Virtual reality project will allow users to witness October 7 first hand

Its creators hope it will challenge those who deny the atrocities


Survived to Tell - Be the Witness project uses VR to enable people to witness events of October 7 first hand (Photo: Stuart Mitchell)

Survivors of October 7 have recorded their testimony as part of a virtual reality experience, which allows viewers to witness the terrifying and traumatic ordeals first hand.

The project, which started as an Instagram page to record testimonies of survivors and first responders in the wake of October 7, has developed into an educational tool that creators say will help challenge the denial of the Hamas attacks on university campuses.

Founder of the project and October 7 first responder, Nimrod Palmach, has teamed up with immersive media and genocide testimony specialist Stephen D Smith to create the Survived to Tell - Be the Witness project.

The pair hope the VR experience will help educate a global audience about what happened when Hamas launched its terrorist attacks on Israel.

Palmach’s own testimony has been recorded as part of the project and gives viewers an insight into how he ignored the order from his company commander on the morning of October 7 to report to his army HQ near Jerusalem.

Instead, he drove south, to the kibbutzim near the Gaza border, having seen and heard what was happening down there.

Speaking at the launch of the project on Wednesday at the Israeli Embassy in London, Palmach, who founded NGO ISRAEL-is, said: “I didn’t see a living person till the evening.”

As he was driving south, he was confronted with “lines of bodies. Some of them were brutally tortured.”

The 39-year-old said he also saw evidence of sexual assault, including women with their clothes taken off lying at the side of the road.

It was only later that day at Kibbutz Be'eri, where he found himself “pinned down with a hostage situation”, that he had time to reflect.

“We couldn’t just rush in,” he explained as Hamas terrorists were holding civilians hostage inside a house.

“My emotions started to kick in, and I realised I want to share my story, but who would believe me?”

He knew then that he needed to “capture this moment and feeling and get it all over the world”.

The Survived to Tell project has recorded the testimonies that tell the story of what took place that day, and VR brings them to life with footage from the scenes.

It means that those watching are able to stand in the locations where the atrocities took place, with the survivors themselves.

The VR tells the story of survivors like Israeli Police Sgt. Remo Salman El-Hozayel, a Bedouin Muslim, who saved hundreds at the Nova festival by driving them to safety at a nearby greenhouse.

It also brings to life the experience of Mazal Tazazo, a 33-year-old Ethiopian Israeli social worker, who survived the Nova festival by playing dead.

Her testimony details how her friends were killed beside her while her legs were bound by Hamas terrorists.

Speaking at the launch of the project, she said it was important to tell her story so “this cannot happen again”.

“The VR tool is crazy because it shows exactly how it was for us. I wish everyone would see it,” she said.

In another VR experience, survivor Millet Ben Haim, 28, takes us back to the Nova music festival where she was forced to hide in the bushes for hours as the sound of gunfire and screaming surrounded her.

“I thought I was going to be raped,” she said. “I prayed for a rocket to hit me.”

Haim said the project was “so important because it means people can meet me. They can see me and see what I went through.”

Smith, who is former director of the USC Shoah Foundation and co-founder of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Nottinghamshire, which uses VR tools to educate visitors, said extensive interviews with survivors have been recorded so that those watching the VR experience are also able to ask them questions and have them answered.

He explained: “VR takes us there, to the time and place itself. As a film producer and oral historian, I know very well that developing empathy is a first step to deeper understanding.”

Smith added: “Through the innovation of VR, viewers can step into the shoes of these survivors and bear witness.”

Palmach plans to take the project to campuses around the world to counter the denial that the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas happened.

“We have a really important job to do. I want everyone on campus to see this. I want policymakers to see this,” he told attendees at the launch.

Ambassador to Israel Tzipi Hotovely said the launch of the VR project was an “incredibly powerful educational tool. The VR nature of this project connects the user with individuals who suffered at the hands of terrorism.”

For more information about Survived to Tell – Be the Witness and to find out about bookings, click here

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