What happened after Hamas left the Nova festival site

By Isaac M December 9, 2023

Rami Shmuel went from producing a multi-day rave to searching through the bodies of partygoers who died at Nova festival.

What happened there on 7 October is now recorded as the site of the country’s worst terror attack. Israeli police say more than 360 mostly young men and women were murdered at the rave by Hamas fighters, who carried out a series of co-ordinated attacks across Israel that day.

Rami is emotional, when we speak on the phone, recalling the events of two months ago. But he is determined to provide an eyewitness account of what happened in the days that followed.

This article contains graphic descriptions of violence, death, sexual violence and torture.

This is what he said:

Rami was among those who gathered the belongings dropped by festival-goers to return them to their families.
Rami was among those who gathered belongings dropped by festival-goers to return them to their families

Sixteen days.

The first 10 days we spent among the bodies. After that, we gave up on finding survivors.

The next six days were spent gathering belongings to give to the families – IDs, sunglasses, phones, shoes, bags.

When I close my eyes, I can still hear the screaming from that morning when the monsters came. I can still smell the bodies that were laid across the field under the bright sun.

Before, that same field was a dancefloor. I produced Unity festival, which ran earlier in that week and spilled into the Supernova festival on the Friday.

Everything was going great. Everyone was having fun, smiling, dancing. There was magic in the air.

The festival earlier in the week. Pic: Family handout/Amit Azriel
The festival earlier in the week. Pic: Family handout/Amit Azriel

Then on Saturday, at exactly 6.28am, missiles flew over the dancers’ heads.

I had just gone home to pick up my wife. Back at the festival, the music was turned off and the evacuation began.

By 7.10am, we heard rumours of an invasion of Hamas terrorists. Then we began to hear gunshots and looked out the window – a car full of them drove past.

It was like a horror film.

An hour later, all hell had broken loose. Hamas were butchering, slaying, executing, shooting everyone.

Everyone started running in different directions, leaving their cars, running into the forest, hiding in the woods, trying to escape.

My friends and colleagues were desperately ringing me, screaming, shouting for help from the police, the military, anyone.

It is these conversations I hear in my head when I try to sleep at night.

The night before the attack, we had all sat around planning our next festival, and making sure everything was set up for Nova.

Only two of us from that gathering survived.

I returned to the site in the early hours of 8 October. I wanted to look for friends, colleagues and missing people. They were my responsibility.

The human mind can’t process what I saw. The huge field was filled with bodies. They had been executed. A lot of them had a gunshot to the head or in the face. You couldn’t recognise them.

Pic: AP
The festival site pictured in the days after the attack. Pic: AP

We found bodies for miles and miles around. People had run, but the monsters had taken them, killed them and threw their bodies away like bags of rubbish. That was Hamas’ main purpose. They came to butcher and kill.

We found my friend Matan Kido Elmalem, a DJ, but only because we recognised the ring on his finger.

Another friend of mine, Eric, had been burnt. He was at the festival with his young daughter, who was disabled and a wheelchair user. They used to dance with him holding her in his arms. I think that’s how he carried her as he ran from Hamas.

We found his body but couldn’t find hers. Eventually, an autopsy showed Ruth was with him all along. They had been so badly burnt we didn’t realise it was two bodies we had buried, not just one.

Eric, dancing with his daughter Ruth. Pic: Handout
Eric, dancing with his daughter Ruth. Pic: Handout

There were bodies of people I didn’t know. There were three young girls I remember. All three had been stripped from the waist down. They were found in different parts of the festival.

One girl had almost made it to the bomb shelter. She had been shot in the face. Another had tried to escape by running behind where the festival was. They had shot her repeatedly below her waist.

A third girl – they poured gasoline on her face and set it on fire to torture her.

It’s like they tried to turn her into a candle.

Their legs were open. There is not a doubt in my mind as to what happened. There is no reason for anyone to do this if not to humiliate the person, to rape them. Hamas chased them, humiliated them, ended them. The world should not let them exist. They are not animals because even animals do not act like that. They are monsters.

The people they murdered were from lots of different countries, not just Israelis. To me, this is not just our fight. I fear next time this could happen anywhere, and outside of Israel.

I lost a lot of people I knew. I was lucky to get away, and my family too.

Rami and his family before the attack. Pic: Family handout/ Amit Azriel
Rami (second left) and his family before the attack. Pic: Family handout/Amit Azriel

I’ve not had therapy yet, I’m not ready. I used to cry when I got home and no one was there to see me but I don’t have any more tears. Sometimes, I wake up feeling nervous. Hamas shot at us while we were helping with the bodies. I don’t know how all those bullets missed us.

It is my birthday in a few days. I’m turning 50. Usually I have a huge party, like 3,000 people but this year I can’t face even three. I don’t know if I will ever be able to face a festival again.

I am just getting through things day by day.

As told to Sanya Burgess, digital investigations journalist.

Hamas has denied their fighters raped or sexually assaulted women during the attacks.

Read more on this topic:
Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas – can it be done?
Panic and heartbreak: The devastating effect of an airstrike in Gaza

The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.


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