In the aftermath of the atrocities committed by Hamas on Oct. 7, thought leaders and policymakers around the world have been exposed to the horrors that occurred that day, thanks to a film made by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit which documented the terrorist group’s brutality.
While the film has allegedly already been leaked online, there remains a discussion surrounding whether it should be made available to the public. Releasing the film may very well help Israel win the information war. At the same time, it’s incumbent upon Israel to ask itself: What would be the hidden costs associated with that victory? Indeed, there are mental health considerations that must be taken into account.
Members of the Knesset who watched the film were given anti-anxiety medication prior to viewing it and, despite this, still emerged from the screening shaken and disturbed by what they saw. This is a testament to two facts: First, the gravity of what people witness when viewing this film and, second, the potentially traumatic impact of the content. Should this film be released to the general Israeli public, nobody will be handing out anti-anxiety medication to help viewers cope with the trauma.
For those who think their souls are somehow immune, I guarantee they will break should they be subjected to these horrors. As such, a campaign to prevent the exposure of these images is critical.
A person is composed of his body and soul; and there is a complex relationship between those two entities. Exposure to the atrocities of war can be traumatic, even if one emerges from said war physically intact. While the media may place an emphasis on the dead and wounded, what about the people who walk among us whose souls have been forever changed by what they’ve experienced?
For many, a clear fault line has been engraved on their soul after Oct. 7, and many will never be the same again. Israel is now in the midst of coping with trauma both on an individual and a collective level that has affected all sectors of society. This trauma transcends differences in age, ethnicity, and religion.
It is a trauma that has no end in sight. Hostages are still in captivity, the news is inundated with images from the day of the initial attack and onward, the ground invasion in Gaza is in full swing, and there are sirens across the country from North to South, not to mention the anxiety many are feeling about the State of Israel’s future.
A key component in diagnosing post-event trauma is one’s actual exposure to being threatened by death, physical harm, or sexual violence. A victim can experience the event directly; witness someone else being exposed to the event; or hear about the event from a loved one. According to the professional definition of post-event trauma, there is no specific litmus test for how damaging exposure to social media or traditional media can be. That is completely unacceptable in today’s information age.
Moreover, as far as the international community is concerned, the IDF Spokesperson’s horror film and excerpts circulating on social media have a great impact on viewers outside of Israel, and increase the chances that viewers will experience fear, anxiety, and trauma all which may sabotage the chances for resilience across the board.
Admittedly, in today’s landscape, such content is available to anybody with a smartphone who looks hard enough. So, what’s the point of blocking content that’s already out there? To that I say, pornography, too, is readily available online. Does that mean we need to give it a stamp of approval and disseminate it ourselves? Of course not.
The mere act of expanding the target audience of such a film has no justification. Doing so also places further burdens on parents and educators who are already overwhelmed with helping young people cope with the damaging messages they’re exposed to on social media.
A study published by the British Psychological Society shows that terror attacks have a debilitating effect on the general population and instill distress and fear. Those who are highly sensitive or already are susceptible to psycho-physiological stressors are particularly impacted. Additionally, citizens’ attitude toward terrorism is largely shaped by how it’s framed in the media. With our 24/7 news cycle constantly airing information about the war and its aftermath, fear and anxiety are also on the rise.
Further, a study in the American Psychologist journal that explored the experience of Americans who chose to watch ISIS beheading videos found that people are personally affected by these horrific images. The study revealed that the most common reason people sought out these images was to tap into their most basic urges of curiosity.
As such, children, teenagers, and people of any age who are highly sensitive should be prohibited from watching the film on the Hamas massacre. Their curiosity will only increase after viewing it, which will quickly put them on a road to post-traumatic stress.
Instead, let’s strive for victory not only on the battlefield, but for our souls and the souls of our children.