Images of horror

In Short

If we have to display the butchery we have suffered in order to win the war for public opinion, then we will. 

In May 2001, my 13-year-old son, Koby Mandell, and his friend Yosef Ish Ran were murdered by terrorists near our home in Israel. The two boys cut school and went exploring in the canyon near our home. They were beaten to death with rocks and had to be identified using dental records.

A few days later, the prime minister’s office called us: apparently photographs had been taken of the two boys’ battered bodies, and the prime minister’s assistant wanted to know if these photos could be released to the media. My husband and I discussed it, and we decided that it would be too damaging and traumatic for our family and our other small children.

For years I told nobody about this. Even though I am a writer, I did not write about it. I was terrified that those photos would be released, and that I would have to live with graphic evidence of cruelty and barbarism. I did not want to see photos of the mutilation of my precious son. 

Now the films documenting the massacre of Black Friday have been released. I feel devastated for the families of those who are shown brutalized. It is excruciating as a parent or spouse to know that others are seeing the violence that was inflicted on their loved ones.

At the same time, I am also rethinking my own response 22 years ago. It seems that the world has not paid attention and continues to not pay attention to the suffering of Israelis. Before Oct. 7, 2023 Israel endured two intifadas where thousands of Israelis were brutally murdered; yet the world did not sit up and scream out for us, did not cry out for justice. No, they hardly acknowledged the brutality of what we endured. 

I wish that we did not have to release these videos. Graphic violent imagery can cause PTSD in people who watch too much of it, and the occurrence of PTSD is dependent on how close we are to the scene of the atrocity, how much we personally witness and how close we are emotionally to the victims. Those who watch too many graphic videos are also in danger of secondary trauma. 

I do not have to watch these movies to feel the pain of what we have suffered. I, for one, will not watch these videos because I worry about my mental health. Years ago, I discussed the power of images with Rabbi Abraham Twersky, a psychiatrist and specialist in addiction. He said, “If children aren’t supposed to watch a movie with too much violence, why would it be good for their parents?” Violent images are damaging to the soul and the psyche. 

Israelis are already seeing a decline in their mental health as a result of the war. Haifa University reports that 60% of Israelis who weren’t directly affected by the war with Hama have still developed severe acute stress disorder, characterized by anxiety, fear and depression.

We in Israel are fighting for our nation’s survival. This war is, in many ways, a return to the War of Independence, a return to a world that justifies the murder of innocent Jews. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said, “Never again is now.”

We are fighting for our land, for our home. We are sending our soldiers to battle, and every day we hear of soldiers being killed. My son’s friend Yinon Fleishman was killed, and my three-year-old granddaughter keeps asking where Yinon is when she plays with his grandson. 

My daughter-in-law wisely told her, “Something very sad happened, and now he is with Koby.” Our children in Israel learn at a very young age about pain, trauma and funerals. 

But why show the images to American college students? Why traumatize them? The answer: Because we have no other choice. They have to be shown the suffering of the Jewish people in order to be educated. According to a recent survey by The Economist/YouGov, one fifth of U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 agreed with the statement, “The Holocaust is a myth.” An additional 30% could neither agree or disagree with that statement. Now, a new poll conducted by Harvard University and the Harris Poll found that 51% of Americans aged 18 to 24 believe that Israel should be eliminated, handed over to the Palestinians, in order for there to be peace. 

We have to wake this generation. 

There is a concept in Judaism that pikuach nefesh, saving a life, takes precedence over every other Jewish law on the Sabbath. Today we are in a fight for our lives; and, in those circumstances, we have no choice but to take extreme measures to show the extent of the devastation. We are in a political state of pikuach nefesh. We have to show students in America that the massacre is not a myth. We have to show them with their own eyes that we are fighting an evil regime that will stop at nothing to kill us. 

And if we have to display the butchery we have suffered in order to win the war for public opinion, then we will. 

Sherri Mandell is the co-founder of the Koby Mandell Foundation, which runs programs for children and families whose loved ones have been murdered by terrorists. She lives in Israel.