OpinionOctober 7

The girl in the picture

Let’s hope Sheryl Sandberg is able to tell the story of Oct. 7 in a way that resonates over generations.

The iconic 1972 photograph showing Phan Thi Kim Phuc running down a road near Trảng Bàng, Vietnam, following a napalm strike. Photo by Nick Ut via Wikimedia Commons.
The iconic 1972 photograph showing Phan Thi Kim Phuc running down a road near Trảng Bàng, Vietnam, following a napalm strike. Photo by Nick Ut via Wikimedia Commons.
Alan Newman
Alan Newman is the author of the novel Good Heart and a pro-Israel advocate who holds leadership positions at AIPAC, StandWithUs and other organizations.

Nick Ut, a Vietnamese American photographer, snapped the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture on June 8, 1972 of nine-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc, burned by napalm, running naked down a road. She has been known throughout her life as “the girl in the picture.” That war correspondent’s poignant image both captured the brutality of the Vietnam War and greatly influenced American attitudes.

A Feb. 8 article in The Wall Street Journal describes the accomplished Sheryl Sandberg “ … and Her Mission to Make Sure Oct. 7 Horrors Aren’t Forgotten.” The story shares that her film—tentatively called “Screams Before Silence”—will focus on the “sexual violence” perpetrated by Hamas. To convey the sheer brutality of Hamas and the Palestinians who accompanied them, she will need to find “acceptable” images and a narrative that captures the mutilation of both men and women. Her production will carefully reveal the perversity and cruelty of the acts inflicted on bodies, especially genitalia and breasts, that haunt her to this day.

Many women’s rights organizations aligned with the #MeToo sexual assault campaign largely ignored the plight of Hamas’s Israeli victims. Michelle Obama’s public outrage over the Islamic Boko Haram’s attack, kidnapping and rape of black girls in 2014 in Nigeria contrasts sadly with her prolonged silence on what happened in southern Israel on Oct. 7 and continues to happen to hostages still being held captive in the Gaza Strip. Discounting Israeli women’s suffering diminishes the credibility of virtue-signaling grandstanders. Sandberg’s film is sorely needed.

It remains to be seen how filmmakers and historians will document the Hamas attack and the subsequent war in Gaza. Maybe a story about the 1,200 men, women and children murdered that Shabbat and Simchat Torah morning will attempt to impact a world inured by too many wars. Maybe a bold artist or journalist will dare to address the beheadings and torture of infants. Maybe the hostage-taking of hundreds of innocents, many of whom are still languishing in Hamas tunnels, will receive the acclaim afforded The Diary of Anne Frank and “Schindler’s List.”

Within a few days after the massacre, polarized media and worldwide sentiment flipped the empathy narrative and erased the details of the inhuman attack on Israelis. Reporting about the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital “bombing” in Gaza City was proven false, but the momentum of the woke, pro-Palestinian demonstrators with their alternative realities drowned out anyone presenting the facts. Israel’s detractors skim over the grim realities of Hamas’s human shields, UNWRA’s malicious collaboration with Hamas (an agency of the United Nations), the ongoing pay-for-slay policy instituted by the Palestinian Authority and the atrocities now in Sandberg’s crosshairs. Israel, waging a communications war, must slog through the protesters’ noisy “From the river to the sea” and “Globalize the intifada” rhymes and placards that hijack the ultimate crime of “genocide.” Israel-hating nations snipe away with teary-eyed worries about “proportionality” and “collateral civilian damage.”

U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent remarks characterized Israel’s war in Gaza as “over the top.” His careless, negative portrayal of the Israeli government’s execution of the war suggests that the president hasn’t viewed the same Oct. 7 images as Sandberg, or maybe he has forgotten them. All the administration’s functionaries calling for a premature ceasefire, a two-state solution or more financial aid to UNRWA need to bear witness to the horror of what was perpetrated on Israel. Artists like Sandberg can provide that experience.

Two more examples of the power of investigative journalism.

In an atmosphere of virulent antisemitism in France, in 1898, a Jewish captain, Alfred Dreyfus, was wrongly accused of treason and sentenced to Devil’s Island. Let’s recall how journalist Emile Zola penned J’accuse!, a newspaper exposé that ultimately led to Dreyfus’s exoneration. Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian journalist, covered the Dreyfus trial and witnessed the rallies in France that followed it. He was directly influenced by Zola’s daring writing, becoming the founder of modern political Zionism.

Hebrew poet laureate Chaim Bialik interviewed survivors of the 1903 pogrom in Kishinev, Bessarabia, and then wrote the powerful Yiddish poem titled “In the City of Slaughter.” His harsh condemnation of the Jew’s passivity in the face of the many murders and rapes sparked a transformation in how Jews would think of themselves. Revisionist Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky translated it into Russian. It influenced future leaders like Menachem Begin, who would eventually become the first Israeli prime minister from the Likud Party, and Jewish self-defense forces in pre-state Israel like the Haganah.

Beyond all the worthy Holocaust education delivered, and the many monuments and museums, the Oct. 7 atrocities are this generation’s contemporaneous challenge to absorb. The Hamas attack does not in numbers “compete” with the Shoah, but the Go-Pro documented depraved exhibitionism must be examined for its singular heinousness. New literature, new academic studies and new films will have to be undertaken to battle the forces of politically motivated disinformation and warped intersectional philosophy.

In a world of AI tricking “our lying eyes,” fleeting attention spans and dumbed-down education, we can surely benefit from very loud wake-up calls exposing the truth about the monsters Israel fights. Shakespeare promises: “At the length, truth will out.” Let’s hope Sandberg can aptly tell the compelling story of Oct. 7.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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