An Israeli survivor of the Hamas attack on the Nova festival on Oct. 7 recalled running barefoot for over 15 miles while terrorists closed in from all directions in a “circle of death.”
“You could hear the bullets whistling and hitting the sand. I had a physical sensation that I had this giant target on my back that was getting bigger. I could hear screams but I thought, if I look back I’m dead,” Nadav Hanan, 27, told The Guardian of his day-long ordeal running through fields in the hope of finding safety from the Hamas attackers.
Just hours earlier, Hanan was partying with his friends at the Nova music festival in the southern Negev, just over the border with the Gaza Strip.
“It was after 6 a.m. It was the peak of the party. A lot of people time their drugs to kick in for sunrise at these parties. It should be one of the best moments,” he said of the final moments before Hamas terrorists attacked and killed 360 festival goers.
“The people at the main stage couldn’t see what was happening but we had a clear view of Gaza. We could see Iron Dome [the Israeli anti-missile defense system] working. I knew the party was over,” Nadav continued.
Nadav’s girlfriend and mom heard the sirens and called him to come home, he told The Guardian.
He and his friends tried to drive away from the festival site, but roads were blocked.
“We were at a T-junction. There was a policeman preventing people going left but wouldn’t tell us why. I was still naive at this point, thinking that it was because of the rockets,” Nadav said of the chaotic scene.
Just a short distance away, however, Hamas terrorists were ambushing people in their cars.
“We were thinking about going right, which takes you south, when we saw another car approaching from that direction on the wrong side of the road. There were two guys, really frightened. They told us they had got as far as a gas station where they were shot at,” Nadav explained.
At that moment, Nadav said, he and his friends ditched their cars and decided the best way out was to run across the nearby fields.
As they started the desperate trek, however, they were confronted by a passing vehicle and golf cart towing injured victims.
“The person in the back was really wobbly. Struggling to sit up if they weren’t supported. I could see three circles of blood that I knew were bullet holes,” Nadav said of the injured person in the back of the golf cart.
It was just a few minutes later that he heard gunshots nearby and took off with his bag, he continued.
“There was a wadi [riverbed] ahead of us with lots of people in it. I was wearing Birkenstocks but I couldn’t run in them so I took them off,” Nadav said.
“One of my friends was looking back. He could see three or four [Hamas operatives] above us on the top of the wadi. He was trying to whisper but his voice was getting louder and louder: ‘I see them! I see them!’
“By then we know there were Hamas below us as well, so we clambered over a 4 meter-high bank. By this stage I already had three thorns in my feet,” he recalled.
The group then reached an agricultural road, where Hamas fired on them again as they sought cover by moving towards some trees.
“At this point I can’t remember everything. It’s like it got deleted. We changed direction but were being shot at again. That’s when I realized: they were everywhere,” Nadav told The Guardian.
Eventually, the terrifying truth became clear: Hamas was surrounding them.
“It’s a circle of death. And it’s getting smaller and smaller,” remembered thinking at the time.
Hanan refused his friends suggestions that they stop and try to hide.
“I said: ‘No, it’s waiting for mercy.’ I wanted to keep on walking,” he recalled.
Hamas fired on them again as they struggled to cross a furrowed field, he continued.
Then, Hanan’s phone rang: It was his reserve commander, calling him for duty.
Hanan explained he was already in the area, and asked for help, but the commander said he could not do anything, and wished him luck.
A while later, a lone soldier directed Hanan and his group to some farm buildings, he said.
“We’d been running for three hours by now. We’d run out of water and there at least was some agricultural water. It was not good to drink but it was something to put in the bottle and sip,” Hanan told The Guardian.
They had not stopped for long, however, before a young woman came running by and told them to get out.
Loud noises across the field indicated that Israeli helicopters were engaging Hamas on the ground, Hanan explained.
The group eventually decided to walk toward a nearby village called Patish – despite the fact that the local police said fighting was happening there, too.
They called the station twice, Hanan said. The officer he spoke with asked them not to call back.
“Finally we made it to the road. There were farm pickups with trailers attached. We got into one of them, maybe 40 of us all on top of each other,” Hanan explained.
The trucks took the group to a safe location. By that time, it was four in the afternoon, and they had been on the run for almost 10 hours, The Guardian noted.
Hanan — who started therapy two days after the Oct. 7 attack — said he is still struggling with flashbacks and other residual trauma responses from the ordeal.
Hanan said he has also gone on retreats for Nova festival survivors in Cyprus.
“I believe in peace. I believe we’re not that different. My grandparents came from Arab countries. I have Arab friends. We eat the same food and use the same curses,” he said of the ongoing conflict.
Hanan called the Hamas terrorists an “abomination.”
“No one mentally stable could do this. There’s no excuse. I think they had the choice [to say no when they were ordered to do this]. They took the other choice. They decided let’s kill as many as we can, to make us despair and to f–k us up,” he insisted.