Victims’ relatives relive trauma, seek solace at site of rave massacre

Families of those murdered and taken hostage by Hamas on October 7 return to the site of the Nova festival seeking answers, as trance music played in tribute

Relatives of victims and hostages captured or killed on Oct. 7 by Hamas at the Nova music festival, listen to a press conference at the site in Re'im, southern Israel, Friday, Jan. 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Relatives of victims and hostages captured or killed on Oct. 7 by Hamas at the Nova music festival, listen to a press conference at the site in Re'im, southern Israel, Friday, Jan. 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Yarden Gonen admits she still finds the absence of her sister Romi “unbearable,” three months after the 23-year-old was taken hostage during the devastating October 7 onslaught by Hamas at a music festival in southern Israel.

On Friday, Yarden came to Re’im, an open-air site in the Negev desert that hosted the Tribe of Nova festival on October 7, along with other families desperate for a resolution to the hostage crisis.

She said she had “mixed feelings” about being at the site of her sister’s disappearance, but that quickly gave way to devastation when trance music began playing in tribute to the victims.

“When they started the music earlier, it was crushing,” Yarden, dressed in a T-shirt emblazoned with her sister’s portrait, told a news conference organized by the campaign group Hostages and Missing Families Forum.

The festival attack was part of a wave of the deadly October 7 onslaught when some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists burst into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing an estimated 240 hostages, mostly civilians.

At the festival alone, 364 people were killed.

An Israeli soldier weeps at a memorial site for those killed and kidnapped in the massacre at the Nova rave on Oct. 7 after a press conference at the site in Re’im, Jan. 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military.

The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 25 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

In response, Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and launched a wide-scale military campaign in Gaza aimed at destroying the group’s military and governance capabilities and returning the hostages.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says at least 22,600 people have been killed in the Strip since the war erupted on October 7. The Hamas figure does not differentiate between civilians and combatants and includes Palestinians killed by errant rocket fire from Gaza. Israel says it has killed 8,500 terrorists since launching the war.

The Re’im kibbutz is less than five kilometers from the Gaza Strip and the sounds of trance music have long given way to the sounds of battle emanating from the enclave.

Relatives and friends walk among portraits of people taken captive or killed by Hamas during the Nova music festival on October 7, during a visit at the site near Kibbutz Reim in southern Israel, on January 5, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

But the ground in Reim still has grim reminders of that day in October — bullet casings still litter the area.

In a bid to leave a more positive mark at the site, a memorial has been set up with portraits of the victims, flowers, candles and Israeli flags.

Among the festival-goers killed were Hodaya and Tair David– 27 and 23 years old — nieces of Asaf Pozniak, one of the founders of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.

Pozniak, 30, said he accepted his nieces could never come back, but there were “always lives that can be saved.”

Hodaya (left) and Tair David. (Courtesy)

“We must do everything we can to keep up the pressure on the international community and the Israeli government to bring them home now,” he said.

Michael Levi has taken Pozniak at his word and now devotes his waking hours to meeting politicians and diplomats in a bid to get the remaining hostages freed.

Levi’s brother Or, 33, is among those held captive.

Surrounded by eucalyptus trees with the constant hum of drones and helicopters overhead, Levi admitted the visit to Re’im had been harder than he had expected.

“Just standing here I feel different,” he said. “Absorbing the atmosphere, seeing what happened here, seeing the bullets on the ground.”

But no matter how devastating the trauma of the past three months, he still hopes he and his brother will one day be reunited.

“We both love basketball, we went to games together,” he said. “That’s one of the things we will do when he’s back.”

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