Death in the Desert: When Hamas Came to an Israeli Rave, Friends Perished

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Festival-goers Ofek Baribi and Eden Abdulayev danced together at sunrise, and then violence parted them


As night gave way to daybreak at the Supernova Sukkot Gathering in southern Israel, Ofek Baribi turned to Eden Abdulayev and gave her a soft kiss on the lips, and the pair headed to the dance floor. Amid the fairy lights, giant Buddha statue and the waving of stuffed monkeys on sticks, they danced to the pounding psy trance rhythms. “’I’m on the top of my life right now,’” Baribi, 24, recalled Abdulayev telling him.

It would be their last sunrise together.

A half hour later, at 6:30 a.m., the music at the rave suddenly cut off. They heard the unmistakable sounds of rockets flying overhead, coming from the direction of Gaza, only three miles away. A voice on the loudspeaker told the crowd of 3,000 revelers to head to their cars. The party, which was expected to last until 4 p.m., was over — but the nightmare in the desert was only beginning.

For nearly eight hours, Baribi and a handful of family members ran across the open sand, hid in some bushes, and took refuge in cow manure at a nearby farm in a desperate effort to stay alive, as heavily armed members of the terrorist group Hamas hunted down and ultimately killed more than 260 of the festival attendees, according to rescue service ZAKA, kidnapping at least a dozen more. Among those killed was Osher Vaknin, who helped organize the rave with his twin brother Michael, who is still missing.

The attack, part of a coordinated Hamas assault on Oct. 7 that left more than 1,300 dead across Israel, would shatter the lives of all those who journeyed to the remote desert party and deal a devastating blow to Israel’s live music industry. Film and television production in the country has since shut down, and live music events are not likely to resume anytime soon, music industry insiders told TheWrap, as Israel prepares for a possible ground invasion of Gaza and wages a war with Hamas that could stretch into years.

“We’re not going to make any parties for a very long time,” Shlomi Berg, a psy trance DJ who had planned on being at Supernova but never made it, told TheWrap. “People are not feeling safe anymore even inside the country.”

Festival goers hours before the attack (Courtesy of Nitzan Farham)

A Desert Oasis for Psy Trance

For Israeli fans of techno and psy trance music, the lightly populated area in the south had in recent years become a go-to spot for legally organized raves like Supernova, which showcased 15 DJs on three stages. The day before an even larger festival at the same location, Unity, had featured about 20 DJs. The area’s proximity to the border of Gaza — where Hamas controls the strip of Palestinian land — made some nervous, however. Nitzan Farham, a 22-year-old paramedic from Netanya, told TheWrap that organizers didn’t reveal the festival’s exact location until an hour before it started. “If I had known it was that close to Gaza, I probably wouldn’t have gone,” she said.

Electronic dance music in Israel has largely avoided the controversies involving the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has pressured actors and pop stars like Lana Del Rey to cancel shows in Israel. Del Rey, who denied that she caved to BDS pressure, nevertheless was one of at least 20 artists who canceled appearances at the Meteor Music Festival in Tel Aviv in 2018.

Pop artists have continued to come, in part thanks to the 2017 acquisition by Live Nation of Israeli promoter Bluestone Group, which has grown the live market and brought in headliners like Imagine Dragons and Guns N’ Roses. The Wednesday before Supernova, Bruno Mars performed in Tel Aviv at the 70,000-capacity HaYarkon Park. He was set to do a second sold-out show on Saturday night but abruptly canceled after Hamas attacked. 

All I can hear is yelling Allahu Akbar and shooting and RPGs and rockets all around. I understood that I’m in the war zone.

Din Tessler

Berg, the psy trance DJ, never made it to the rave because Shoshana Shmilov, a girlfriend who lives in northern Israel, visited him on Friday at his home about 18 miles from Gaza. She had tickets to Bruno Mars’ Saturday show. She convinced him to stay home, even though he knew dozens of people in the psy trance community headed to Supernova. “She saved my life,” Berg said.

Psy trance DJs have rarely canceled shows, in part because they’re part of a devoted global niche with far smaller followings. “Our biggest artists don’t even reach one million subscribers on Instagram,” Dima Gafner, an artist manager with FM Bookings in Tel Aviv, which specializes in psy trance DJs, told TheWrap.

For Saturday’s festival, local promoters created the inaugural Israeli version of Universo Paralello, an internationally recognized psy trance rave that takes place annually near a beach in Bahia, Brazil. The DJ Swarup – the father of Brazilian superstar DJ Alok — co-founded the festival in Brazil around 2000, and was on the lineup to perform at Supernova on Saturday. 

One Last Party Before School Started

For Baribi, the Supernova rave was one last chance to let off some steam before he went back to college in two weeks in Tel Aviv, where he is pursuing degrees in computer science and economics.

A month before he had purchased his ticket for $97 (390 Israeli Shekels) and helped organize a group of 40 friends and family members. The week before he thought of nothing but the party. “I had stomach butterflies on the morning of the party,” Baribi said in an interview. It was also a chance to celebrate the birthday of Abdulayev, his  “best friend” who was turning 23 on Sunday. She had told Baribi not to plan anything for her birthday; she preferred to visit her father, who had died the year before from cancer, in the cemetery. Baribi convinced her otherwise.

Baribi’s group packed coolers filled with water, fruits and sweets; lawn chairs, mats, blankets, small tents for people to take naps, and a soccer ball to kick around. They arrived around midnight on Friday night, the joyous Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, and planned to spend 16 hours at Supernova. At the festival, they sang songs in Hebrew and paraded around with sparklers while waving lighted hand fans.

Around 6 a.m., the moment Baribi had waited weeks for finally arrived: sunrise. He planted a kiss on Abdulayev — “it was our thing; we are best friends, but we kiss on the lips” — and they danced with abandon. A half hour later, they looked up in the pale morning light and saw trails of rockets, some of which began landing in the area. Videos showed dots in the sky that witnesses soon realized were Hamas militants descending on motorized paragliders from the west. Then the music stopped.

Ofek Baribi and Eden Abdulayev (courtesy of Ofek Baribi)

Chaos as a Security Guard Tries to Help

At 6:30 a.m., security guard Din Tessler sprang into action. His boss instructed him on his radio to move everyone out of the festival. Tessler began moving through the crowd, trying to direct people to the exits, but “the people in the party weren’t listening to us,” he told TheWrap. Baribi said members of his group were still on the dance floor, oblivious to the gravity of the worsening situation, while others were at their encampment brushing their teeth.

By 7 a.m., Hamas had invaded Supernova on motorcycles and trucks, dressed in military fatigues. In one video released by the Israeli Defense Forces, a gunman strode past a row of portable toilets shooting at the closed doors.

The security guard was called on the radio to open all the festival exits in order for people to escape. As Tessler was directing people out of the rave, he saw a woman who was bleeding, who said “a terrorist attacked her.” Tessler took her and others who were injured to the ambulance on-site, while he continued to direct traffic. The people he guided out of the festival were the “people that survived first,” he told TheWrap. 

As gunfire rang out, the ravers streamed to their cars in the parking lots. Seeking shelter, Baribi and his family members drove to two nearby kibbutzim, but both times police turned them away. Terrorists had occupied the small communities, they said, and were murdering Israelis. Some ravers pulled off the paved roads and drove frantically through fields, running over animals, witnesses said in video testimonials on social media. 

Others, like Baribi, abandoned their cars in the fields and began to run.

“We heard bullets over our heads,” Baribi said. “You’re full of adrenaline, and you put your hands on your head and don’t look back. From behind me, I heard someone get shot, and someone shouting, ‘I need a medic. Someone is injured.’ But I just kept running.”

At around 7:30 a.m., while driving a security ATV, Tessler spotted Hamas terrorists who exited a vehicle and immediately started shooting. 

Tessler’s best friend and co-worker, Bar Kupershtain, 21, urged him to drive back to the festival site and call for help. Tessler remembered “calling every friend that I have” in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to come down south and help rescue victims of the terror attack and ward off Hamas terrorists. 

Soon they realized that terrorists were shooting at them from all directions.“That moment was the last time that I saw my friend Bar,” Tessler said.

Din Tessler and Bar Kupershtain (Courtesy of Din Tessler)

Hiding in Open Desert

For about 90 minutes, Baribi ran through the open desert with two friends he had worked with in Spain. The third member of the Spain group, Abdulayev, had separated from them back at the Supernova parking lot. Every 10 minutes or so Baribi and the two friends would slow to catch their breath, lay down for a few seconds and try to message their other friends and family members. Abdulayev still wasn’t responding.

The group finally arrived at an area with some trees and bushes — places to hide. Baribi nestled among some bushes for several minutes, but then became too anxious and decided to take off on his own, preferring to be out in the open than a sitting duck, with no weapon to defend against the terrorists. 

He ran for another hour or so, he said. At around 11 a.m., he was able to reconnect with a cousin. They texted a third cousin to send his location; he was about a half-mile behind them and soon caught up. Around noon, the cousins saw a farm and headed towards it. By now, 10 more Israelis had joined them, along with Baribi’s uncle and Danielle Dvir, the former girlfriend of one of his cousins. 

They called the police. “We told them the story and sent them our location and they told us, ‘I’m sorry, we understand the situation, but we can’t do anything about it. Good luck.’ And then we understood that we were fucked. No one cared about us.” 

Baribi and a cousin began to panic. They sat on a nearby tractor to get better visibility of the nearby road. After about a half hour, they saw two trucks full of terrorists approaching, with RPGs laying in the truck beds. They scrambled down and led other family members into a shed filled with cows. They jumped a fence and waded into cow manure and kept silent as the stench wafted over them. “We heard [the terrorists] coming to the farm and we heard shooting,” Baribi said. “We still don’t know what happened to the other [10] Israelis.”

After the trucks passed, Baribi and his family waited another 30 minutes. Then they began to run again. This time they came upon a dry river. They continued east — “That is what we learned in the army, to run to the sun” — and around 1:30 p.m. they came upon a road. Dvir used her phone to share their exact location with her father, who barreled on the highway from Tel Aviv, not stopping for red lights or police checkpoints, to finally save the group around 2 p.m. Two hours later, Baribi said, the father of one of the two friends he had worked with in Spain drove from Tel Aviv to a bush where the men were hiding and took them home.

It was a story repeated over and over on that bloody Saturday, TheWrap learned. In the chaos of the Hamas attack, it was the parents of the ravers who came to rescue their children, not the police or the military. “I don’t know what happened that day,” Baribi said. “It was like the army was paralyzed for eight hours.”

Meanwhile, Tessler and a group of eight or nine people began to run to the woods for cover. Minutes later, the security guard found himself completely alone as the group dispersed. He hastily jumped into a bush to hide, enduring “all the pain” from the spiky branches. He attempted to bury himself deeper in the bush to prevent being caught by terrorists. 

“The whole time all I can hear is yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ and shooting and RPGs and rockets all around,” Tessler recalled. “I understood that I’m in the war zone.”

Around 1 p.m., with limited battery remaining on his phone, Tessler made a video of himself in the bush, sobbing, “because I [understood] that I am going to die.” His friends tried to reassure him via text that help was on the way but Tessler knew that “no one [could] come.”  

Din Tessler (Courtesy of Din Tessler)

“I realized that I’m useless and I’m just crying,” he said.

At 2:24 p.m., Tessler’s phone battery died. Around 30 minutes later, terrorists approached the bush Tessler was hiding in. “I’m for real going to die,” he said to himself. 

But somehow they missed him. “They passed next to me and didn’t see me or maybe see me and don’t do anything,” he said. “I don’t know how but thank you, God, that’s what happened.” 

What ensued, however, was hours of suffering. Without his phone to tell the time, Tessler waited for hours in the hot desert with no water. He said he started to hallucinate as he became dehydrated.

Soon, the bush next to him was set on fire, likely from the Hamas attackers who passed by in intervals. Tessler made a commitment not to move, “if they burn me, they burn me.”  

Baribi Suffers a Final Blow

On the car ride back to Hod Hasharon the ravers “cried non-stop – like fucking babies,” Baribi said. When his grandmother opened the door to their home, she fell on the floor and “screamed to God” and started to cry. A family member handed Baribi a glass of water. It slipped out of his hand and shattered on the floor. He tried to roll a cigarette. “I couldn’t for 20 minutes,” he said. “I tried but my hands just shook and shook.”

For Tessler, he finally escaped the devastating heat and ran to a gas station, thinking the worst was behind him. Then his phone rang, it was his best friend’s brother.

Had he seen Kupershtain, who had been lost hours ago? the caller asked. Then he sent Tessler a video released by Hamas, showing Israeli hostages taken to Gaza, including a terrified Kupershtain, who was shown face down on the floor of what looks like a basement. 

“Then I start to panic,” said Tessler. 

When he finally arrived home, he took a shower for what seemed like two hours,  sobbing and trying to make sense of the nightmare that was Oct. 7. 

On Sunday, Tessler was alerted that another one of his friends, this one from the army, who he didn’t know was at the festival, had been found dead. “Then I started to panic again.” 

It was like the army was paralyzed for eight hours.

Ofek Baribi

The terror attack took his “soul and broke it to the ground,” Tessler said.  “What they did to us is not human.”

What followed for Baribi, Tessler – and for so many other survivors of Supernova — was a series of funerals, each planned hastily, as officials identified more victims, many of whose faces were rendered unrecognizable. He has attended five funerals so far.

Then, four days after the rave came the toughest blow of all for Baribi. His beloved friend Abdulayev, who had separated from Baribi’s group early in the chaotic scramble to exit the festival, had not been kidnapped. She was dead. DNA analysis confirmed that she had been killed in an outdoor bomb shelter she was hiding in, along with three of her girlfriends. Hamas terrorists dropped grenades into a series of such shelters — or used their Kalashnikovs to finish the job.

“The most important thing now is to recover our minds,” Baribi said. “To find inner peace.” While techno raves won’t be in most Israelis’ plans for a long while, he said, it could be “the missing piece that will fix our mind.”

When the war with Hamas is over, he said, “there needs to be a party to celebrate for the ones who were killed, for the ones we don’t have [anymore]. We need to celebrate for them, to dance for them.”

Maria Rashed contributed reporting to this story.

Photos by Ido Derby & Liav Franko.

Tributes to festival attendees filled social media. (Compilation by Jeff Vespa)

Comments

One response to “Death in the Desert: When Hamas Came to an Israeli Rave, Friends Perished”

  1. Bertha Green Avatar
    Bertha Green

    The horrific tragedy to those who suffered and died at the hands of Hamas, proves the height of the evil of hatred in the hearts of the perpetrators. Extermination to root out this evil is the only solution because if not, the horror will never end. 

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