House lawmakers appeared shaken Tuesday morning after being shown highly graphic footage of the Palestinian militant group Hamas’s deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee invited lawmakers from both parties to watch the footage. In an email to members, the committee described the video as “proof of Hamas’ war crimes.” About 150 lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, attended the screening of the 40-minute-long video of the attack, in which Hamas militants killed 1,200 people and abducted about 240 others.
The screening, which was held in collaboration with the Israeli Embassy, comes as Israel faces mounting criticism from the United Nations and human rights groups over its retaliatory bombardment of the Gaza Strip, where more than 11,000 Palestinians — roughly 1 in every 200 people — have been killed over the past five weeks.
U.S. lawmakers have also faced mounting criticism from liberal constituents who want to see the Biden administration use its leverage with Israel to push harder for humanitarian relief and a cease-fire, as photos and videos continue to filter out of Gaza showing flattened apartment buildings and lifeless children being pulled from rubble.
On Tuesday, following the screening, several members were seen leaving the room in tears, and others consoled their colleagues as they walked to their respective party’s meetings.
“It’s a nightmare. It’s a nightmare,” Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) said of the footage. “We have 21st-century technology and 14th-century brains. The human species has a lot of work to do.”
The footage, which the Israeli government has also shown to Biden administration officials and journalists in Washington, New York and Tel Aviv, included graphic footage of burned, disfigured and bloodied bodies strewn across roadways and the floors of homes. In one video, captured by a security camera, Hamas militants can be seen killing a man with a grenade, and then pulling drinks from the refrigerator as the man’s sons scream and cry.
The Israeli government said it assembled the footage largely from militants’ body cameras and cellphones, security footage, and cellphone videos captured by victims and first responders.
Raskin said people leaving the room “were shaken to the core” after watching the video.
“It was utterly chilling,” Raskin told The Washington Post. “Hamas is a terrorist death cult, and it would clearly kill every person in Israel if it could. Nor does it show any interest in the rights of the Palestinian people.”
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Raskin said the “civilized world,” including the United States, must act to “stop terrorism, protect civilian life and quickly bring peace and human rights to a region drenched in blood.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he worked alongside the Israeli ambassador to screen the footage in an effort to remind House members of the atrocities that occurred that day. McCaul said that he and the Israeli ambassador’s office wanted House members to see this footage “to remember what happened on October 7th” because they think the “the narrative [is] shifting that somehow the Palestinians are the victims.”
McCaul echoed statements made by Israeli government officials, saying that the “worst” footage was not included in the screening. McCaul said that included a baby being ripped “out of a mother’s womb before her eyes, and killing her child before they killed her.”
He said the video itself contained such “horrific scenes that I can’t get into detail about because they’re so disgusting.”
“I can assure you, everybody who saw that video today knows who the real victims are — the victims were the Jewish people,” McCaul said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has sought to portray its war with Hamas as an existential one; a battle of good versus evil, of a democracy versus authoritarianism, of civilized “humanity” versus mere “animals.”
An embassy spokeswoman last month told The Post that showing footage of the Hamas attack to American reporters and lawmakers is important amid competing narratives about the conflict.
“What you’re going to see . . . represents a certain culture, a set of values,” Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, told reporters last month before a screening of the 45-minute video at the Israeli Embassy.
After viewing the footage Tuesday, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) urged reporters to be wary of labeling Palestinians as “innocent” and claimed without evidence that Palestinian civilians who had worked in Israel before the Hamas attack were involved in the violence. Israeli intelligence officials have said Hamas drew on the knowledge of Palestinian day laborers in planning its attack. In the aftermath, Israel arrested thousands of Palestinian workers, some of whom claimed to have been tortured for weeks before being deported to Gaza.
Democratic Rep. Sara Jacobs (Calif.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, last week threatened Mast with censure over comments he made in which he appeared to compare Palestinian civilians to Nazis. Mast said Tuesday that Jacobs had taken his words out of context, and he told reporters that people “should be careful about labeling somebody innocent, just like we would be careful about labeling any German as innocent during World War II.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), following the screening of the video, called on the Biden administration to stop sending money to Iran — whom he described as “Hamas’ main sponsor” — “as long as they fund terrorism and attacks on America or Israel.”
Hamas is a longtime beneficiary of Iran; however, administration officials say they have not found evidence of a direct Iranian role in the Oct. 7 attack.
Hamas has released a small handful of hostages in recent weeks and says others have been killed. Israeli and Qatari officials told a Post Opinions writer that Israel and Hamas are close to reaching a deal that would see female and juvenile hostages released in exchange for Palestinian women and young people being held in Israeli prisons.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters Tuesday that she wants the White House to push for a cease-fire or, “at a minimum, a cessation of hostilities, so that we can start to negotiate how to get the hostages back, how to get humanitarian aid in, and how to have a lasting political situation where Israelis and Palestinians can truly live together.”
Jayapal, who did not attend the video screening, said she would meet with the families of hostages later Tuesday. She said getting the hostages back should be a top priority, alongside acknowledging the “incredible loss of life that we’re seeing in Gaza and the violations of international humanitarian law that Israel is currently, in my view, committing.”
Tens of thousands of demonstrators also gathered in Washington on Tuesday for a march in support of Israel. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Israeli President Isaac Herzog were expected to participate in the event on the National Mall.
Tens of thousands of people attended a march in support of the Palestinians earlier this month.
According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, half of registered voters in the United States approve of Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attack, and 35 percent disapprove.
These views, however, vary sharply by party, with the lowest approval — 33 percent — seen among Democrats. The polling also found that 51 percent of voters support lawmakers sending more military aid to Israel, and 71 percent of voters support providing humanitarian aid to help Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
Jacob Bogage contributed to this report.