Missiles rained from the sky above the Tribe of Nova Festival in Re'im, Israel, last weekend, said two survivors who managed to escape as the terrorist group Hamas killed hundreds of attendees while taking others hostage.
During a Thursday webinar hosted by the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement, Almog Senior and Alon Marek recalled how they fled for their lives on Oct. 7 after attending what was supposed to be an all-night dance party.
According to Israeli rescue service Zaka, at least 260 bodies were recovered from the music festival site in the Negev desert about 3 miles from the Gaza-Israel border, and many other attendees were taken hostage by armed terrorists.
Before the attack, Senior remembers driving to the Nova Festival with a friend and how excited they were to attend. Senior shared that he loves to dance, revealing that he frequently participates in the activity alongside Palestinians, Russians and Ukrainians, with each person setting aside their differences to just "celebrate life."
As Marek later explained, the festival is a "celebration of joy" enjoyed by people worldwide.
After arriving, Senior and his friend set up in the camping area and met up with the rest of their group. At one point, he headed to the main stage before the music suddenly stopped, and smoke and explosions filled the sky.
"We start hearing the sirens and the explosions of the missiles," he said. "And it starts raining missiles, raining rockets … explosions. Explosions of the Iron Dome trying to protect us."
Marek also recalls the sky turning red as dozens of rockets were launched into Israel, with the Iron Dome exploding the rockets in the air. The festival producers came on stage around 6 a.m., according to Marek, instructing everyone to lie down and put their hands on their heads until the rockets stopped.
When it became clear that the rockets would not stop, the producers told everyone to go home. Marek and the friend he came with packed up their belongings and said goodbye to their other friends.
"It took us a few moments to find the car because there was a little bit of panic in the air," he said. "But we need to remember that, sadly, it's not the first time that Gaza, Hamas, has started launching rockets on Israel."
"So, everyone at the festival was quite aware of what you should do when something like this happens," Marek said.
As for Senior, he and multiple others first took cover at the campground because they initially believed the missiles were the only threat. Eventually, a security guard said: "If your life is important to you, get out of here."
Running to the parking lot, Senior said the scene was "chaotic," and he lost contact with his friends, including the one who drove him to the concert. He called his friend, who told him that he was already by the car waiting for Senior.
Even though he found his friend, they couldn't escape from the festival location because so many cars were jammed together, blocking the way out. Since they still believed missiles were the only danger, Senior and his friend decided to take shelter, as the car was a dangerous place to be during a missile attack.
"So our strategy was to drive as much as we can, and when we hear sirens or when it's too many rockets, we stop the car and find shelter," he said. "We continue this way until, one time, we find shelter next to some trees, and we start hearing gunshots all around us. And this is the moment that we understood that something is wrong."
The young man and his friend shouted at everyone else taking shelter to return to their cars, with Senior and his friend doing the same. The two men drove to the main road, where they encountered a traffic jam to their left and heard gunshots to their right.
Making a swift decision, Senior's friend drove into the field, which is when they picked up two frightened girls along the road. The pair drove with the two girls in the backseat until they came across police at an intersection, hoping that the girls found safety with an officer.
After failing to obtain directions from the police officer, who seemed as confused as they were, Senior and his friend decided to navigate themselves. Driving down the road, the festival attendee saw several cars stopped on the road and a white pick-up truck standing in the middle of the intersection.
The two men saw a man with an army vest and a rifle walking by the truck. Senior's friend expressed disbelief that the man could be a terrorist, stating he must be an Israeli soldier.
"And so we got closer to him," Senior said. "And at that moment, he recognized us, and he went to the back of his truck and pulled out a machine gun, a huge one, and he turned it toward us. And in this moment, it was clear that he was a terrorist."
Senior's friend made another swift decision to perform a massive U-turn and drove as fast as he could to the other side. Although they braced themselves for the shots from the machine gun, they only heard one, and Senior speculated that perhaps the machine gun was jammed.
While they were still unsure of where they were going, the sun had started to rise, which happens in the East, and since they knew Gaza is in the West, the pair drove towards the sun.
Finally, they arrived at Senior's house in the morning, and after locking the door and hugging each other, they looked at their phones and understood how devastating the attack was that they just escaped.
"I try to block myself from hearing the stories of other people because I know that we got super lucky," Senior said. "In a miracle, we left out of there alive."
In Marek's case, he and his friend found themselves in a slow-moving line of cars, trying to drive back home. Eventually, Marek found it strange that multiple cars in front of them appeared to be doing a U-turn and driving back to the festival.
Once they got to the front of the line of cars, Marek couldn't see anything ahead, so he told his friend that the police must have blocked the road because a rocket had fallen and an explosion occurred.
Since they needed to take the road to go home, however, the two decided to keep driving the same way, and if the police stopped them, they'd find a new route.
"Never would I have thought that I would see the scene that I'm about to share with you," Marek said.
Looking out the window, Marek saw three armed police officers standing shoulder-to-shoulder, walking toward a mini-van. Marek also noticed at least one Hamas terrorist by the van with a large machine gun, and he warned his friend to put his head down as they drove past.
"As we were passing by, I could see all of the cars on the side of the road that I saw when we stopped before the road," he said. "All these cars, the windows were broken, there was blood on the road."
"Which, I later understood that just a few moments before with us, this Hamas terrorist was on the road, firing at every car that was coming, firing at every person that was coming," Marek said. "And that was the reason that everybody went the other way in a panic."
The Nova Festival survivor credited the police officers with saving their lives by occupying the terrorist's attention. Marek said he does not know if the officers are dead or alive.
A few minutes later, a rocket landed several feet from the car, shaking the vehicle and breaking the windows slightly, and a thick black cloud of smoke rose. Marek and his friend took cover under a bridge, waiting over an hour as rockets flew overhead.
"We returned home unhurt," the survivor said, recalling that he then went to his friend's house and watched the news with them, and he understood what was happening. Marek started calling all of his friends who were at the festival. While some didn't answer, others said they couldn't speak because they were trying to hide.
"They said 'holocaust,'" Marek said. "It seems like you would imagine 70 years ago, but not in 2023, that people are running in the forest and hiding, and they can't speak in the phones, they can't make any noise."
The pair of survivors continued watching the news, and when Hamas later shared a photo of someone the group had killed, it was someone Marek and his friend knew. It was the first friend of theirs that they learned had died in the festival attack.
"Each morning, I wake up, and the first thing I do is open the news, and I'm checking if I know somebody that was killed during the night," Marek said. "Or maybe they discovered a new body of one of the people I knew at the festival."
"This is what I experienced at the Nova Festival," he concluded. "This is my story."
Last weekend's attacks by Hamas targeting Israeli settlements along the border with Gaza killed more than 1,300 Israelis. At least 27 Americans have been confirmed dead and 14 are unaccounted for, the White House said Thursday.