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‘It Was a Death Trap’: Israeli Rave Massacre Survivors Detail Their Escape as Scores Remain Missing

today10/10/2023

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As the Palestinian group Hamas continues to attack Israel and the country retaliates by bombing Gaza, survivors of the terrorist attack at the Paralello Universo Supernova Sukkot Gathering electronic music festival near the Gaza border are continuing what has become a grim search for hundreds of people who are still missing.  

So far, the Israeli search and rescue organization Zaka has reported that it found 260 dead bodies at the festival site in Re’im, Israel. An unknown number of attendees have been abducted by Hamas terrorists. At least 150 Israelis were abducted on Saturday (Oct. 7), according to the New York Times, and some of them were taken from the rave.  

On Tuesday morning (Oct. 10), President Biden referenced the massacre during remarks on the Israel-Hamas conflict, naming “young people massacred while attending a music festival to celebrate peace” among the violent incidents of the last few days.

As of Sunday evening, 600-700 festival goers were believed to be missing in the immediate aftermath of the attack, according to artist manager Raz Gaster, who was at the event and represents several acts on the lineup. The exact number of the remaining still missing has not been verified, although two sources in Israel put this number at approximately 150, accounting for bodies that have since been recovered and identified as well as survivors who have been identified; though another source on the ground there says it’s still hard to tell how many remain missing.

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Gaster, an artist manager who was at the event and represents several acts on the lineup, told Billboard Tuesday (Oct. 10) that he and members of the festival production team are working to locate survivors and gather information about festival attendees who remain missing.

“At the end of the day, it’s our responsibility as human beings to [provide] the families of these missing people whatever information we can get,” Gaster says. “We will keep working until we get information about each and every one of them.”  

The Israeli offshoot of the longstanding Brazilian festival brand Paralelllo Universo, Supernova Sukkot Gathering was named in honor of the Jewish Sukkot holiday, and hosted approximately 3,000 attendees on a rural site with two stages.

Those who escaped the festival describe the terror on the ground when at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday rockets began flying from Gaza, with some landing near Re’im. Within 20 minutes, terrorists armed with guns and RPGs arrived in ATVs, pickup trucks and motorcycles, as well as by paraglider, and immediately began shooting attendees.  

Shelly Barel, who sells jewelry and clothing at music festivals throughout Israel, had been on the site since Thursday, Oct. 5. At that time, the outdoor space was hosting another psytrance festival, Unity, with Supernova Sukkot Gathering starting on Friday. Supernova Sukkot was only moved to the Re’im site two days prior, after another site in southern Israel fell through.  

“The festival was so much fun,” Barel says of Supernova Sukkot through a translator. “Amazing people, it was really full of joy.”

Everything changed when rockets started falling early Saturday morning. Barel and her husband hit the ground and lay there for at least five minutes, until festival security made an announcement telling attendees to run to their cars and leave the site. Barel and her husband spent 10 minutes packing their belongings, then loaded them into their vehicle and drove away, with Barel’s husband behind the wheel. At the time, they assumed they were being asked to evacuate because of a rocket attack, a relatively regular occurrence in Israel.  

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They soon hit a bottleneck of cars trying to exit the festival. Without realizing that armed attackers had arrived, they took a hard right turn and drove across the dirt field adjacent to the site instead of waiting in the exit line. That decision, made as much out of impatience and an instinct to escape as anything else, might have saved their lives.  

“In hindsight,” Barel says, “I understood that the terrorists shot the [people in the] first cars, so those cars couldn’t move, and the rest got stuck behind them. They formed a traffic jam for everyone coming after that. It was a death trap.”  

When Barel and her husband drove off the field and back onto the road, they came upon two stopped vehicles, both of which had all their doors open. Then they saw the occupants of those vehicles lying dead on the ground.  

Barel’s husband made a U-turn and minutes later received a text from someone in his army reserve group saying there were attackers in the area. “When we realized we had to fear the terrorists,” Barel says, “the missiles seemed like the smallest problem.”

He kept driving, following signs to the nearest city. “We decided to go as fast as we could, full gas, only slowing during turns,” she says. “The rockets were falling around us and at this point I thought it was the moment to say ‘I love you’ to each other and say goodbye.”

They didn’t get hit. Eventually, they made their way back to their home in central Israel. There, they found out that some of their friends from the festival had been killed, while others had been abducted. Many remain missing.  

Nitay, a 26-year-old security professional from Tel Aviv who also attended Supernova Sukkot said that he was helping an artist pack up some gear when gunmen appeared and started shooting at the festivalgoers. As shots rang out, “my friend called me when I was running away from the attack and asked me to try and find his sister,” says Nitay, who did not wish to give his last name. “I really wanted to help him, but I had to flee and hide. I felt like I was constantly surrounded by gunfire.”  

Nitay ran for several miles and eventually hid for 10 hours in an olive grove. At one point he thought the group he had taken shelter with had been discovered by armed men speaking in Arabic — they were about 20 yards away, close enough that he could see the men’s legs through the olive tree branches.  

“I prayed to my father, who passed away several years ago and begged him to help me,” Nitay recalls. As he hid, the men began shouting and Nitay says he braced himself for an attack. The shouting went on for about a half-hour, then the armed men began backing away from the area in which he was hiding with several others, including two tourists from Argentina. They stayed there for several more hours until Israeli finally arrived and led them to a nearby police station. Nitay says he never found his friend’s sister.

In the days since Barel and her husband escaped, they, too, have been searching for information on their missing friends, but they haven’t found much, even as obituaries have started to appear. The trauma is so fresh in her mind that she says she became “hysterical” when the elevator door in her apartment building opened and a man she didn’t know was inside.  

For decades, Israel’s dance music scene has been thriving. Psytrance, the electronic subgenre featured on the Supernova Sukkot lineup, became big in Israel in the late ’80s and ’90s, and it has been the country’s biggest electronic sound since, although house and techno have also grown in popularity in recent years.

On any given weekend, especially between March and October, there are several big parties like Supernova Sukkot throughout Israel, with crowd sizes ranging between 50 and 10,000, according to Amotz Tokatly, who’s been involved in the country’s electronic scene for more than 20 years as a promoter, manager, consultant and writer. “If you go to a psytrance party or a house or techno club, you see people from the age of 18 to 60 or even 70,” says Tokatly. “It’s a basic activity in Israel. We love to dance. We love to go out.”

It’s hard to tell what will happen to this scene in the aftermath of the attack, not to mention the war that is expected to follow.  

“What happened here is a disaster. It’s unbearable,” says Tokatly. “The most important thing for us is to [show] the world that this is a crime against innocent people. They don’t belong to any political side. These were just kids going to a party.”

Additional reporting by Tal Rimon.

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