My name is Laura, and I’m 35 years old, married to Shay. I produce nature festivals and work for a hi-tech company. We live in Ramla and have been married for a year. Last Saturday actually started on Thursday. Before the Nova festival, there was the Unity festival, which is a family production that we’ve been part of for years. We arrived at the area on Thursday, brought our caravan, and thought, this is so much fun. It’s a long weekend, a long festival, three days long.
On Friday, we had an incredible day. We were there with Mor, our best friend, and many other friends. We woke up on Saturday at around 5 am, had coffee together, and were about to go to the dance area. I had just finished tying my shoelaces when I opened the door to the caravan, and saw everyone looking up at the sky.
At that moment, the music stopped. They said there’s a Red Alert siren and we have to leave the festival and lie down on the ground. I was in the army for seven years, as a captain, and on the way to the festival, I had said to Shay, “Honey, get this. I only know the south from wars. Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense….” Waze [the navigation app] led us to the Re’im parking lot, and I said, “Re’im was a gathering point for the artillery corps. How nice to get to know the south as a place for parties.”
When the rockets started falling, we ran outside. I have some anxiety after my years in the army, and I leaned on Shay, teared up, and let myself get a bit stressed. It’s not easy, rockets in the south. There’s no shelter, only open space, and you only have a 15-second warning [to find cover from the rockets]. By that point, people were already trying to get out of there. At 6:30, when it started, some people had already gotten into their cars and tried to drive away. But there was a traffic jam, because there were thousands of people, thousands of cars.
People started freaking out. One girl, in a white shirt and white pants, was screaming. She ran and fell, ran and fell, because people didn’t know where to run, because there was nowhere really to go, it was all open fields. Other than getting away from the cars, there wasn’t anything to do. So some people ran up to her and tried to help her, take her away from there, because she was really hysterical.
And we said, okay, there’s no point in leaving right now because rockets are falling and it’s much more dangerous to drive. It’s better to wait and lie on the ground. Our caravan was in the festival area, not in the camping areas in the parking lot, but right in the dancing area. So we went back in and within five minutes, had connected the caravan and packed up our stuff.
Then someone came up to us and said that Abu-Ashraf, Sharif’s cousin, had been shot. They were Arab friends of ours who had worked with us at the event. They said he’d been shot at a gas station in the entrance to the area. While we were climbing into the car, we heard gunshots, but it was an open space so we couldn’t judge the distance of what we heard. And because they told us it had happened over there [at the gas station], we were like, “Okay, it’s somewhere over there.”
We got into the car, turned on the engine, and started to leave. At 7:37, my friend Darin called and said, “Laura, they’re shooting from the left and right, they’re shooting at everybody who’s leaving. You can’t leave.” So we said, “Okay, we’ll park at the entrance to the festival grounds. Come park next to us and we’ll decide what to do.” Luckily, our friend group stayed together. We were three cars. Our friend Mor’s car, ours, and the car of another friend, Tali, that was parked right by our caravan.
We got out of the car and I said to Shay, “Honey, let’s find the police. It’s the only place with people who have weapons. It’s the safest place, and we’ll figure out what’s going on.” We headed in the direction of the police, arrived at the first aid station, and met some friends there. We met Reuven, who was in charge of the electricity at the festival, and he said, “You realize that they’re treating gunshot victims from here at the festival, right?”
Shay and I just stared at him. Our friend Alon, who was already pretty nervous, was there too, and he said, “What? They got shot here?” and I gave Reuven a look and said, “They were shot way over there, right?” and Reuven said, “Yeah, yeah.” Then Shay and I took Reuven aside and he told us, “They were shot right here, right now, inside the festival.”
“They were shot right here, right now, inside the festival.”
Shay and I looked at each other, without speaking. We didn’t need words to understand each other. At that moment, we realized that there were terrorists [at the party], not there, but right here. What do we do? We needed to get out of there. I saw two or three policemen standing on the side, and we headed in their direction. I was thinking, ‘They have pistols, and I’m hearing machine gun fire. You can’t fight machine guns with a pistol.’
They were only two or three of them, and I said to Shay, “Listen, honey, we have to get out of here. There’s a big group of people here, and it gives us a sense of security, but that’s not going to help because there aren’t any weapons. We need to run.” I looked to my left and right, and it was all forest and open space. Where would we run?
Then I heard one of the officers say to the other, “You’re the only force here, don’t you understand?” and I felt my gut contract. I understood that we weren’t safe, that they couldn’t save our lives. I’m a military person and hearing a police officer say, “You’re the only force here…” I understood his helplessness.
“I understood that we weren’t safe, and that they couldn’t save our lives.”
That was the moment that I detached. If thirty minutes earlier, during the rocket barrage, I had leaned on Shay and allowed myself to be afraid, this was the moment that my feelings detached from my brain, and I went back to being an officer in the army, speaking in military terms. I looked at Shay and said, “Quick risk calculation. I’m not scared about what’s falling from the sky. There are terrorists here shooting live fire and we have no forces, no weapons. We can’t stay here. Caravan. That’s the only place to hide.”
So we ran to the caravan, grabbing our friends along the way. It was lucky, through all that chaos, that when I said, “Guys, follow me,” no one argued. We ran to the caravan, shut the door, and locked it. A plastic lock, that’s all we had. We shut the blinds and tried to lie down on the floor. There wasn’t much room, it’s a very small caravan. I kept saying, “Be quiet, be quiet!” At first, they thought I was hysterical. I tried to explain that I’m not hysterical, and that they have to shut up.
After about 30 seconds, we started hearing bursts of gunfire and RPGs, explosions, machine guns, “Allahu akbar”. Screaming, screaming, so much screaming. For about 10 minutes, we just lay there, and I thought I understood what I was hearing, but I really didn’t.
“We started hearing bursts of fire and RPGs, explosions, machine guns, “Allahu akbar”. Screaming, screaming, screaming.”
After a few minutes, Shay looked at me and said, “Honey, you have to send our location to people, so they know we’re here.” First I wrote to Rami, the producer of Unity, my second father, one of our best friends. I knew he had contacts in the army and the police because he’s part of the festival production. I sent Rami our location and told him we were hiding in the caravan, that we’re seven people, that there are terrorists shooting everywhere. I also sent a message to a good friend from my past named Sasi, who used to be an officer in the military police. He wasn’t in the army anymore, but he was the first person I thought of who could help us.
Based on my messages, I know that at 9:23, I heard them taking someone. I begged them to send forces because I could hear them taking someone. I know now that it was Dor Malka. A car that was parked right next to ours had a car camera and it showed Dor being taken at 9:23. Now I know how to connect what I heard with what happened.
“At 9:30, it became a bit quieter, and we realized that the shots we were hearing were confirmations of killing.”
At 9:30, it became a bit quieter, and we realized that the shots we were hearing were confirmations of killing. Because there’s a very big difference between when they were shooting all the time and we heard people running and screaming, and when there was silence, pierced by a shot ever now and then, a scream every now and then.
At 10:30, for the first time, a terrorist tried to pry open the door. He tried two, three times. Shay and I looked at each other. At that exact moment, they found someone alive outside. Someone who had run and escaped, so they [the terrorists] left our caravan and ran after him. I heard them yell, “Ta’al, ta’al, ta’al,” [Arabic for “come here”] and then they shot him.
Time passed and they didn’t come back. It got to be 11:00 and then we started hearing more and more terrorists coming to the area. They were on ATVs, shooting into the air, honking, yelling “Allahu akbar,” and we realized that they were taking over the area.
My parents and siblings asked me where I was, and I told them that I was fine, waiting to be saved, and couldn’t talk right now. It got hot. It was noon, and about 50 degrees Celsius in the caravan. We were dripping, and I thought of kids who get forgotten in cars and die. I asked myself, before we die at the hands of the terrorists, are we going to suffocate to death?
“I asked myself, before we die at the hands of the terrorists, are we going to suffocate to death?”
Then they shot at the caravan. Two bullets. One passed right over Shay’s head, the other hit the air conditioner. We heard the hiss of air conditioner gas filling the caravan, and then I started feeling woozy. I felt like I was falling asleep and asked myself, ‘What is this, a defense mechanism? Are you in denial? You’d rather sleep than face it?’ I told myself, ‘That’s okay. If you’d rather sleep than deal with this, that’s fine….but that’s not like you. You’re a take-charge person. This isn’t like you.’ And then I realized it was the gas. I started thinking, ‘You idiot, don’t pass out, don’t pass out, if you pass out, you die.’
Mor started drifting off as well, half sleeping, then Darin, then Shay. I didn’t know if I should tell them, hey guys, wake up, it’s the gas from the air conditioner. I was scared that they didn’t realize what it was, and if I told them, they would panic and breathe faster, so I decided to stay quiet.
I was texting with Sasi, and we knew about the kibbutzim and the bases, and all this time we kept waiting to hear retaliation fire, to hear the army, to hear anything. But all I heard was the terrorists. I wrote to Sasi, “Sasi, no forces are on their way, right? No rescue team is on the way?” and I got answers from Sasi and Rami. “Be patient, Laura, the situation is complicated.” I started calculating how much water was in the caravan, how long we could hold on for.
At around 12:20, 12:30, they tried opening the door again. They tried two, three times. Shay tried to hold it. Our luck was that the door opened towards the outside, so it couldn’t be kicked in. Another car was parked right beside us, and that didn’t give them a lot of room to maneuver. They tried with rifles or something, they broke the windows and doors of the car next to ours, they tried whatever they could but didn’t manage to break in.
Then one of them looked in through a window and saw us. Shay, who speaks Arabic, heard him say that he sees us. He said, “Honey, they caught us. Tell them they’ve caught us.” That was the moment I realized it was over. I sent my contacts a message that we’d been found, that it was a matter of minutes, that they’re hammering on the caravan. To tell my parents and siblings that I love them, and I’m sorry I lied.
Then I put my phone aside because I knew nobody could help us anymore. Shay looked at me and said he loves me, and I said I love him, and we said goodbye with our eyes. I thought it was the last time I’d ever see him and he’d ever see me. We parted with a glance, and then I closed my eyes.
First, I felt overwhelming guilt. I said to myself, ‘You stupid idiot, what were you thinking? That you’re still an army officer? Why did you say, follow me? Why did you bring them all with you to the caravan? Everyone outside probably ran away long ago, and you brought everyone with you to the caravan. You were the genius. And now the terrorist is going to open the door and kill everyone because of you. All of your friends will die because of you.’
And then I thought that when you’re dead, it doesn’t hurt you. It hurts everyone else. So I thought about my parents, and I thought about my siblings, and how would they manage without me. And then I was scared, I was scared that Shay would die and I would survive. I knew I didn’t want to get out of this without him. And then I prayed to die quickly. I prayed that they wouldn’t kidnap us.
They were banging on the caravan and we realized they were trying to take it. There’s a saying in the army, better a dead soldier than a kidnapped one. And I know why that saying exists. Anyone would rather be dead than kidnapped, especially if she’s a woman. So I prayed to die quickly.
I told myself that if that son of a bi*ch terrorist has a rifle, then I hope he at least knows how to shoot. Let him finish me with one bullet, and not make me bleed out for eight hours. They kept banging on the caravan, but they couldn’t break it, and they couldn’t take it, so they tried burning it. They spilled something on it and we smelled something burning. And in the caravan, the way I was sitting, my head was against the cooking gas bottle.
Finally, we started hearing retaliation fire. We heard fighting and worried about a stray bullet. It took another hour before it got quiet. I heard some helicopters, and I knew it was our forces. Then Rami sent me a message from Yagil. Yagil was one of the Nova producers, the owner of the security company at the festival, and a friend. We got a voice message from Yagil saying that he had stayed to fight and they had managed to take over the area. He sent a location, and said whoever was hiding should come to the location with their arms held high, slowly, so they wouldn’t be shot by friendly fire.
But we couldn’t trust it. We were scared to open the door. Luckily, we caught hold of Yagil on the phone. Shay or Mor, I can’t remember who, spoke to him, and explained where our caravan was. He said, “Yes, I see you, it’s okay. Open the door, go out with your arms in the air, and run to us.” It was about 300 meters away. It took a few seconds to get the door open because of the damage the terrorists had caused, I don’t know, they broke something.
We went outside, our hands in the air. Imagine. Bodies everywhere. Bodies everywhere. Bodies. Everywhere. The phrase “bodies everywhere” doesn’t begin to describe it. Massacre. A battlefield. Images you don’t even see in movies, even in the worst horror movies. Only, maybe, in images from the Holocaust do you see amounts of bodies like that. And all of the bodies had blue wristbands on their wrists. Blue wristbands, from the festival. And we walked, and there was a couple there, and a pile [of bodies] there…
“We went outside, our hands in the air. Imagine. Bodies everywhere. Bodies everywhere. Bodies. Everywhere.”
We reached the first aid station. Our friend Tali, who had been hiding with us in the caravan, is operating room nurse, and from the second that we left the caravan, she didn’t stop for a breath or drink of water. She said, “I’m an operating room nurse, where do you need me?” and started treating people. I tried to notify people that we’d escaped, I tried to talk on my phone, but there was just nowhere to stand. Everywhere was bodies. Not a single place to stand with no bodies.
There was a body right at the first aid station. At first, we didn’t know if it was a terrorist or not, but I said, look, he has a blue wristband. And he was right there, so we tried to find something to cover him with, but then I felt so stupid. I’m looking for something to cover him, but how could I ever cover all those bodies? Just here, dozens of bodies, how could I ever cover them all, what would it help if I covered one? And then someone else came and covered him, because he was looking at us, right there.
Later, we tried to find out how to leave the area. Even though the army was there, it was only six, seven soldiers. No real forces. Shay went to bring our car. Even though it was all broken, it still worked. We piled as many people into the car as possible. I don’t know how many, maybe ten people, whoever we managed to fit. In the front were Shay, driving, Mor, our best friend, and I was sitting right on the gear stick between them.
They told us, get out and take a right. We took a right, but the entire road was blocked with cars, because people had just left their cars everywhere and run. When we drove by, we saw that beside nearly every car, there was a body. Bodies all along the road. We were so scared, and drove so fast, and it was lucky that Shay is such a reckless driver. At that point, we still had the caravan, and we tried to get out off the road, onto the fields, back to the road, zigzagging between vehicles, until we reached an army post. [The soldiers] raised their guns at us and we yelled at them that we had just escaped from the party, and they said, “Okay, so make a U-turn, there are terrorists here, turn around!”
We left the caravan there, and one of the soldiers came up to the window and said, “Who has a phone? Take my father’s number, please just tell him I’m okay.” I felt like I was in a battlefield. A soldier gave me his father’s number to let him know he’s alive.
We made a U-turn and drove. First, they told us to go to [a village called] Patish. Shay drove fast, weaving between cars. There were burnt cars on the side of the road, bodies everywhere. I sat between Shay and Mor, my two best friends, my family, and I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t understand the bodies. I knew that they were both with me, and I felt like I was going to start crying, but I knew I couldn’t break down until it was over. Now, my head needed to work. I thought I was talking to myself, saying, “No crying, no crying,” but then I saw Shay and Mor looking at me and realized that I’d said it out loud. They looked at me and I told them, “I’m okay, I’m okay.”
We made it to Patish. They asked us if there were any wounded people in our car. We said no, so they told us to continue to the Ofakim police station. We got there, met friends, and I was so happy to see that they were alive. Then I asked about people who had been with them, and they didn’t know where some of they were. And then the sirens started there, and we all ran to the safe room. We wanted to go home, Shay really wanted to get out of there. And we were about to leave, but they said there were terrorists in Ofakim too. We couldn’t leave, we had to hide.
I don’t know how long we stayed in Ofakim. Eventually, we made it home. Only when I opened the door to my house did I let myself cry and break down. I even told Shay on the way, “Honey, when we get home, I’ll cry. It’s okay, it’s normal. We’ll get home and I’ll break down.” I don’t even know if the crying was emotional, or to release the fear, the nerves, the horror. We didn’t know what awaited us. I mean, we understood, we had seen the bodies. When the numbers started climbing on the screen, we knew, because we’d seen it. We had seen the bodies. We had seen the massacre. We had seen it all.
Time had passed quickly and unbearably slowly at the same time. On the one hand, we were there for six hours, which is an eternity. On the other hand, something was always happening. Even when it was quiet, there were still gunshots, we could still hear them yelling “Allahu akbar” and shooting machine guns, then suddenly ATVs. Something happened every moment, so we didn’t sit there and feel the time pass.
I thought about how in the United States, there are incidents of school shootings, and kids hide in the classroom or the closet. I told myself, yes, but Laura, that’s a closed space, and they know that at some stage, someone will take control of the building. We didn’t know when someone would take control of the area. We thought Hamas had taken over. We just heard more and more of them, more terrorists and more vehicles, and they were breaking everything, and looting everything.
We thought it had been a mistake to come to the caravan. We didn’t know that everybody who had been outside earlier had been shot, or had run to the fields and was shot there. Only a few survived. At that moment, I had felt so guilty for telling [my friends] to come with me to the caravan. There was a lot of fear, a lot of guilt. Mostly, I was scared for everyone else, and angry at myself.
I wasn’t scared to die. I had accepted it. I had said, fine, just let it happen quickly. I don’t want to bleed for hours, I don’t want to be in pain, I don’t want to be kidnapped. I wanted to die quickly. My only prayer was to die quickly.
Laura K. B.