By Leonardo Benassatto and Michal Yaakov Itzhaki
NEAR RE’IM, Israel (Reuters) – Tears welled up in May Hayat’s eyes as she stood silently on her emotional return to the site of an Israeli music festival where she narrowly escaped death in a Hamas attack a month ago could.
Hayat, 30, was working as a bartender at the Nova open-air music festival, just a few kilometers from Gaza’s security fence, when Hamas gunmen attacked on October 7, killing 260 festival-goers and taking others hostage.
She survived her ordeal by hiding under a stage, smearing a victim’s blood on her face and pretending to be dead.
Hayat returned to the venue near Kibbutz Re’im in southern Israel for the first time on Monday, hoping it would help her process her trauma and let go of the tears that she said had only properly flowed once in the last month be.
“If you think that they (Hamas) are an organization that defends itself, then they are terrorists, they want us dead, they can’t justify any of this, they don’t care,” said Hayat, who lives in… Tel Aviv, Reuters said.
“They have also killed Arab Israelis here, anyone living in Israel is a target for killing,” she said.
She warned that “they will eventually reach other countries,” adding: “I hope you will wake up before it comes to you.”
Hayat is one of many Israelis grappling with the events of Oct. 7, which sparked an Israeli military campaign to destroy Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip.
According to Israeli figures, around 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 200 kidnapped in attacks by Hamas militants on October 7th.
Since then, Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed more than 10,000 people, around 40% of them children, according to health authorities there.
On the day of the music festival attack, gunmen left their victims where they killed them, and debris was strewn across the ground. When Hayat returned, the scene was completely different: all the bodies and much of the debris had been removed.
Hayat had hoped to find a hole to use as a hiding place, but she couldn’t.
She jumped nervously every time she heard a loud noise as she strolled through the venue, and at one point she jumped to the ground to take cover after what sounded like rocket fire from Gaza. The brother of one of Hayat’s friends, who was killed in the attack, comforted her with a hug.
Although the visit brought tears to her eyes, she wiped them away and did not cry openly.
She said Hamas began firing rockets into southern Israel around 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 7 as young people were dancing. The shooting began when armed Hamas fighters from Gaza arrived at the music festival, some of them on foot, others on motorcycles.
After hiding in a hole, she and a man were discovered by the gunmen.
“At that time I just spoke to God and said, ‘I can’t do anything anymore, it’s in your hands now.’ I felt like they were going to rape me,” she said.
The man who had been with her was shot, but Hayat said she managed to escape after one of the two gunmen who held her took pity on her.
“He just told me to leave while the other terrorist was arguing with him and telling him he wanted to kill me and I could see them arguing about whether to kill me or not and I ran away,” she said.
She then hid under a stage.
“As I’m lying under the stage, I see that they’re shooting people to make sure they’re all dead,” she said. “So the body that was laying next to me – they shot him in the head – I took the blood and wiped it on my face and I just laid still… to appear dead.”
Their ordeal ended when Israeli soldiers arrived several hours after the Hamas attack began.
“When I heard the army coming… it took me a few minutes to realize it was the army I heard coming and then I yelled ‘Help!’ and they came to take me out,” she said.
(Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Mark Heinrich)
Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.