TEL AVIV (JTA) — One of the earliest shocking atrocities to emerge from Hamas’ invasion of Israel on Saturday happened at the Tribe of Nova music festival, an all-night rave near Kibbutz Re’im on the Gaza border.
Terrorists descended upon the festival on Saturday morning, spraying the thousands of revelers, most of them young adults, with gunfire as they escaped by car and fled through an open field. Photos and video show panicked crowds running for their lives, cars riddled with bullets and a road strewn with dead bodies.
By the end of the massacre, 260 people were murdered — some, survivors say, after being raped. Others were captured by the attackers or wounded by the gunfire. Missiles rained down on the area throughout the attack.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency asked four survivors to share how they escaped. Here are their stories, in their own words:
The rave began on Friday night in a large outdoor space. At about 6 a.m., partygoers begin to hear sirens warning them of incoming rockets from Gaza.
Yaelle Bonnet, 21: We went to Nova, we got there at something like 1 and didn’t stop dancing until 6:30 in the morning, when suddenly, sirens started. … The producers stopped the music pretty early and asked everyone to break up, go to their cars and go home. We found the car we came in, got in and started leaving. No one really understood the extent of the situation.
Gad Liebersohn, 21: I got to the party at 4 at night. Around 6, 6:30 the sirens started, the music stopped. Missiles and rockets started coming from everywhere. We heard booms everywhere.
Yarin Amar, 22: The sights I have seen won’t leave my mind for a long time yet. Dancing at a party with friends, and out of nowhere rockets that won’t stop. You get a warning about terrorists driving out. Not a second has gone by, and those hundreds of terrorists are shooting at us from every direction.
Initially, many of the partygoers attempt to escape by car, but a traffic jam quickly forms and they are unable to leave the area before the shooting begins. Drivers exit their cars and begin to flee on foot.
Yaam Grimberg: I grabbed two good friends that were with me, and another friend. We escaped to the car, we started driving. We were blocked everywhere. They started shooting at us.
Yaelle: There was traffic and we understood why, when two cars ahead of us, they just came out of the pickup truck. I don’t remember exactly how they looked. It was a white pickup truck, they were also wearing white. They got out of the pickup truck with really big rifles, started to point and shoot everywhere.
Gad: At some point there was an announcement from the police, shouting into a megaphone that all the cars need to leave via the exit. I got in the car and started driving toward the exit, and that’s where the yelling had started: “Terrorists! Terrorists! They’re shooting at us!”
They started to shoot at the cars, at us. At that moment everyone parked their cars, left their cars there and just started fleeing.
Yarin: Cars are getting shot up. I left the car and ran, just ran, and on the way I see people murdered and falling to the ground in front of me.
Video from the massacre shows a crowd of people running through an open field, in full view of the terrorists. Many get shot in the back and are killed or injured.
Yaelle: We kept going with the car until it got stuck in the field. We didn’t know if we should stay with the car or escape on foot. What do you do when you’re being shot at?
Gad: You see people being massacred like ducks falling next to you. One person falls next to you, gets hit by a bullet, then another person falls next to you, gets hit by a bullet. You hide under some car, the car starts driving.
I was left out in the open so I ran to the forest to my left. I started to run into the forest and hide. Then they started to shoot everywhere. There were rockets at the same time.
Yarin: With helplessness and tears in my eyes I grabbed hold of a guy I didn’t know and said, “Please stay with me, I’m scared, don’t go.” With the shooting, we had to keep running. We ran to the field to escape to the kibbutz, and then we realized they were everywhere.
Some of the survivors escape the attackers by hiding alone or with others. Some go into bomb shelters and others hide in the area’s greenery as terrorists continue to advance on them. Two of the survivors told JTA that their calls to police went unanswered.
Yaam: We were able to hide in a shelter. Within a few minutes, I understood that if we stayed there they would just come and slaughter us, so I took the friends and we sprinted back to the car as bullets flew over our heads.
Yaelle: We joined a pretty big group of some people who had all escaped in the same direction, to the fields. We kept going, and there was a police officer, he didn’t have any bullets left in his gun, he seemed pretty scared, just like us. He didn’t have reception on his radio. He didn’t have much of anything.
Gad: After two hours of hiding and trying to get rescued — call the police, nothing helps, army, nothing comes to us — for two hours I’m hiding and hearing people getting kidnapped and women getting raped, and without end you hear people dying, begging for their life, women begging for their life. And you can’t make a sound, because they’ll find you too, kidnap, kill you too.
Yarin: We hid in the trees, trying to get help from the police with no answer. We heard shouting in Arabic, unending shooting, and then three terrorists were in front of us.
As terrorists continue to hunt for people to kill and capture, the people they are chasing have to escape again and again, running as fast as they can and finding new places to hide.
Gad: At some point, the terrorists found us hiding. We were about 20 people hiding in the same place. They found us, they killed some of us. I was able to get away.
I kept running, running, running. There were four terrorists coming in my direction. I couldn’t move. I froze in place. A friend who was hiding came out of his hiding place and pulled my hand and took me with him to the hiding place. We hid in the hiding place for four hours.
I heard terrorists getting closer and closer to us, and we didn’t move. Then we heard them finally getting farther and farther away. When there was total quiet, we left the bush where we were hiding. As we left the bush we saw we had run too far and reached the fence with Gaza.
Yarin: We escaped, we just ran anywhere, knowing the terrorists were chasing after us and shooting at us. That’s when I saw my death with my own eyes. I knew that as I was running I could get hit by a bullet. It was the two of us, with the knowledge that I didn’t know what had happened to the others.
I tried to call people who could help, who would find me, and after call after call to the police with no answer I understood that my chances were slim. Hour after hour passed as we were sitting in the bushes, and the shooting was only growing louder, and unending explosives, rockets and grenades.
After hours of running and hiding, the survivors were rescued because they made contact with the army or police or with Israelis passing by who were able to bring them to a secure town. Yaelle’s group connected with the police and was directed to safety. Gad hid in a tree with a friend. Yarin sent a series of panicked texts to a soldier in her phone contacts named Naveh, begging him to come rescue her and her companion, Netanel.
Yaam: At some point, a team from the IDF arrived, so I took advantage of their fighting to take cover. We got into the car and started to drive crazy fast through the area.
I kept the window open so I could hear where they were shooting at me, and try to drive in the opposite direction. They just shot at us from every direction, so you have no idea where to drive. After a couple hours I was able to take us to Kibbutz Tze’elim and there, thank God, we were safe.
Yaelle: In the end, they directed us to Moshav Patish, that was the closest and safest place. They directed everyone there. We walked I don’t know how much time.
We walked three to four hours, 20 kilometers, according to what I saw on the map.
Gad: As we were hiding in the tree we heard yelling. Someone was screaming, “Hello! Hello!” We didn’t know if it was an Arab or Jew who had come to save us but at that point we had nothing to lose. We went out to see who it was, and it was a Jew who managed to extricate us.
We got into his car and drove a bit in the car to find other people. We found three other people hiding in the forest and got them into the car, and he took us to a nearby farming community that was safe.
Yarin: I looked at Netanel, I said to him, “Don’t breathe now and don’t move.” We played dead for a few hours without moving, hoping some miracle would happen. I looked at the sky and it was just me and God. I prayed and said to Him, “Please God, I want to live, I’ll do anything, I’m still just a child.”
After a long time Naveh, the soldier, was able to find us as he promised me.
The survivors imparted that the horrors they saw that day will stay with them.
Yaelle: We didn’t have water, everyone was pretty quiet. It felt like a death caravan, like we’re experiencing the Holocaust all over again. That’s very hard to say, and I’m letting myself say it.
We didn’t have water, we didn’t have anything, but I knew we were getting somewhere, so we kept going.
Only coming back, on the bus, did I see corpses on the ground from cars that had been shot.
Gad: When you drive on the road, you see bodies in every direction, without end — a lot of corpses, a lot of dead people. The army got there only after about nine hours, that’s it. By the time we got to the road we saw corpses everywhere of people who were at the party.
Yarin: I’m sad that I need to be scared in my country, and thankful for the life I got back.