Thousands of young Israelis had spent the night dancing at an outdoor rave, many of them dressed in tie-dyed T-shirts and crop tops.
They ended the night in a massacre.
Shortly after dawn on Saturday, hundreds of Palestinian militants pushed their way through barricades between Gaza and Israel, entered dozens of Israeli towns along the border and sped through farmland where the rave was reaching its climax at dawn.
The militants shot dead more than 100 protesters and kidnapped others, according to two senior Israeli officials, as they ran across open fields. Video verified by The New York Times It showed militants driving away on a motorcycle with an Israeli woman squeezed between them, screaming as her boyfriend was led away on foot, his arm twisted behind his back.
Videos show a woman being kidnapped by people who appear to be militants on Saturday during a wave of ground raids into Israel from Gaza. Footage from a music festival has been verified by The New York Times. https://t.co/loUaUEwfO7 pic.twitter.com/wL0dePMFlI
– The New York Times (@nytimes) October 8, 2023
Those who survived often did so by hiding in nearby bushes, some of them for hours.
Bullets whistled overhead and gunshots echoed everywhere, said Andrey Peairie, 35, one of the survivors. He described how he crawled to the top of a nearby hill to get a better idea of what was happening.
“Smoke, flames and gunshots,” said Peairie, a technology worker. “I have military experience, but I have never been in a situation like this.”
Thus began one of the bloodiest weekends in the history of Israel and Palestine, the full details of which began to emerge Sunday as survivors recounted the most complex and brazen attack on their nation since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Some 700 Israelis were killed and at least 150 taken hostage by Palestinian militants, according to a preliminary assessment shared by a senior Israeli military official. Videos circulated of children and grandparents kidnapped from their homes in Israel and on roads littered with corpses. A National Security Council spokesman said later Sunday that “several” American citizens had been killed in the fighting.
The attack, of staggering scale, sparked a fierce counterattack by Israel that has killed at least 413 Gazans in missile strikes and shootings, according to Gaza health officials.
The violence began in familiar enough fashion: with rocket fire from Gaza shortly after dawn.
Amir Tibon and his neighbors in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, a village a few hundred meters from Gaza, have become accustomed to frequent rocket fire by militants.
Air raid shelters are installed in every house on the kibbutz, and residents are accustomed to rushing into them every few weeks.
But soon after Tibon, 35, took shelter Saturday with his wife and two young daughters, he learned there was something very different about this attack.
The sound of gunshots.
Then came a morbid realization.
“There were terrorists inside the kibbutz, inside our neighborhood and, at one point, outside our window,” Tibon recalled. “We could hear them talking. We could hear them running. “We could hear them firing their weapons at our house, at our windows.”
In the town’s WhatsApp group, neighbors posted frantic messages. “People were saying, ‘They’re in my house, they’re trying to get into the safe room!’” recalled Tibon, a journalist for Haaretz, one of the country’s most prominent media outlets.
Messages from other journalists revealed even more terrifying news. They said that Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, had infiltrated dozens of Israeli border towns and that it would take time for the Israeli army to reach the village.
Not long after, Tibon’s cell reception began to fail.
Thirteen miles to the east, deep in Israeli territory, Meitav Hadad and his brother Itamar had no idea that Israel had been invaded.
The brothers had turned off their phones during the Jewish Sabbath.
Suddenly, gunshots were heard in his neighborhood of Ofakim, a small city of 33,000 inhabitants in southern Israel.
Itamar Hadad, 22, an off-duty soldier, grabbed his rifle and ran into the street. He was followed by Meitav Hadad, 18, a student at a religious seminary.
They expected perhaps a single shooter, the type of lone attacker who frequently targets Israeli civilians, Meitav Hadad said.
But what they found was much more shocking: a squad of Palestinian militants, armed with rifles and a shouldered rocket launcher, had infiltrated their quiet neighborhood, miles from the Gaza border.
“We didn’t understand what was happening,” Meitav Hadad said.
Terrified, she hid in a playground.
But his brother pressed on and joined forces with two other armed residents, cellphone video showed. He began shooting at the militants, hitting two, before his gun jammed, forcing him to take cover, he said.
As he retreated, the militants shot him three times: once in the liver, another in the leg and the third in the back.
He was losing blood rapidly and had nowhere to hide.
Desperate to find shelter, he began limping from house to house, trying to persuade residents to take him inside, Itamar Hadad said. No one dared to open up, fearing that he himself was a Palestinian fighter.
To appear less threatening, he hid his gun in a fuse box. Finally, a couple opened the door and hurried him inside. The three dressed their wounds by tearing their jeans and using them as a tourniquet, their sister said.
As Israeli security forces began to retake control of the city, two police officers arrived to take Itamar Hadad to a hospital. They pushed him back onto the street and stopped a passing car.
Coincidentally, it was Itamar Hadad’s mother, Tali.
After he failed to return home, Tali Hadad broke her Sabbath observance and borrowed a neighbor’s car to look for her son.
Now she was there to rescue him.
Fifty miles north, Tibon’s parents, Noam and Gali Tibon, also set out to rescue their family: They left their home in Tel Aviv, jumped into their jeep, and headed south.
Destination: Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
The couple only had a gun to protect them, Noam Tibon said. But they were not going to remain passive while their family was in danger.
“We understood that if we don’t go looking for them, no one will,” said Noam Tibon, a retired general. “If there are so many terrorists inside Nahal Oz, something has collapsed.”
As they drove south, the couple began encountering police roadblocks, where officers ordered them to turn around.
“We said, ‘Listen, we have children and grandchildren in danger,’” Noam Tibon said. “And we just kept going.”
As they approached the Gaza border, they began to encounter revelers fleeing the party and running down the road with blood-stained clothes. The couple took them to a nearby city. The sides of the road and nearby farmland were strewn with bodies, Noam Tibon said.
A few kilometers from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, Noam Tibon left Gali Tibon in a less dangerous place before moving on with a wounded soldier they had encountered along the way.
But before reaching the village, they encountered a shootout between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. The two men jumped out of the vehicle and joined the fray.
Noam Tibon said he then carried two wounded Israelis to safety, handing them and their jeep to his wife, a historian, who drove them north to the hospital.
Noam Tibon headed south again, carried by a friend, another former general, whom he said he had bumped into by chance.
Outside Kibbutz Nahal Oz, he said, they joined forces with an Israeli commando unit that was about to try to retake the village.
After entering, they found the streets littered with bodies, some Palestinians and some Israelis, Noam Tibon said.
Kajol says she’s not looking for professional ‘validation’ from Ajay Devgn: ‘We have 2 kids, 4 cars and 2 dogs to talk about’
Does one Scindia give way to another? BJP in uproar after Yashodhara Raje bids farewell to Shivpuri
Then they began clearing the village of militants, house by house.
Inside their safe room, Amir Tibon and his family could hear them arriving.
An hour later, a knock was heard on the wall of his bomb shelter, Amir Tibon said.
“And we heard my father say, ‘I’m here.’”