By Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh and Leonardo Benassatto
DALIYAT AL-KARMEL, Israel (Reuters) – Hired to cater for an all-night Israeli music festival, Rada and Raif Rashed fled for their lives just after dawn, when Hamas militants rampaged through the crowd on Oct. 7 turning the celebration into a place of horror.
The brothers saw partygoers falling around them as 250 people were killed in the surprise cross-border attack that precipitated the worst hostilities for decades in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“What I lived through on Oct. 7 are unbelievable things. What I have seen I never imagined to see,” Rada, 33, said when back with family in northern Israel, nearly 200km (125 miles) from the festival site near Kibbutz Re’im.
“On this day, I was reborn. I now have two birth dates; the original one on March 15 and the new one is on Oct. 7.”
Rada and his brother Raif, 39, were caterers at the Nova festival, close to Gaza, when the Hamas gunmen arrived. Both are from Israel’s Druze Arab minority, a sect whose faith draws its roots from Islam.
The brothers were separated in the chaos, and he paired up with another festival worker.
“Bullets were hitting near my face. I don’t know how. The girls around were shot down, and I was waiting to get hit. Then I saw a hole, like it was dug by someone. We went into it,” Rada said. “We stayed there until the shooting stopped for a while.”
Young women at the festival “were begging Hamas members not to kill them,” he said. “But they were having fun with them. They took them by their hair and shot them in the head. Why? I will never see a day tougher than that day. It is the toughest day in the history of the country.”
Raif ran through trees to a parked vehicle, filming as he fled with the sound of gunfire in the background. When he reached the vehicle he said he looked around and saw 10 militants just 50 metres away, attacking youths with hammers.
“I understand Arabic, you know, I heard them, and I don’t understand why it’s really happening here at this time,” Raif said.
“I called the police and asked him for help, I told him we are like 30 people here, 30 kids without anything, without any help, we have nothing to save life. And send helicopter, something, I don’t know. And they told me no we can’t reach you, just be quiet and hide everyone.”
Israel says 1,400 people were killed by Hamas militants in the rampage through Israeli towns and Kibbutzes and around 240 hostages were taken, many of them thought to be in captivity in Hamas’s vast Gaza tunnel network which Israeli troops have begun attacking.
Health authorities in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip say more than 8,500 people have been killed in Israel’s assault, including 3,500 children, since Oct. 7.
(Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto and Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh in Daliyat al-Kamel, Israel; Writing by Stephen Farrell in London; Editing by Janet Lawrence)