Israeli Music Festival Survivor Shares Harrowing Story of Escape From Hamas Terrorists

Natalie Sanandaji fled death at the hands of gunmen multiple times.
Israeli Music Festival Survivor Shares Harrowing Story of Escape From Hamas Terrorists
An aerial picture taken on Oct. 10 shows the abandoned site of the weekend music festival attacked by Hamas terrorist near Kibbutz Reim in the Negev desert in southern Israel, on Oct. 7, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)
Jackson Richman

Early in October, Jews in Israel were dancing and singing—from synagogues celebrating Simchat Torah, the Jewish festival commemorating the completion of the weekly readings of the Torah—to attendees at the Nova Music Festival.

That was until Hamas launched terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 culminating in the biggest single-day massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

Natalie Sanandaji was a survivor of the Nova Music Festival, a rave that turned into a nightmare.

The festival took place near Kibbutz Re'im, located in the Negev in southern Israel.

In an interview with The Epoch Times, Ms. Sanandaji, 28, said she travels to Israel annually as her mother is Israeli. But she had never been there during wartime.

She was there for a friend’s wedding during the summer but stayed longer for the fall Jewish holidays and the music festival.

Ms. Sanandaji is a fan of psychedelic trance music and a month in advance decided to attend the festival, which she said had thousands of young people and was “supposed to be one of our best nights in Israel.”

She went with three Israeli friends and was the only American in the group. They “were all really excited,” she said.

Ms. Sanandaji met their friends, girls who befriended her.

“It was just such a good energy and such a happy energy and such a loving energy,” she said.

“Nobody could imagine where the night was gonna go. Nobody could have imagined the horror that was coming,” she continued.

“It drives me insane thinking back to the moments before everything happened, and how happy everyone was to be together and how much fun we were having.

“And it’s just things went completely in the opposite direction. It really drives me crazy thinking about it.”

Natalie Sanandaji. (Courtesy of Natalie Sanandaji)
Natalie Sanandaji. (Courtesy of Natalie Sanandaji)

Ms. Sanandaji said that things went south when there were a few rockets overhead.

While sporadic rocket fire is the norm in the area where the festival was, she and her friends eventually realized it was more than just a handful of them. Festival security instructed attendees to get into their cars and evacuate.

On the way to the car, Ms. Sanandaji used one of the bathroom stalls that Hamas terrorists would shoot into—a video of which she saw weeks later.

After Ms. Sanandaji got back to her friends, they took their car and went onto the single dirt road that went in and out of the festival—only for festival security to instruct people to pull over to the side of the road and get out and run for safety.

Initially confused, Ms. Sanandaji heard Hamas’ gunfire and ran with her friends as she saw others get shot by the terrorists.

“And you now have to make a split-second decision and change direction,” she said, calling the experience “choices choices” in that it is uncertain that a choice to run in a certain direction could either lead to staying alive or being killed.

Ms. Sanandaji said that her group came across a ditch but one of her friends discouraged them out of fear they could be sitting ducks and be shot and killed— which ended up happening to those there, some of whom she knew from being at the same campsite during the festival.

A couple of hours later, she and her friends bumped into a police officer, who did not call for help since Hamas took control of the local police station and therefore did not want the terrorists to know their location.

Therefore, Ms. Sanandaji and her friends kept running until they reached the town of Patish, which is more than 13 miles from Gaza, and took a break as they sat underneath a tree.

Rescued by a Stranger

Suddenly, a pickup truck drove in their direction. Ms. Sanandaji and her friends thought this was the end of their lives.

However, the driver was not a Hamas terrorist, but rather a resident of Patish. He had a girl in the front seat who was wearing the festival bracelet.

“He left the safety of his town and he ran for all of this chaos,” said Ms. Sanandaji. “And he risked his own life to save our lives.”

“We didn’t know he was coming to save us until he got really close to us,” she added. “And then at that point, it would have been too late if it was someone trying to kill us.”

She and her friends got into the back of the truck and they went to Patish. After dropping them off, the driver went back to try to save more lives. In the middle of the town, they went to a bomb shelter where there were hundreds of kids. The locals brought Ms. Sanandaji’s group food and water.

Additionally, she said: “There were people walking around reading off lists of names that they were receiving from parents whose kids were at the festival who couldn’t get in touch with their kids anymore.

“And their biggest fear was that their kid was either killed or taken hostage.”

After being in Patish for a few hours, someone drove Ms. Sanandaji and her friends to a friend’s uncle’s vehicle, which was outside the town as it was closed off due to the security situation. They got back to that friend’s uncle’s home in Netanya, in northern Israel, at 3 a.m.

Ms. Sanandaji left Israel on Oct. 9.

She had friends from the festival who were taken hostage or killed.

A Message to Hamas

“One of the hardest things is seeing my friends posting photos from the funerals or posting photos of the friends that have been killed,” said Ms. Sanandaji.

“And just knowing, as lucky as I feel to be here, it’s just so sad to know that so many others were not as lucky,” she continued. “It’s very hard to think about that every day.”

Nonetheless, Ms. Sanandaji said she plans on returning to Israel “soon” and volunteer with those from Be'eri, a kibbutz, whose homes were destroyed by Hamas on Oct. 7.

More than 120 residents were killed by the terrorists in an attack on the commune.

She also expressed hope to return to the music festival.

“Some day I hope that all the people of Israel can be happy as they once were and dance together at a festival again,” she said.

While the Jewish people are in a state of mourning over the conflict, remarked Ms. Sanandaji, one day the dancing should resume as that is what those who perished “would have wanted” as “they died doing their favorite thing, which is dancing together in nature at a festival.”

Additionally, she said: “One day we can kind of throw a party in their honor and remember them as the happy kids that they were as opposed to remembering them for the horrible things that happened to them.”

Ms. Sanandaji, who lives in New York and recently started working at the Combat Antisemitism Movement, has a powerful message for Hamas.

“As much as you’ve hurt us during this time, you’ve only made us stronger as a nation,” she said.

“Because in times like these, when Jews are being attacked, that’s honestly when we’re at our strongest because that’s when we come together the most.”

“When things are easy and quiet we tend to forget the fact that we need to be one nation and we need to be together,” she continued.

“And when things are hard, that’s when we are really at our strongest, and that’s why they’re not going to win.”

Jackson Richman is a Washington correspondent for The Epoch Times. In addition to Washington politics, he covers the intersection of politics and sports/sports and culture. He previously was a writer at Mediaite and Washington correspondent at Jewish News Syndicate. His writing has also appeared in The Washington Examiner. He is an alum of George Washington University.