Ronnie Katz Gerber
Communications Chair, Hadassah Los Angeles Metro Region

Denial Is a Weapon: Simon Wiesenthal Center/Hadassah So. California Collaborate

Image courtesy of Hadassah.
Image courtesy of Hadassah.
(pictured left to right) Hadassah Southern California members Yassi Balour, Sandi Sadikoff and Manijeh Javahery. Photo courtesy of the author.
October 7th Nova Music Festival Massacre Survivors Talia Biner and Ron Gabay address Hadassah Southern California / Hadassah LA Metro members at March 8th event. Photo courtesy of the author.

First there was music and dancing. Then there was a barrage of screams. All the screams ended with the sound of bullets.

That’s the scene Talia Biner and Ron Gabay, survivors of the October 7th attack by Hamas on Israel’s Nova Music Festival, described for us when they spoke at the “Silence Is a Weapon” event at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles on March 8th in honor of International Women’s Day.

The event kicked off a collaboration between the museum’s Simon Wiesenthal Center and Hadassah Southern California to end the silence about Hamas’ weaponization of sexual violence against women. Most of Hadassah LA Metro was present as well.

Talia and Ron, both in their early 20s, came to share their story and to receive strength from our support. Talia spoke in English while Ron often added information in Hebrew for Talia to present to us. This is their story.

On October 7th, Talia and Ron were with several friends at the music festival in the Negev. They were enjoying the music and dancing when, suddenly, they heard gunshots and screams. Terrorists ambushed the crowd. For hours and hours, men and women were shot, tied up against trees or taken to terrorists’ hideouts, where they were tortured, stripped, sodomized, cut and beaten. Their cries were heard throughout the festival grounds, which were strewn with dead bodies.

Talia and her friends managed to escape to their trailer, hoping against hope that they would not be found. One person in the group had been shot and everyone knew his screams of agony, as he bled from his wounds, could not continue if they were to survive because, surely, the terrorists would discover them. So, Talia, who is a nurse, wrapped his wounds with her clothes and put her hand over his mouth to mute him. He passes away. But at least they were not discovered.

Other festival goers were not as fortunate. One minute they were listening to music and dancing and suddenly their attackers pounced on them, took them to secluded areas and gang raped them multiple times. Talia heard their screams and witnessed attacks—the perversity and boldness. Many of the young women are now pregnant, and they have no idea who the father is or how they will raise these children in a war-torn country. And many of the women are still in captivity.

Talia said “I cannot deny that. You cannot deny that. I was there. I saw with these eyes. I am telling you – It cannot be denied.” She was making sure we understood the truth of her words and that she bore witness. This was an allusion to Holocaust deniers refuting survivor reports. We understood.

As Talia spoke, she often choked on her own memories. Sometimes, she whispered until her strength returned, but she held us with every breath. Her experience that day is one she cannot erase. It has left her with recurring visions of horror. She can no longer work at her job at the Hadassah Medical Organization’s two hospitals in Jerusalem. It is too painful.

As Talia spoke, she implored us to remember that each of these women is a person who must be remembered, a person who lost her life because terrorism exists. Israel needs support, she told us. Women everywhere must stand up and speak out against sexual crimes. Her eyes saw the terror. Her ears heard the horror. “I cannot deny that” she said.

No matter how much the deniers wish to downplay the violence as the price of war, the truth is that war cannot be about raping, disemboweling or torturing women. We are not targets or throwaways.

As she spoke, she implored us to remember that women are human. That terrorists and horror do exist. That Israel needs support. That women must stand up and speak out against sexual crimes. As she said, “I have eyes. I saw this. I heard this. I cannot deny it.”  It is truth no matter the deniers or those who wish to downplay it into a price of war. War is an armed disagreement to be negotiated for the spoils. Women are not targets or throw aways.

Talia and Ron’s story is our story, too. Women must band together. We must speak out against sexual crimes. We will not be victimized by gender. We are proud to be women. We encourage peace, prosperity and hard work in various fields. We are educators and mothers and helpmates, all in the same breath. We are not objects.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s collaboration with Hadassah’s global End The Silence campaign is a powerful partnership. (Hadassah launched End the Silence to raise the world’s awareness of Hamas’ sexual war crimes against Israeli women and girls and to demand that the UN and other leading international institutions hold Hamas accountable.) The March 8th kickoff event was a wonderful way for the Wiesenthal Center to show their shared solidarity with Israel and to offer support to two brave survivors of the Nova Music Festival massacre.

Denial is not a weapon. Silence is not a weapon. Truth is power.

About the Author
Ronnie Katz Gerber is currently Communications Chair for the Hadassah Metro Los Angeles Region and a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle. A retired English and drama teacher for one of the largest school districts in California, she has written, directed and produced a handful of curriculum-based plays for her students and received a Los Angeles Awards nomination for her educational outreach through the arts. She has now turned her attention to columns, articles and short stories. Ms. Gerber is active in the community doing volunteer work and also spends her time pursuing her avid interest in travel. She has visited most of Europe, Russia and Africa, China and a bit of South America as well. Most springs, she hosts foreign exchange students for a month while they take an American culture and language crash course at a local university. As a result, she has spent time with them and their families abroad. Her family, especially her grand girls are the best activity of any day.
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