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‘I’ll never be silent again,’ says Nova survivor

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“I have to run, but it’s towards bullets because now they’re everywhere. You just see people falling down, you’re a statistic, you take one step to the right or to the left and that will determine if you’re going to be murdered now or survive another minute.”

These are the words of Millet Ben Haim, one of the two female Nova festival massacre survivors in South Africa this week to share their devastating stories to counter the toxic narrative espoused during Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), an annual hate fest held at universities around the world.

“Every time I think about it, my brain wants to shut down. There are no words to describe how scary it is,” Ben Haim said.

However when she and Mazal Tazazo tried to tell their agonising personal stories at the University of Cape Town, they were faced with hatred from a multitude of Hamas supporters.

“We tried to talk and explain, but they were only yelling and didn’t want to listen, saying, ‘You’re lying!’” Tazazo said. “We need to fight really hard. There are many who protect Hamas.

“We saw a lot of hatred, but we also saw such an amazing community,” Ben Haim told the SA Jewish Report.

Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, Ben Haim said she had lost the person she once was. “I’m mourning many people, but I’m mourning myself too,” she said.

Travelling around the world to share her experience has become her life’s mission. “I feel obligated to make sure that the death we experienced isn’t in vain, to bring back the hostages, and to fight antisemitism.” She’s also raising awareness about the sexual violence experienced on 7 October, which the hostages are continuing to endure. “We have to speak out about it. The world cannot allow this to happen. They have to get back home. There’s no way to justify this brutality.”

After running for her life, hiding from terrorists, and fighting not to cry lest they heard her, Ben Haim is now determined to use her voice. “I was silent for hours hiding under a bush, and I’ll never be silent again,” she said. “In every place that tells me to hide my identity, I’ll know to speak louder.”

That’s why she and fellow survivor, Tazazo, came to South Africa for IAW when the non-government organisations the South African Jewish Board of Deputies usually asks to send Israeli representatives were too nervous to do so.

Ben Haim recounted to the SA Jewish Report that she hid with her friends under a bush that provided little concealment, and then they saw two terrorists. “You just hold your breath,” she said. “We were all dressed up because you feel safe going to these festivals. It’s a such a supportive community that you’ll never be harassed or objectified, so you can feel completely comfortable wearing whatever you like. But at that moment, I felt like I was dressed up for them. It was clear to me that if they saw us, they would rape us, so I started to pray that a rocket would hit me. But by some crazy miracle, they just didn’t notice us.”

Before heading to South Africa, the two women had heard only about how this country had taken Israel to the International Court of Justice. “So, it’s been important to meet the community,” said Ben Haim. “When you witness the people that are blindly hating us, it only makes our trip more meaningful.”

Sharing her story, Tazazo said she attended the Nova festival with two friends. Living in Netivot, a city bordering Gaza, she was used to rockets and so didn’t panic when they began flying after the festival’s famous sunrise. Yet, as the barrage continued, Tazazo realised that this wasn’t a regular attack. She and her friends tried to leave the festival by car, but couldn’t do so as traffic stood still. Unbeknownst to them, those who left the festival first had been shot and killed by terrorists waiting in both directions.

“We started to hear gunshots,” she recalled. “As the shots got louder, we got out of the car and I saw two policemen shooting terrorists, which meant they were right there. I heard screams in Arabic. I was thinking, ‘This isn’t true, this isn’t real, this isn’t happening.’”

Running and crawling under cars while dodging bullets, she and her friends decided to hide. They lay down, with Tazazo on her stomach covering her head. “Seconds later, they come,’” she recalls with a chilling immediacy. “In English, they tell us to get up. They hit my hands and the back of my head with the butt of a rifle. There are seconds where I don’t hear, I don’t see anything. When I regain consciousness, I feel someone scrape my leg. They tie my legs with big ropes, and I know I need to play dead.”

As a terrorist approached her, she held her breath. “My eyes are closed, and he lifts up my face and looks at me. Then they take the ropes off my legs and go. I don’t feel relieved though. I talk with G-d, but it’s not real. I don’t think about my son or my family – the idea that I wouldn’t come back wasn’t an option.”

Losing consciousness, Tazazo awoke two hours later to find that both her friends had been killed. A girl who had also lost her friends soon joined her. Then, the fire started. The terrorists’ plan was to shoot survivors as they escaped the flames. Growing hotter, Tazazo ran to the road, and hid in the back of an abandoned car under a blanket as bullets flew past. “After some hours, an angel called Itai opened the car door and I lifted my head and saw him with the girl who was with me in the bushes.” After reaching safety, Tazazo underwent surgery.

“I still can’t lift some of my fingers, and my head hurts, but I’m here,” she said. “I came back but my friends didn’t. This cannot happen again. I don’t feel safe because I’m a Jew, because I’m Israeli, and that’s not right or fair. It’s difficult, but I have to tell my story.”

Ben Haim urged us all to speak up. “Radicals make the loudest and most hateful comments, and that’s ok, that’s who they are. But the majority are either silent or softer, and we’re also here speaking to them. Things are never as bad as they seem, we just need to stay united and have faith.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Gary Selikow

    Mar 29, 2024 at 11:00 am

    What a brave woman. We all need to stand up to the evil of Hamas and their supporters all over the world Am Yisrael Chai

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