Osher and Michael Waknin wanted to celebrate “the friendship, love and freedom of life.” infinite”. The two thirty-year-old twins “went out a lot, organized parties all over Israel,” says their sister. The last one turned to the nightmare, October 7. Story of a massacre that became the symbol of the attack of unprecedented scale against Israel.
Their bet to organize the first edition of a music festival born in Brazil 20 years earlier seemed successful, initially. Israelis and foreigners, some 3,500 people flocked on Friday under the pink and blue hangings of Tribe of Nova, in the south of Israel.
Three stages, DJs from all over the world, a camping area, bars to refuel partygoers… Nothing has been left to chance on the open-air site located in the Negev desert, five kilometers from the border with Gaza.
Dawn breaks on Saturday, festival-goers are still dancing when suddenly the techno stops. It's around 6:30 a.m. In the distance, muffled noises are heard. “Guys, red alert, regroup,” warns the loudspeaker.
Sparks followed by explosions invade the orange sky. The first rockets fired by Hamas. They are intercepted by Iron Dome, the Israeli air defense system.
Ephraim Mordechayev, 23, is a young soldier who has come to party for the weekend, which coincides with the Jewish celebration of Sukkot. At that time, “we were still laughing and we weren't taking the situation seriously,” he explained to AFP. “We are used to rockets” launched from the enclave which has been under Israeli blockade since Hamas took control of it in 2007.
The young man and his friends begin to disperse peacefully, but quickly realize that the situation is not “usual”. The danger no longer comes only from the air: armed men have infiltrated the crowd. Some land on paramotors, while others disembark on motorbikes or aboard pick-ups.
“When we saw the terrorists, the panic began,” says Ephraim Mordechayev.
– Manhunt –
Then begins a vast manhunt. Methodically, the attackers kill everyone they meet along the way, sparing no one. The security agents and police officers present on the scene were quickly overwhelmed, themselves being targeted.
Excerpt from a video posted on the “South First Responders” Telegram channel, showing an armed Palestinian leading a man during the music festival, near Kibbutz Reim in the Negev Desert, southern Israel, on October 7 2023 © SOUTH FIRST RESPONDERS – –
Everyone is doing their best to save their own skin. Some run towards the fields surrounding the site. The others try to return to their vehicles, in one of the two parking lots set up for the festival. But very quickly, a traffic jam forms.
“I looked back and saw that in the car behind me there were three dead bodies and all the windows of the cars were broken,” says soldier Mordechayev.
Two options remain: hide or flee on foot across the plain. Ephraim Mordechayev chooses the second. He runs from bush to bush, terrified, until a car full to the brim picks him up in the open countryside.
Route 232, the only way to leave this hell, is not much safer. This axis parallel to the border which separates Israel from the Gaza Strip connects the neighboring kibbutz of Reim to the town of Sderot, around thirty kilometers further north.
7:39 a.m. A camera on board a car that managed to escape shows how the trap closes on its occupants. The bursts fired by Palestinian fighters hiding behind the embankments bordering the road shatter the windshield, forcing the driver to stop, without us knowing if he was hit.
Gili Yoskovich also decides to abandon her vehicle to run across the fields. But there is almost nowhere to hide on this desert expanse. The young woman sees a small orchard and rushes to take shelter. The attackers followed her closely.
“They went tree by tree and fired. I saw people dying around me. I was very silent. I didn't cry, I didn't cry. I didn't do anything,” she told the BBC, after managing to escape with her boyfriend.
Not everyone will be so lucky. For hours, while the crackle of automatic weapons gets closer and closer, they throw themselves behind a car, scattering in chaos. Panicked, some will lie down among the corpses, in the hope of surviving.
– Finished at close range –
Three hours after the start of the assault, Hamas fighters continued their carnage without encountering resistance. Surveillance images showing 9:23 a.m. show a man wearing a black cap, bulletproof vest on his shoulders, taking a hostage with a bloody T-shirt. In the background, the elongated silhouette of a young man who plays dead moves. He believed the field was clear to escape but did not see the other attacker coming from behind. He finishes him off at point blank range.
Reim © AFP – Julia Han JANICKI, Sophie RAMIS
Several survivors told the media that they waited six, sometimes seven hours before finally being saved by the Israeli army. When they arrived on site, the first rescuers discovered with horror the extent of the carnage. In total, 270 deaths were counted.
Dozens of burnt-out vehicle wrecks block access to the site. For hundreds of meters, sleeping bags, mattresses, shoes and coolers litter the ground, hastily abandoned.
“In each car, there were one, two or three bodies,” Moti Bukjin told AFP. “Some had a bullet in the head or chin.” Others “were shot dead while trying to flee and fell into ditches on the side of the road.”
Four days after this tragedy, there are the dead we mourn , but also the anguish that eats away at families searching for missing people. Dozens of them are believed to have been kidnapped to serve as hostages in Gaza, an enclave bombed night and day by Tel Aviv.
Is Michael Waknin, one of the two organizing twins, one of them? Is he alive, hidden somewhere? This is what his sister Ausa, who has no further news, wants to believe. As for their brother Osher, witnesses saw him get out of his car to rescue people, in the middle of the chaos. His widow, Sunny Waknin, assures us that he died a “hero”. His remains were buried Tuesday in Jerusalem.
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