteers about the Hamas massacre

Amazon changed course after declining to sell Testimonies Without Boundaries, Israel: October 7th 2023, a book about Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre in southern Israel, written by Alon Penzel, 23, a former spokesman for Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

The book features testimony, some of which is graphic, from ZAKA volunteers who collected human remains from the attack sites, from survivors of the Nova Party massacre and from workers at Israel’s Forensic Medicine Institute, as well as evidence Penzel himself viewed.

The e-commerce giant made the title available on its site after Jewish Insider inquired as to why the book was rejected. Amazon did not reply to JI. Its initial rejection message said that the book is “in violation of [its] content guidelines.” 

The book was published in cooperation with Israel-Is, an organization that seeks to empower Israelis to improve the country’s image. Israeli-Is CEO Nimrod Palmach, who wrote the book’s foreword, was one of numerous Israelis who drove to the Gaza border on Oct. 7 to rescue civilians, even before he was called up to IDF reserve duty.

On that day, Penzel recounted, he began advocating for Israel on social media, and decided that he needed to do more to help. Within a few weeks, the idea of the book began to crystalize.

“I wanted to take the initiative to memorialize the events so no one could deny or forget them. I am the grandson of a Holocaust survivor,” Penzel, a student at Haifa University who has been involved in Israeli public diplomacy efforts, explained.

Penzel traveled to the site of the Nova massacre, to the kibbutzim and moshavim on the Gaza border, and roadside bomb shelters, and collected the testimonies of more than 60 survivors, volunteers and professionals.

“I tried to include all the elements that represent Oct. 7,” he said. 

The book, Penzel said, “is uncensored and not delicate about what happened,” and includes many accounts that have not been published yet, including many cases of sexual abuse of women and men.

“I asked questions that were not so sensitive, in order to reach the truth about the difficult aspects of what they experienced,” he said. “It’s written clearly and unapologetically. I don’t think I have the right to censor or moderate what happened.”

Penzel said he went through a rigorous fact-checking process and only included accounts that he could confirm.

He also described his own interactions with the interviewees and reactions to their responses, painting a picture of what it was like to speak with them at a time when their emotions were still so raw. 

Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Diaspora Ministry have purchased dozens of copies of the book and plan to give it to influential figures around the world. Penzel called the book “a major diplomatic tool.” 

Penzel’s goal in writing the book was for the world to know and remember Oct. 7, to raise awareness and to push back against those who deny the atrocities.

Asked about the response so far, he said, “Of course there are antisemitic responses and deniers and people who curse me and Israel.”

”Nothing surprised me, because as a spokesman for COGAT I experienced questions bordering on antisemitism by journalists and people working in the field … I don’t take it badly,” he said.

“I won’t censor myself. I’ll talk about what I heard and saw, and make an impact. I don’t plan to stop. It’s my mission and it’s a national mission,” Penzel added.

Amazon originally told Penzel that the book violated its content guidelines for books, without specifying further. Those guidelines prohibit illegal or infringing content, as well as those that include “hate speech, promotes the abuse or sexual exploitation of children, contains pornography, glorifies rape or pedophilia, advocates terrorism, or other material we deem inappropriate or offensive.” Amazon goes into further detail about offensive and controversial materials, including “products that contain violent or offensive material that has no historical significance” or “products related to human tragedies.” 

Yet, despite the prohibition of “products that promote or glorify people that have been found guilty of violent or sexual crimes,” JI found a book that justifies the Oct. 7 attack as “resistance,” praises it as an attempt to “restore normal living conditions” and claims that “the death of civilians was … not an objective” and that “freed hostages … had been treated with respect and even a friendly manner.” 

The pro-Hamas book is sold in hard copy by Amazon and is available on Kindle; the book of Israeli testimonies about Oct. 7 was initially only found on Amazon for sale by a third party. 

An Amazon employee, Sasha Troufanov, has been held hostage by Hamas since Oct. 7, but the company has remained silent about him.

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