Life & Culture

Jerusalem’s new October 7 exhibition: ‘I had to sit down and weep’

You’ll learn more about the full horror of the Hamas attacks at this exhibition than by visiting the kibbutzim


There was a moment, when being shown around a new Jerusalem museum exhibit about October 7, that I had to just sit down and weep. All the pain, the murder, the brutality is there – and is impossible to avoid – and the sterile atmosphere of the museum, in the basement of a beautiful building, somehow makes it starker.

By collating stories of the Hamas attack and presenting them using the most cutting-edge technology – of course, this is still Israel – From Darkness to Light at the Museum of Tolerance brings home the huge scale of the horror. All around me, the European MPs and journalists on the Elnet tour I was on were wiping away tears.

There are some who, when contemplating visiting Israel, feel they must go to the kibbutzim on the Gaza border and “bear witness”. Although I wouldn’t stop you, it isn’t necessary for we aren’t the people who need convincing. Plus many of the people who live on the kibbutzim, while welcoming the support from people around the world, are tired of their homes being used as a living museum exhibit.

So if you are planning to go to Israel  – and they want and need their tourists back – go to this museum and visit one of the most disturbing exhibitions you will ever see.

It opens with a huge clock set to 06.29. This was the time the invasion started, a time after which when neither Israel nor world Jewry would ever be quite the same again.

As you walk through into the first room, you are presented with photographs by photojournalist Ziv Koren who drove towards the massacre as the sirens were still going off and the rockets falling.

You’ll have seen some photographs from October 7 but not like this – at least not unless you looked hard. He shows artfully but impactfully the full scale of the horror. The bodies and the blood. The bullet holes and the devastation. One photograph shows the bodies of 13 pensioners who were waiting at a bus stop in Sderot. Another is the charred remains of a house at which only a child’s plastic train, in the foreground, is unscarred.

Then there are separate photographs of some artefacts. One is of a note found on the body of one of the terrorists who invaded Israel that day giving permission from the Koran to brutalise and behead innocent people. “You must sharpen the blades of your swords and be pure in your intentions before Allah,” it reads. “Know that the enemy is a disease that has no cure, except beheading and uprooting the hearts and livers. Attack them!”

There is a film about what happened on Kibbutz Be’eri narrated by 15-year-old Ella Shani whose father and grandparents were murdered in the attack. There is a recreation of one of the  shelters to which the Nova festival revellers ran thinking this was just an attack like all the other attacks in the Jewish state. If you like, you can go inside it. The sound of gunfire quickly makes it clear how different this attack was.

My group was introduced to the exhibit by Noam Ben-David, a 28-year-old who hid in a rubbish cannister with her boyfriend and others once it became clear that an invasion had started. She was one of only four out of 16 to make it out alive. Her boyfriend David Yair Shalom Newman was among those killed. Shot in the pelvis as she pretended to be dead, she is still on crutches.

Her story is one of 25 women’s October 7 stories being played on a loop by incredibly lifelike holograms. This is the closest most people will come to hearing the testimony of someone who was there and it is heartbreaking, almost impossible to watch.

From those testimonies you move onto the full scale of the devastation. A wall at the back of the exhibition has photographs of all those who died as a result of October 7. The number of photographs is growing, added to when it becomes clear hostages taken on that day are also now dead. An interactive exhibition also shows dots of all the places where someone died. Press onto the dot and a victim’s face, name and place of death appears. You are immediately struck by how young most of the victims were. A generation murdered, but not forgotten.

The exhibition has been curated by Malki Shem-Tov whose 21-year-old son Omer is still being held hostage by Hamas. “Here you have the opportunity not just to hear the stories but to feel them,” he says. ‘We are involved in the creation of this project and are also an emotional part of it.”

The exhibition is called From Darkness to Light, but can there be light? One of the final parts of the exhibition certainly has that hope. It’s a film showing how the whole of Israel came together after October 7 to support each other. It’s a chink of light.

The final part of the show is dedicated to the hostages with photos of their now familiar faces. Visitors are asked to show their support for them with a message of hope, of love, of lightness.

The plan is for the exhibition to be in Jerusalem for about a year before moving on to other cities so that the story of October 7 can be told. Showing it to Israelis and people who visit Israel is one thing: it needs to be seen by others. To which we ask: will others allow it to be seen?

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