How the Hamas attack on the Supernova festival in Israel unfolded

Harriet Sherwood

The Guardian  /  October 9, 2023

Thousands of young people were partying at dawn when Palestinian militants opened fire.

What was the party in the desert ? 

The Supernova music festival, billed as “a journey of unity and love” with “mind-blowing and breathtaking content”, began at around 10pm on Friday, just hours after the end of Israel’s week-long Sukkot religious festival.

Thousands of young people signed up for the party in a place “stunning for its beauty” but were not told of the exact location until a few hours before. It was Kibbutz Re’im, 2 miles from the Gaza border.

Valentina Gysak said she was a “bit worried” when her 21-year-old daughter Margarita said she was planning to attend the festival. “I suspected there may be drugs and alcohol but my daughter told me: ‘Don’t worry, I’m just there to dance and have fun,’” Valentina said.

What happened at dawn ? 

As the sun rose on Saturday, the party was still in full swing when several small black dots appeared in the sky, caught on one partygoer’s phone. As the dots came closer, it became clear they were motorized paragliders approaching from the direction of Gaza in the west.

The beat of the music became confused with gunfire as Palestinian militants stormed the festival. A siren went off, warning of incoming rockets, followed by gunshots. Some attendees tried to raise the alarm while others remained oblivious.

One festivalgoer said that at first the rocket noise “sounded like it was part of the music”. Then he and his friends “felt the bullets flying around us”, he told Israel’s Channel 12.

Another reveler, Ortel, said: “Suddenly out of nowhere they [militants] come inside with gunfire, opening fire in every direction. Fifty terrorists arrived in vans, dressed in military uniforms.”

In panic, people tried to flee, kicking up the desert sand to reach their cars. But, said Ortel, there were vehicles full of gunmen shooting at the cars.

“They fired bursts, and we reached a point where everyone stopped their vehicles and started running.” Ortel said she hid in a bush as “they just started spraying people. I saw masses of wounded people thrown around and I’m trying to understand what’s going on.”

Chen Mizrachi told Israel’s Ynet news website: “It started at seven in the morning. When the rocket fire from the sky began, we started shouting ‘code red’ to everyone [the warning used by Israelis for incoming rocket attacks from Gaza]. There were several firing points; we ran from one direction to another.

Gunmen chased fleeing revelers across the desert, shooting and snatching people.

Mizrachi said: “Many fell and were injured from terrorist fire … Somehow, we managed to escape the line of fire.”

Another survivor, Liran, said people were attacked as they tried to escape through an exit at the site.

“It happened in an instant. The terrorists arrived on the right side of the road and then got out of a large white vehicle, a type of van. They shot from close range, it was terrible,” she told the Ynet news site.

Liran said she got into a car “and we started to drive like crazy”.

Gili Yoskovich said she hid under a fruit tree, playing dead for three hours to dodge the gunfire and killings. “I saw people were dying all around. I was very quiet. I didn’t cry, I didn’t do anything,” she told the BBC.

“I was … breathing, saying: ‘OK, I’m going to die. It’s OK, just breathe, just close your eyes.’”

Were hostages taken ? 

Video has circulated showing young Israelis being driven and marched away by Palestinian militants.

One clip shows a distraught young woman being driven on a motorcycle between two militants, pleading with her arms outstretched. Nearby a young man is marched away by gunmen.

Relatives of Noa Argamani and Avinatan Or told Israeli media that the couple had been taken hostage.

Moshe Or said: “I was worried and tried to call them, but his phone was not available and neither was hers. After a few hours, emergency services contacted us and told us that they saw a video of my brother and his girlfriend, Noa, taken hostage toward the Strip,” he said.

Argamani’s father, Ya’akov, told Channel 12 he tried to contact her “from the second we heard the sirens”.

He received a WhatsApp message from his daughter saying everything was fine but was later contacted by a friend saying: “there was a video of her on a motorcycle and she was kidnapped and taken to Gaza”.

A later video appeared to show Argamani being held captive in a room with a tiled floor, sipping from a bottle of water.

Another video appeared to show a partygoer, reported to be Shani Louk, a 23-year-old German-Israeli dual national, being paraded through the streets of Gaza. CNN said it had verified a video showing her being driven in a truck guarded by a militant carrying a rocket-propelled grenade, while another held her by the hair.

Louk’s mother, Ricarda, later said: “This morning my daughter, Shani Nicole Louk, a German citizen, was kidnapped with a group of tourists in southern Israel by Palestinian Hamas.

“We were sent a video in which I could clearly see our daughter unconscious in the car with the Palestinians and them driving around the Gaza Strip.”

How are relatives getting information ? 

Many family members of those attending the party headed to a missing persons centre at a police station near Ben Gurion airport on Sunday. Relatives were told to bring items, such as toothbrushes, that could contain DNA.

Ora Kuperstein said her family was looking for her nephew, Bar, 21, who was working at the party when he was kidnapped and taken to Gaza. “Nobody has told us anything. Nobody is helping us. It’s chaos,” she told Channel 12 news.

What was the death toll at the party site ? 

Late on Sunday, the Israeli rescue service Zaka said it had retrieved hundreds of bodies from the festival site. Photographs and video showed burnt out cars and bodies on the ground. The Israeli authorities said about 260 people had been killed and many were still missing.