Sheryl Sandberg Screams Back at the Silence

There is a scene in “Screams Before Silence,” the harrowing documentary about the rape and mutilation of Israeli women on Oct. 7, that I can’t get out of my head. It’s an interview that the former Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, the documentary’s presenter, conducted with Ayelet Levy Sachar, the mother of 19-year-old Naama Levy, whose kidnapping that morning was filmed by Hamas. The sight of her pajama bottoms, drenched in blood at the back, was one of the earliest indications that sexual brutality was part of Hamas’s playbook.

“They’re grabbing her by the hair, and she’s all, like, messed up and like, and I’m thinking of her hair, and like, in my mind I’m stroking her hair, like I’m always doing,” Levy Sachar said of the video of her daughter’s kidnapping. “We would like to think that this couldn’t be possible. That nobody would harm a young girl. But then you just see it there.”

To have a child seized, savaged and paraded this way goes beyond a parent’s worst nightmare. Here it is compounded by an additional horror: the combination of indifference and outright denial with which much of the world has treated these sexual atrocities.

Why? “People are so polarized that they want every fact to fit into a narrative, and if their narrative is resistance, then sexual violence doesn’t fit into that narrative,” Sandberg told me when I met her in New York last Thursday, hours before the documentary’s premiere at The Times Center. “You can believe that Gaza is happening because Israel has no choice; you can believe that Gaza is happening because Israel wants to kill babies. You can hold either one of those thoughts. And you should also be able to hold the thought that sexual violence is unacceptable, no matter what.”

To watch “Screams Before Silence” is to be disabused of any lingering doubts about what Hamas did. The personal testimonies of victims, survivors and witnesses are clear and overpowering, as is the photographic evidence Sandberg was shown of mutilated corpses. And some of them have scarcely been heard about outside Israel.

There is Tali Binner, a partygoer at the Nova music festival who hid in a small camper as other women were raped outside: “I heard a girl that started to yell for a long time. It was like, ‘Please don’t. No, no, stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. No. No. No’. It was like, she was asking someone to stop. What can they stop? Someone is abusing her. Someone touching her. Someone is doing something.”

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