As told to the author, this is a first-person account by Ido Sinvani, a 22-year-old survivor of the massacre carried out by Hamas terrorists on civilians at the Nova Music Festival in Re’im, Israel.
Last Friday afternoon my friends Yovel, his brother Ofir and their friend Shimon picked me up from Ein Hod, a small artists’ village near Haifa where my mother lives, and we drove four to five hours south to Re’im take part in the Nova music festival there.
Yovel, an artist who was invited to exhibit his work there, gave us all free entry. We just had to get there early to set up his pop-up gallery. Around midnight the gates opened and the first DJ took the stage. As the beats pounded, we drank arak [an anise-flavored spirit] with lemonade and extra energy powder so we can dance all night long. As the sun came up we decided to refuel and left the rave to have breakfast. We were determined to party until the festival ended at 3 p.m
But when we returned at 6 a.m. we saw rockets being fired over our heads and the music suddenly stopped. Then we heard the sirens called Tzeva Adom or “red color.”
You’re supposed to take cover, but where do you hide in the open desert? Everyone looked confused, then people started laying on the ground. There were 3,000 revelers lying there in silence and waiting. After about half an hour, the security guards shouted: “Yalla! Get up, get in your car and go!”
So we rushed to pick up the artwork, packed our car and drove off, but the first exit we tried was blocked. We quickly changed direction and tried a different route. When we reached the main road we noticed that the traffic had come to a complete standstill. We parked on the side of the road and headed out to see what was going on. Within seconds we realized we were on the wrong side. Cars raced toward us with bullet holes in them, while bloodied passengers jumped out of doors and windows, screaming, “Terrorists, terrorists!” I’ve been shot, run away!”
We left the car and ran.
By now it was probably around 7am. Everyone was running in panic, not knowing where to go. I looked it up. There was a paraglider. Was this a random guy? Then I saw others, but thought that the Iron Dome would protect us.
Then I heard the roar of pickup trucks and motorcycles as terrorists came at us from all sides, chasing us across the field and firing at us with long-range semi-automatic rifles. I heard the deafening sound of gunfire all around me as people next to me fell to the ground, dying, bleeding and screaming hysterically for help.
I saw the terrorists coming back to pick up the wounded and load them onto their trucks. I swore I wouldn’t be their prey. Everyone started running in one direction, only to get caught in the crosshairs. My friends and I ran the other way and kept running.
Being from the north, I don’t know this region well, but I am familiar with rugged terrain from my army training. We looked for a low-lying creek where an exploded bomb or gunfire wouldn’t bounce off the surface and hit us. We found a bush and hid in it, removing jewelry, sunglasses, anything bright or reflective, and camouflaging ourselves with dirt, twigs, and leaves.
As we lay there huddled together, we said goodbye and tried not to sob. We thought this was it: We will either die here or, worse, be kidnapped. Yovel, Ofir and Shimon said prayers, but I’m not religious so I didn’t do it.
After three hours, all of our phones except mine died. I had charged it in the car and still had 10 percent battery left. From where we were standing we could see the terrorists, but they couldn’t see us. They dragged bodies and hunted for more people to kill. And here we were, just a few centimeters away, trying not to make a sound. We covered each other’s mouths because we were screaming inside.
A few hours later they moved on. I pulled out my phone and answered as many text messages as I could, reassuring my mom that I was okay and on my way home. It was a lie. I just didn’t want her to know how bad things were. Would I ever see her or my brother again? I began to doubt it.
“I saw a black jeep crossing the bridge above us and thought it might be an IDF vehicle. But I realized that Hamas had stolen it. They were everywhere. I came to terms with the fact that I was going to die.”
With the battery low, I sent one last text message – my GPS location – to a friend in the military who said he would push it through the system to save us. Then my phone broke.
We were stuck, disconnected, wondering if or when we would be rescued. We listened to the sound of nearby explosions and the relentless drill of shots being fired at a rapid pace as our attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar!” [God is Great] and in Arabic: “Kill all Jews!” “Rape all their women!”
I saw them beat boys until they went limp and grab girls whose screams still ring in my ears.
Around 3 p.m., exhausted and dehydrated, Shimon and I decided to return to the car, about 400 meters away, to get water and charge our phones. The area was quiet now so we felt it would be fine.
As we made our way back and crouched low to the ground, we saw smoke rising from the road. It was full of bombed-out cars, some of which were so badly charred that only the outer shell remained. The path we had originally taken before turning and running toward the stream was now covered in blood and bullet-riddled bodies. When we reached the main stage of the former festival, we could hardly breathe.
The stench of hundreds of bodies is a smell I will never forget. There were corpses scattered everywhere, completely covering the stage floor. Some were burned, some had their limbs torn off, some were beheaded, and some were still burning. Nothing prepares you for something like this.
A dead woman lay there, stripped naked, with dried blood staining her inner thighs, daring me to look away. As I did so, I noticed terrorists a few meters away taking photos, recording videos and live-streaming the scene from their cell phones while cheerfully shouting, “Allahu Akbar!”
Shimon and I looked at each other and just sprinted, not caring if they shot at us. I stumbled a few times and fell onto cacti, breathless and delirious.
I saw a black jeep crossing the bridge above us and thought it might be an IDF vehicle. But I realized that Hamas had stolen it. They were everywhere.
I came to terms with the fact that I was going to die.
When we returned to the others, I was completely dazed. I didn’t feel the blood and bruises on my knees and elbows. I didn’t mind being parched. Maybe I was already dead. They sobbed when I told them what we saw, but I couldn’t. Crying is usually easy for me, but since that moment under the bridge, I haven’t been able to shed another tear.
Around 4 or 5 p.m. – to be honest, I have no idea – we heard people nearby. They were wearing police uniforms, but I was sure they were terrorists.
Then I heard Hebrew with no discernible Arabic accent. We came out of the bush and shouted “Help! Were here.” They escorted us out, guns pointed in every direction.
One of them stood out. His name is Tomer. He was confident and continued talking, telling us about himself, how his child was born a few days ago and that he would celebrate the birth the next day. But when he heard what had happened, he took action. He wore a fallen officer’s vest because he arrived as quickly as he could and neglected to pack his weapon or uniform. As an extra security measure, they put us in the trunk of their truck and we drove in hopes of finding other survivors, but all we encountered was a trail of blood, corpses, bags and skeletons of cars, along with a terrible stench after burns of meat, metal and plastic.
Did I experience the “zombie apocalypse” or was this horror real? With no sleep, little water or food, and my adrenaline reaching its limits, it became increasingly difficult to say it.
Eventually we found eight other survivors and began telling our stories. Everyone was crying except me. I was shocked.
I got home around 11pm and collapsed in my mother and brother’s arms. We hugged for a long time and they cried.
“I love you. I’m hungry, I want to eat and take a shower.” That was all I could say.
After I did this, I went to bed but was woken up by nightmares about the scenes I had seen. I still imagine shots being fired when nothing is around; A loud and sudden noise makes me jump, and out of the corner of my eye I think there are people hiding there.
I had my first therapy session but I don’t feel anything yet. Right now I’m just trying to process it and be there for my mom.
I don’t have a big message, I’m not there yet. But my sense of security in Israel and my trust in our Palestinian and Arab neighbors have been shaken. My brother has been called up for service and my mother is once again very worried. Every day, as more names and faces come to light, I recognize more friends who are dead or missing.
I am in daily contact with Yovel, Ofir and Shimon. But I’m still detached from my feelings.
Just before you called, the siren sounded. My mother shouted, “Come to the basement!”
“I don’t care,” I told her, “I’m going to eat, I’m not going to hide.”
When I die, I have made my peace. I don’t know how to describe what’s going on inside me and outside me. I do my best. Yovel told me something nice the other day. He said it was now our second birthday – the anniversary of our survival. I hope that over time we can celebrate it.