The Bearing Witness project is “a crucial endeavor for understanding our collective identity,” said curator Chaim Neria.
By Gil Tanenbaum
February 13, 2024
(JNS) — The National Library of Israel has embarked on a massive project to collect and archive all published materials about the Oct. 7 massacre, both the good and the bad.
While scholars and the curious public explore the new library building in Jerusalem and its Israel, Judaica, Humanities, Islam and Gershom Scholem collections, Chaim Neria is quietly gathering more recent — and sometimes painful — printed and digital items associated with the murder by Hamas of some 1,200 people.
“The significance of this project to Israel and the Jewish people globally stems from its role in preserving and documenting our history, culture and the diverse experiences of Jewish communities. It’s a crucial endeavor for understanding our collective identity and ensuring that future generations have access to our history and heritage,” said Neria, curator of the library’s Haim and Hanna Solomon Judaica Collection, of the Bearing Witness project.
“By contributing to this work, I feel connected to a larger purpose that transcends my individual role, contributing to the preservation of our collective memory,” Neria added.
As is almost everyone in Israel, he is personally connected to an Oct. 7 victim. His 31-year-old cousin, David Meir, a member of Israel Defense Forces’ elite General Staff Reconnaissance (Sayeret Matkal) unit, was killed trying to rescue Israelis at Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct. 7, where Hamas terrorists killed 130 Israelis.
This makes the project personal for Neira, which could be sensed as he presented examples of the myriad types of materials the project has collected to date. Four months since that dark day, he is visibly uncomfortable even looking directly at items involving any form of graphically violent content.
“Such materials require a careful approach to ensure they are handled sensitively and ethically,” he said. “But sometimes one little story captures your imagination.”
The content of these materials is not relevant to the project, Neria noted. They could be news bulletins, advertisements for events, special prayers or religious materials written in the wake of the attack, or political statements of some sort. From a single synagogue located in a remote corner of the world to a major non-Jewish organization or government body—if someone printed any material about what happened on Oct. 7, 2023, the National Library wants it.
The only criterion for adding something to the National Library’s collection is that the item has to do with Oct. 7. And the goal is to save everything.
Such documentation was collected after the Holocaust, but no one thought to collect all such materials while it was happening, and certainly not going back to before the Nazis took power in Germany, Neria explained.
Indeed, the Oct. 7 attack has been compared by many to the Holocaust because, like the Nazis, Hamas intended to murder as many Jews as possible.
Much of this material is available in digital formats. In fact, most of what Neria has collected was found online, from websites and social media outlets. Unfortunately, much of the negative content, including videos posted by the terrorists, was deleted before it could be copied and saved.
“Different materials, printed materials, at least survived for some time,” he explained. “So even if you don’t act immediately, you can act later, go and collect. Today, if it’s online anywhere, social media, any kind, websites, you can get it. But if it’s already down….”
Neria spoke about how the terrorists themselves provided much of the evidence of their atrocities. This is because they wore body cameras and filmed their attacks. They even live-streamed some of what they did on social media.
“We know that the terrorists started by going live on Facebook,” he explained. “Then they realized that it wasn’t good for their image or whatever, so they…tried to take off these materials.
“It was actually citizens that helped the [Israel military] and the government, via initiatives that came from them as citizens, and they were using many high-tech companies. First to download the videos, then using all kinds of algorithms to understand where each video was taken, identify faces, helping the IDF to get information. And maybe in the future, it will be information that can be used in legal procedures.”
More than 100 organizations around the world are now actively searching for materials to provide to the project, such as the Shoah Foundation of the University of Southern California, which is also collecting the testimonies of Israeli survivors of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacres. The foundation is best known for its videos recording the testimonies of more than 3,000 Holocaust survivors and its association with Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg.
“We will be the house not just for the oral testimonies, but for all other materials. So eventually we will create here an archive that will include oral testimonies, videos, printed materials, prayers, pictures” and more, said Neria.
The library estimates the project will last at least five years, a time frame which Neria said “reflects the depth and breadth of the work required to comprehensively document and analyze the relevant events and their impact on Israel and Jewish communities globally.”