After a night of dancing at a Negev Desert rave, when Shye Weinstein heard the first barrage of rocket fire from Gaza on Saturday morning, he knew the party was over. He walked over to his friends in the party’s rest area and urged them to pack up.
As heard on videos Weinstein captured on his cellphone, his cousin and friends slowly — begrudgingly — agreed to begin to leave as rockets audibly exploded overhead.
“Initially, it was just rockets,” the 26-year-old new immigrant from Toronto told The Times of Israel.
“Living in Israel, rockets aren’t abnormal. We thought we’d take our time and get ready. We thought, if it’s just rockets, the Iron Dome is enough to keep us safe.”
Weinstein, his cousin and six friends from Tel Aviv were attending an all-night “Nature Party” near Kibbutz Re’im that began Friday night and drew some 3,000 mostly young Israelis.
At least 260 people at the party were mowed down by Hamas gunmen who infiltrated from Gaza on Saturday morning.
The chaos that erupted at the Supernova Sukkot music festival was captured on cellphone footage by Weinstein and other attendees, depicting terrified partygoers racing across vast open fields and taking cover in orchards as shots are heard in the background.
According to an increasing number of military analysts, Hamas terrorists had apparently known in advance of the massive event taking place in an isolated area. They surrounded the participants and shot dozens before moving through the area to hunt others in hiding.
Weinstein’s dozens of short videos document the party’s transition from befuddled concern to panic. He continued to capture his flight back to Tel Aviv in a series of shakily recorded short takes. We see that at first, his friend group merely stared open-mouthed at the rockets streaming across the early morning skies as we hear the Canadian tell his friends that it’s time to leave. “One rocket or 50 — it’s over, let’s get ready to go,” he told them.
But they were slow to react: Like many partygoers at the rave, they had spent the night using drugs and alcohol.
In a caravan of three cars driving from Tel Aviv, he and his friends had arrived the party at around 2 a.m. on Saturday, where they “danced and drank and took part in substances, met people and had a good time,” he said. “It’s a trance music festival. There are Israelis, Arabs and Jews, good vibes and good people.”
Weinstein, who immigrated to Israel in April, had learned about the party from his cousin. “I didn’t initially want to go because there would be so many people,” he said. But he decided to purchase the NIS 380 ticket (about $100) the night before, “to have fun before winter.”
However, as caught on his phone videos, after about 6:30 a.m. the rocket booms were joined by faint popping sounds of gunfire.
“I thought I heard gunfire in the distance, pop pop pop. It was very faint, very fast… But people were relaxed, as much as possible with rockets going around,” he half laughed. “An older guy from a nearby kibbutz called Scheffer was in a hammock, calmly shooting the shit, while we were packing up.”
When the gunfire became audible to all, people started panicking, he said. Weinstein and his friends were already in the party’s campground rest area, close to their vehicles. “I told my cousin, ‘Let’s just get what we can and go.’ By then there were so many rockets, it didn’t stop.”
A video shows a friend checking whether Weinstein was good to drive. He had “only” drunk alcohol and partaken of the drug ecstasy seven hours earlier, unlike his cousin who was tripping on acid.
In the confusion and panic, cars fleeing the scene caused bottleneck traffic as security and police gave conflicting orders, said Weinstein. Several vehicles were abandoned while lined up before the exit, half-blocked by police, said Weinstein, while some drivers waited their turn, unaware, behind empty cars.
“Police blocked one of the roads left of the exit of the parking lot. Everyone was trying to get out. Some people started running out of their cars. I think [the drug use] made it harder for people to think and react,” he said.
“It all happened so fast, all within an hour from the first rocket to the first gunshots. Then we were all running for our lives after having such a good time,” he said.
Weinstein’s videos show his vehicle driving off-road in a dusty field in an attempt to find another way out of the festival grounds. After Weinstein drove into the field, his cousin’s girlfriend suggested they get out of the car and run. He stopped the car and they crouched in a field as they heard gunshots. But his cousin decided to go back for the car and get them out of the open. Weinstein credits him with saving their lives.
Now navigating as his cousin drove “white-knuckled with a cigarette burnt down to the filter in his mouth,” Weinstein said they attempted to convince some of those fleeing on foot to get in the car, “but they just ran past.” He captured a pickup truck filled beyond capacity by partygoers, who were clinging onto the roof.
“We saw people on bicycles getting away, saw abandoned cars, cars full of bullet holes. I remember one specific car, the person in the car was in the front seat with a hole in their face. They had tried to get away and they couldn’t and they were shot in their car,” said Weinstein.
He said they only slowed to drive around corpses, who were lying face down on the ground scattered on the road. He said the dead included soldiers. He described passing IDF checkpoints as well as two men on the side of the road with black balaclavas and military gear with machine guns, possibly special forces, he said.
“Every time a car passed us I was sure it was Hamas. Every time we saw what looked like soldiers up ahead we didn’t know if it was IDF or Hamas… We only slowed down for checkpoints and bodies,” said Weinstein.
They drove for two and a half hours, mostly on side roads. “And then got back to Tel Aviv and didn’t know how to handle ourselves.”
Their friends were missing. It turned out that several had hidden in the woods for six hours before the IDF came to their rescue. Others were shot but survived, he said. “I know someone who was hiding in the ticket booth, who was shot in the arm and leg, robbed, but let go,” he said.
Dozens of partygoers are still missing, likely either dead or taken hostage to the Gaza Strip.
Still digesting the horrors he witnessed, he said with no little wonder, “I used to live in the countryside in Canada, in fields and forests. And I almost didn’t go” [to the party].
“I don’t understand how that can be allowed to happen. Both the initial attack and how Hamas can tear down the wall with a bright yellow bulldozer. How could they allow the festival to take place so close to Gaza? How come it took the IDF over six hours to respond?” he asked.
“I’m just full of rage.”