'We felt the bullets flying around us'

Thousands flee rocket and gunfire at all-night desert ‘Nature Party’; dozens missing

Unconfirmed reports of wounded as dozens are still hiding from terrorists or evacuated by jeep to Ofakim; parents who are unable to contact children advised not to approach area

Deputy Editor Amanda Borschel-Dan is the host of The Times of Israel's Daily Briefing and What Matters Now podcasts and heads up The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology coverage.

Hundreds flee gunmen at a music festival near Kibbutz Re'im, October 7, 2023. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Hundreds flee gunmen at a music festival near Kibbutz Re'im, October 7, 2023. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Chaos erupted at an all-night nature party near Kibbutz Re’im close to the Gaza Strip as the first rockets were fired by Hamas on Saturday morning. Eyewitnesses said the rockets were quickly followed by gunshots fired into the crowd even as hundreds of partygoers attempted to flee the site.

Hamas launched a major assault on Israel early Saturday with thousands of rockets fired and an unprecedented assault by gunmen on border communities, including the music festival. At least 200 Israelis have been confirmed killed and over 1,400 wounded by Saturday evening.

An unconfirmed Ynet report claimed at least one death, and Israeli media reported dozens of wounded with many still hiding from further potential gunmen, at the desert site near Kibbutz Re’im in the western Negev where thousands were taking part in the event.

Noya Reuven, 20, spoke with The Times of Israel and described a state of mass panic as thousands of partygoers ran to their vehicles as rockets were fired overhead. While in her vehicle that was slightly above a vast open field, she said she heard shots fired into the crowd and saw hundreds of panicked people running in all directions.

She said after two hours of attempts to leave the field, her jeep was able to drive off-road to a small side road. There, she picked up a stranded couple before reaching Moshav Ezuz, south of Nitzana.

The outdoor trance music festival was held in honor of the Sukkot festival. Produced by NOVA productions, it began at 11 p.m. and continued all night, attended by thousands of Israelis aged 20-40 from all over the country, according to Reuven. She said security personnel were visibly present at the beginning of the party.

In a Channel 12 interview, Esther said that while attempting to leave the party, some five gunmen shot up her car, which was totaled as she tried to flee the bottleneck.

A driver of a jeep “saved her” and her friend, but as they were leaving the site, the driver was shot and the jeep fell into a pit. Beside the unconscious driver, she and her friend played dead for two hours until they heard Hebrew speakers — soldiers — who took her to Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center.

Another partygoer who spoke with Channel 12 said that at first the rocket noise “sounded like it was part of the music.” He said he and his friends “felt the bullets flying around us” as they attempted to reach their vehicles.

“When we all left, it created a bottleneck,” but the security personnel were able to evacuate a woman who was seriously injured, among others.

Wounded Israelis arrive to the Soroka Medical center in Beersheba, southern Israel, October 7, 2023. (Dudu Greenspan/Flash90)

Channel 12 reported that dozens of partygoers are being evacuated by jeeps to the community of Ofakim, 20 kilometers west of Beersheba — which is itself under fire — to rendezvous with friends and family. According to a Ynet report, some wounded were evacuated to southern hospitals, including Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba.

The Ynet website reported that a shot partygoer and his critically injured friend were trapped in a vehicle for three hours before being taken by an armed citizen to Barzilai Hospital. “He saw his friend die in front of his eyes,” the mother of the wounded friend told the news outlet.

According to Channel 12, volunteers for the Home Front Command were drafting lists of partygoers and what their status was. Eran, a volunteer from the north, said he was receiving reports of additional partygoers who were still in hiding in the desert site, but that security forces have arrived and were taking control.

Parents were advised not to attempt to reach the area. Phone lines were unstable in the region and lack of contact was not necessarily cause for concern, according to Channel 12. Home Front Command volunteer Eran emphasized that there were forces in the field who “will get our children home as quickly as possible.” Friends and family of the missing were posting their loved ones’ pictures on social media to crowdsource information.

Upon the commencement of the rocket fire, Reuven’s friends were able to flee the site before the roads were shut. She said they reached Kibbutz Be’eri at 7 a.m., but notified her that terrorists had infiltrated the kibbutz at 7:15. She hadn’t been able to reach them since.

On Monday morning, Reuven updated The Times of Israel on the status of her friends: “My friends were located on Sunday evening at a makeshift concrete shelter near Kibbutz Be’eri. Two of the evacuated were badly wounded and taken to Soroka Hospital for treatment. Currently, one is already at home recovering. The other is undergoing surgery. 

“To my great sorrow, two were murdered and one was kidnapped.”

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