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When the music stopped: documentary reveals Nova horror

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“Lay on the ground, hands on your head!” These are the words heard by Supernova (Nova) Music Festival attendees who, at 06:30 as sirens sounded, had just begun immersing themselves in the highlight of the festival – the sunrise.

That’s according to Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre, a documentary that Integrates survivor testimony with real-time footage. This harrowing but important film, shown in a countrywide screening last week arranged by the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), records the unimaginable fear experienced by those who lived to tell their stories. But their scars remain.

The partygoers recall panic and confusion as they were ordered to leave the grounds as the Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted rockets overhead.

Some drove away only to be delayed by gridlocked traffic. Little did they know they were driving towards an army of armed Hamas terrorists, who shot indiscriminately, filming as they did so. Others simply ran, seeking hiding places as they realised the gravity of the situation. Of the 3 500 Israeli partygoers who attended the festival held at Kibbutz Re’im, close to the Gaza Strip border, 360 were killed, 40 were kidnapped to Gaza, and hundreds were wounded.

Using real-time footage from Hamas’s cameramen and GoPros; the mobile phones of victims and survivors; CCTV footage; dash cams; and first responders, the documentary plunges viewers into the terrifying reality of that day.

“It’s enormously important to watch footage from 7 October as it turns out that in a world of endless information, people can still try and lie about what’s factual, what’s in front of them, even when it has been systematically documented by our enemies,” said Benji Shulman, the director of public policy for the SAZF, at the screening. “People are already trying to downplay, dismiss, and deny what happened on 7 October.” That’s why it’s so important to be informed and bear witness.

Also addressing attendees at the screening, Israel’s deputy chief of mission to South Africa, Adi Cohen-Hazanov, highlighted the contrast between young partygoers getting ready for a weekend of celebration, and the Hamas terrorists preparing to slaughter them.

“They were planning the biggest massacre that the state of Israel had ever experienced. Those partygoers were celebrating life, love, and love for music and peace when the music stopped. The beats became screams of panic, friends calling to each other, ‘Run away! Go in this direction!’ And, as the hours passed, it became more and more quiet. Those who managed to escape are still struggling to pick up the pieces and to come back to life.”

Speaking in the film, survivors share their terror, disbelief, and faith that the army would come and rescue them as minutes turned into hours. They all speak of their unwavering will to survive. The survivors include sisters who filmed themselves hiding on the floor of a portable toilet stall for hours as they saw the shadows of Hamas terrorists holding guns and shooting right outside. Rescued after an unthinkable ordeal, today they can only speak to each other of the extent of the horrors they endured.

One woman speaks of how looking into her boyfriend’s eyes got her through her panic and claustrophobia as they hid in a crowded bomb shelter, witnessing another being bombed across the road. Today, looking in his eyes still brings back unspeakable memories.

Another woman recalls her desperation as she fled from a storage room as the terrorists closed in, hid under a military vehicle holding dead soldiers, and eventually held onto the window of a car packed to capacity until she was pushed inside to safety.

A man hired to film the festival says he continued filming even as his leg was wounded, as he knew the images he captured could serve as evidence. He speaks of how playing dead under bodies in a bomb shelter saved his life, and how he discovered that a leg above him wasn’t attached to a body.

Ilan Regev, the father of Itay and Maya, who were wounded and taken hostage from the festival, recounts his desperation as he plays a recording of his call with Maya as she tells him she’s been shot. He sobs as he listens. He recalls how he battled to get to the site of the massacre, eventually finding out that his beloved children had been kidnapped. The film ends with photos documenting their eventual release in the hostage-prisoner exchange in November 2023.

After the screening, Shulman interviewed Nova survivor, Yuval Vaknin, who wasn’t featured in the film. Speaking on Zoom from California where she was visiting as part of a two-week Nova-survivor programme organised by the Jewish community there, Vaknin was unable to delve fully into her memories of that day, mainly speaking of the struggles she’s faced as her healing journey continues.

Her kibbutz in the south was also hard hit on 7 October, displacing her and her family, who have been staying at a hotel in Jerusalem ever since. “I’ve been treated by a psychologist who helped me get a little bit of my life back,” she said. Yet, being unable to return home and having friends held hostage in Gaza has hampered her return to normality. She has, however, recently started her engineering studies at university, which were originally scheduled to begin on 8 October.

“Each one of us experienced different trauma at the festival. We all saw different things,” she said. “Everyone saw the terrorists, everyone saw bodies on the floor, everyone had a feeling that we must survive, but we all had different points of view. It’s hard for me to talk about.”

Vaknin said she recently tried to go to another party, which felt strange. “Every time you think of going out, it’s scary, the sun rises, and you start thinking, ‘What’s going to happen?’ But I keep telling myself that my friends who died at the party would like us to continue going, living our lives, and being happy. We’ll dance for them. This trance music community has made me feel at home all my life. It’s my safe place, and I go there to clear my mind. I want that back, but it’s a process. I’m taking it step by step.”

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  1. Harry Kadish

    Feb 19, 2024 at 8:07 pm

    Grow up Jack ….there are more meaningful ways to be relevant and get attention . I remember your dad interviewed me 40 years ago about beach segregation in my rasta outfit on the Sea Point beachfront…they stabbed us in the back Jack and then who will you turn to ? The jews put Ramaphosa in with CR17 and now he takes them the I.C.J.Jack.wake up bro

  2. Mark Wade

    Feb 29, 2024 at 4:17 pm

    The ANC should be forced to watch this documentary …

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