HomeWorld NewsNJ man recalls horror of Hamas attack at music festival: ‘They kept … – NorthJersey.com
NJ man recalls horror of Hamas attack at music festival: ‘They kept … – NorthJersey.com
November 10, 2023
Raif Rashed planned to fly home from Israel to New Jersey on Oct. 7. His younger brother, Rada, had other ideas. He wanted Raif to stick around, to help Rada cater a music festival in southern Israel.
Raif, 39, rearranged his plans, delaying a return to his home in Hackensack. It’s a decision that has changed him forever.
“I am different now,” said Rashed, an Israeli Arab of the Druze faith who was visiting his family in Israel when Hamas terrorists launched their attacks.
The Nova festival where he worked was an all-night, open-air concert featuring electronic music and dancing. It drew over 4,000 young people to the Negev Desert, close to the Gaza border.
“These were peace-loving people who come to enjoy music,” Rashed recalled in an interview with The Record and NorthJersey.com on Nov. 7, the one-month anniversary of the rampage.
The event that was supposed to celebrate “Unity and Love” turned into a bloodbath when Hamas’ forces stormed through the border and attacked the revelers. In a telephone interview from northern Israel, where his family lives, he said he still has not come to grips with the brutality he saw.
“Every year, they have this festival. It’s peace-loving people who come to enjoy electronic music,” he said. “We know all of them. They are friendly. They come to eat with us. We spend the night talking with them and joking around.”
Rashed moved to New Jersey several years ago and works for a manufacturing company here. He has stayed in Israel since Oct. 7 to be with family and try to make sense of memories that have left him haunted.
The Nova festival attack
When the Hamas attackers came with their guns, he ran for his life with dozens of festival-goers who attempted to escape by fleeing into a nearby forest. For hours, he hid among the trees, he said. He watched in horror as many of the young attendees were gunned down. Others, he said, were taken away in trucks as captives.
Within several hours, some 260 concertgoers were killed, according to Israeli officials, and dozens more kidnapped from the idyllic setting in the middle of the desert.
In smartphone videos Rashed shared with a reporter, rockets could be viewed streaking faintly in the sky. Rapid gunfire could be heard all around.
“These kids were hippies who were there to listen to music,” he said, still in disbelief. All weapons had been banned from the event, leaving the victims defenseless.
“They came to kill us and we had nothing,” he said.
Although Rashed, who speaks Arabic, said he could understand the words of the terrorists, he couldn’t fully comprehend what was happening because he was so stunned by the events. “They were saying things like ‘I hate them! I hate them!’ and ‘Get into the truck!’”
At one point, Rashed said, a woman was begging for her life while two Hamas attackers were laughing at her. “She said ‘Let me live,’ and they made jokes at her and laughed. Then, they pulled her by the hair and shot her in the head.”
“I saw them beating kids with hammers. I saw them lynching kids. They kept shooting and shooting.”
The concert had began beautifully, he said. People arrived and enjoyed hours of music. They danced all night. Rashed and his brother prepared food stations with a variety of Druze dishes. There were wraps with cheese, za’atar spice and olive oil; grape leaves and rice; and various meats.
Sirens blared, but no one heard
That all changed Saturday morning. Around 6:30 a.m., one of the kitchen staff told Rashed there were rockets. Air-raid sirens went off, but people didn’t hear them because of the music.
“I went outside and saw the rockets from Gaza. At first, I didn’t take it seriously. It was far away,” he said. “Then, police at the concert stopped the music and ordered everyone to go home.”
He calmly began packing the kitchen equipment. “I never imagined what was about to happen.”
Rockets rained down on them. Rashed heard faint bursts of gunfire that grew louder and closer. Some of the terrorists had approached on paragliders from Gaza. Others came in vehicles.
He saw a friend get shot up in his car. “We started hearing lots of gunfire. I just ran. We were panicked. We ran into the forest. We hid behind trees. There were around 50 of us. I saw people falling all around me from the gunfire. I didn’t understand what was happening.”
He called the police. He screamed on his phone, “We need help! There are 50 kids here. We don’t have anything to protect us with. We need something. Send a helicopter.’ They said `We can’t reach you now. Just hide and be quiet.’”
At that moment, “I felt completely hopeless.”
“It wasn’t just a small group of terrorists,” he said. “It was more like 100 who came to attack with RPGs [rocket propelled grenades].”
Rashed kept trying to call his brother through the night, but got no reply. He feared Rada had been shot dead or taken captive.
A 20-year-old he was hiding with in the forest asked Rashed to call his mother.
“He told her we are OK, that we are safe and that he loved her. But he was lying. He was under fire. That was his last call with her. The parents still call me and I don’t know what to say. He’s now a hostage in Gaza.”
Rashed hid for hours in the woods. Around noontime, he ran back to his car, to find that it had been destroyed by a rocket.
‘Have you seen my brother?’
Shortly thereafter, he was relieved to see an Israeli tank roll into the area. About 15 people ran to the tank and crowded under and around it. He finally felt like it was safe to come out of hiding.
“Have you seen my brother?” he asked the group of terrified young people. Everyone was silent. Rashed was crestfallen.
Finally, he looked under the tank and saw a familiar head of dark hair, his brother’s. He and Rada embraced.
A month later, Rashed said he is still overwhelmed by the experience. It is hard for him to get the images out of his head − of a joyous gathering destroyed by hate, of young people shot dead at close range.
“I never saw a day like that,” he said.
“Now I have anger,” he explained on the phone. “Why did they come to kill kids? They were only 20, 25 years old. I never hated anyone. I work with all people − American, Egyptian, Indian… I speak three languages and we all get along. Here, because they are Jews and they speak Hebrew they have to die?”
“I know there are people in the world who don’t believe what happened,” he said. “I can’t stay quiet about this.”