When Danielle Yehiel and Ronald Rozenfeld, accompanied by their friends, arrived at the forest clearing near Kibbutz Re’im in southern Israel around midnight on a Friday, they were met with a bustling scene. Thousands of young people were dancing beneath the night sky, and some had set up camp in nearby tents. The music festival, known as Nova, was so loud that Danielle, a 26-year-old Tel Aviv resident, noticed the rockets in the sky before hearing their deafening sound.
"The entire sky was full of rockets. Everyone ran, and there was so much chaos. We all gathered at the camping area to find shelter, but it was something bigger than that," recalls Danielle. She explains that while they weren't initially frightened because rockets from Gaza were a recurring occurrence, this time, the attacks did not cease.
Soon, a few police officers arrived and dispersed the crowd, instructing them to leave. Danielle and her boyfriend began making their way toward their car but waited for a while for the chaotic traffic to clear a path. "Everything was perfect. Everyone was happy and dancing. All young people, celebrating love and freedom. Everyone was in high spirits, driving like crazy. My boyfriend suggested we wait for a while. That's when we got separated from our group, and unfortunately, we stayed a bit longer, and we started hearing gunshots," recounts Danielle.
Hamas terrorists eventually took control of the party area and began firing at Danielle's and other cars attempting to leave. They were unable to find a sheltered spot. "There was no place we could find shelter. They were killing people in cars and setting them on fire. We just kept driving, watching them shoot wherever they pleased. Another guy from the party got into our car, and we had to remain in the car. To hide, we stopped our car on a slope and took cover beneath it. We saw a soldier who had lost his entire crew to the terrorists, and he was hiding in his tank. He had one gun but no means of communication. He was trying to call for rescue, but we realized it was a major situation, and all the forces were occupied elsewhere, so we had to save ourselves," says Danielle, who remains haunted by the events of that morning.
For the next hour, Danielle and her boyfriend remained in hiding. However, they soon heard gunshots getting closer, prompting them to jump back into the car, which was the only vehicle on the road. "They weren't far. We could smell the gunpowder; they were that close, just a millimeter away when a bullet crossed through the car's front window," she recalls.
They managed to rejoin the main road. Unfortunately, the Kibbutz they entered had also been infiltrated by terrorists. "We saw Israeli civilian forces, but they also started shooting at us, thinking we were terrorists. They aimed at us carefully and shattered our window, injuring me. The phone line was cut, and all my boyfriend's mother heard was begging, crying, and yelling that they were shooting at us."
Finally, Danielle and her boyfriend's cries reached the Israeli forces, who stopped firing and shouted at them to run. They abandoned the car, grabbed their phones, and fled to Kibbutz in Sa'ad. Later that evening, they made it back home.
Despite the terrifying ordeal she experienced, Danielle remains resilient. She cries as she stresses that everyone at the party was there to celebrate love and peace, and none of them deserved the fate they encountered.
Danielle Yehiel and Ronald Rozenfeld |
Capturing the Most Heartbreaking Images of My Life
Shelley Sharon Weisberger had come to the party as a photographer. Throughout the night, she took beautiful photos of people at the party, individuals who were seeking to celebrate life and briefly escape reality. The celebration of peace and freedom eventually turned into a nightmare. "I remember stepping back from the main stage to capture a wide shot of the party as the sun rose. I recall it being one of the most beautiful sunrises I've ever seen," Shelley reminisces.
Around 6:30 AM, the music came to an abrupt halt. Shelley didn't initially understand why, but soon heard people shouting "Red Alarm" – an Israeli signal for incoming rockets. "People were lying on the ground, children were crying, and everyone was frantically collecting their belongings. I called my friends so I could leave with them, while the police yelled at us to evacuate."
A few seconds after the red alarm, the sky erupted with hundreds of missiles and rockets. "We got into our car and began to drive. The driver sensed a suspension in the air, but we were unaware of any invasion. He opted to cut through fields rather than wait in the festival's exit traffic. As we were driving, we heard the bombs getting closer and closer. The police were trying to maintain calm and assist people in exiting as safely as possible," she recounts.
As they drove in distress, thousands of people rushed from all directions, seeking shelter in safe rooms. "We still didn't understand what had happened so suddenly. Missiles filled the sky above our heads. When we got on the highway, we believed we were safe, only to discover that something significant was happening," she describes.
While driving through fields, they rejoined the road, and their car was the last to make it onto the road before the police sealed it with barricades. "We were the final car to leave without a scratch. As we were driving, we received messages from friends about a battlefield with blood everywhere. People were hiding in the bushes, with many pretending to be dead. My heart was pounding with fear. We continued driving until we encountered local police, who kept us at a nearby Kibbutz and released us later in the evening. We found a ride back home. As a photographer, I capture cherished memories for people, but Saturday morning is etched in my mind as the worst memory of my life," says Shelley, who has been staying with her mother in Tel Aviv since the attack.
Four Hours of Evasion and Hiding, Then Seven Hours Under a Bush to Survive
Three days after surviving the mass assault, David Bromberg, a 25-year-old reservist, is back in uniform, guarding the northern border of Israel with a gun. David was one of thousands of young people who attended the Nova music festival, which extended from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.
David states that most Israelis are accustomed to hearing rockets and taking cover in bomb shelters, but this situation was unprecedented. He had left for the party on Friday afternoon, and despite the ongoing missile fire in the area near the Gaza Strip, it had been relatively quiet for a time.
"This was a major event, the first big party since 2019, and people had been eagerly awaiting it. We all thought it would be the best party in years, but we didn't realize that it would become such a tragic day," says David.
Initially, it took some time for everyone at the party to find shelter or evacuate. "It was only after the music stopped that we heard many rockets overhead. Missiles continued to target us. It was only after the sound of gunfire that everyone began to run," says David.
Interestingly, just minutes before the Hamas attack, David had mentioned to his friends that "every time there's a big party, something bad happens." Within minutes, the attack had claimed numerous lives.
David described how Hamas terrorists masqueraded as Israeli police, directing people to a specific location, where they were shot. "Fortunately, one of my friends survived and pulled herself into her car, and we all ran to our car. They were firing with machine guns and RPGs. It was like a war zone, just like what you see in movies," said David.
They attempted to drive away, but there were terrorists in two trucks armed with machine guns and Kalashnikovs. "They began shooting at everyone who turned right. We were about to turn right, but we noticed a car with bullet holes and blood, so we quickly changed course to the left. However, the terrorists were everywhere. So, we abandoned the car and started running. I saw people falling dead next to me, but I kept running," he explained.
Although David, as an Army reservist, briefly considered picking up a weapon, he decided to continue running with his friends. "We lost a friend along the way, and we don't know what happened to her. We ran in different directions, but the terrorists were following her. We ran into the fields," he continued.
After some time, David realized that running wasn't a viable option, and they needed to hide. "I couldn't comprehend what was happening, but when I saw another girl running, I realized I had to help others too. I told everyone not to run because we had no food or water. In the army, we are taught that during attacks like these, captures occur in various places in the area. I understood that and we took cover under a tree," he recalled.
David and the ten others attempted to contact the police, military, and ambulance, but no help arrived. Throughout this time, they could hear the sounds of missiles and gunfire. "We had gone too far from town. There wasn't a single moment of silence from the missiles. We hid under the tree for seven hours before assistance arrived," he said.
While David still had hope for survival, about thirteen refugees from Gaza passed by their hiding spot and saw them under the tree. "At that moment, when they approached us, I was prepared to die, but they had no weapons, so I was also ready to fight. But one of the guys said, 'Don't be afraid; we won't harm you,'" David shared.
Remarkably, David mentioned that most people living in Gaza don't want to stay there. "When I was in the army, I would patrol and see people attempting to enter Israel. They wanted to come to Israel for food and water. Perhaps that's why they didn't harm us," he speculated.
After seven hours of battling for survival, David's friend's father arrived in a small car. "We squeezed into the car because it was too small for ten people. By then, the terrorists were still shooting, so we had to run very quickly. We stopped at a gas station, where we saw many dead bodies and blood. We added our names to a village board to let people know that we were alive and safe," he concluded.