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‘I’m going to funeral after funeral.’ The music festival survivor who hid in an orange grove for 6 hours

From CNN Opinion

(CNN) — A split-second decision to run and hide in an orange grove could be the very thing that saved 22-year-old Gal Katz’s life, after Hamas militants unleashed a harrowing assault on an Israeli music festival in the early hours of Saturday.

As gunmen approached, festival-goer Katz and a friend fled for the nearby grove, where they hid for around six hours. Lying still, and not daring to talk, they waited for the militants to leave, while feeling “the earth shake under us.”

The pair were later rescued by Israeli soldiers. Katz’s other friends at the festival, however, did not survive — killed by terrorists who found them inside a security shelter.

“We came together to the party. And they didn’t make it. They didn’t return home,” he told CNN Opinion, adding that since the massacre at Nova Festival, where at least 260 people died, he has been “going to funeral after funeral.”

He spoke to CNN Opinion about his experience, and the deep shock within Israel’s psychedelic trance music community, who he described as “people who really only want freedom and love.”

The views expressed in this commentary are his own and have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Gal Katz: We were dancing, the sun was just coming up. We were having fun, and of course, you know, some people were taking drugs, so everything was much more amplified.

Then I saw a lot of people looking behind, so I turned as well. I saw the Iron Dome — you can visibly see it when we’re getting bombed from Gaza — and the missiles in the sky.

At first I was like, ‘Oh, it’s missiles.’ In Israel, this is nothing special. I figured if it was something serious, [music festival security] would end the party and tell us what to do.

After maybe 10 seconds, the music stopped, and we were instructed to evacuate the place. Again, at that time we weren’t too concerned.

A lot of people got in their cars and got out of there as fast as they could. But in my mind, I didn’t want to be in a car when there’s missiles outside because — *snaps fingers* — it can catch on fire like that. A car with gas? I thought it was unsafe. Plus, I wasn’t really able to go behind the wheel safely, after being at the party.

So we waited, waited, waited. And then about three or four [Israeli] guys come running in screaming, saying there is information about terrorists coming in by foot.

And then, still — I was in the military, I was a combat soldier — even when someone says there are terrorists coming in, it doesn’t really mean you need to be shocked. If it’s one or two or three people, they’ll get stopped real quick and it’s nothing special.

CNN: At what point did the gravity of the situation become clear?

Gal Katz: We got in the car and started driving. People started screaming, panic was starting.

Of course, we weren’t really able to drive because of the traffic, a lot of people trying to escape.

Then all of a sudden I see on my WhatsApp group with my friends — a friend posting a video. It’s a truck full of terrorists in Israel, in the middle of a city nearby.

Katz shared the video with CNN of a white pickup truck filled with at least six gunmen, all dressed in black. 

Once I saw this video I understood that what we’re dealing with is something that’s never been here before. I took a look at that video and it was like ‘Call of Duty.’

My heart missed a beat. Because I understood that not only is this happening — but I’m in the middle of it.

I see the video and simultaneously I hear gunshots — and not from the Israeli military, because I’d recognise those. These terrorists are shooting with automatics. They’re shooting with AKs.

CNN: And at this point you’re still in the car?

Gal Katz: Yes, we continued in the car, and then all of a sudden I see all of the cars ahead of me starting to turn around. And a bunch of cars coming at me from the other side. And on the third side, a whole bunch of people running for their lives like crazy.

I don’t know what to do. I hear the gunshots getting closer and closer to me.

CNN: What was going through your head at that moment?

Gal Katz: I’m trying to remain calm because it’s the best thing I can do at that moment. And suddenly I see an orange grove.

Me and my friend started running like crazy. We just got out of the car and left the motor running. And in that second I understood: F**k  cars, f**k money, f**k property. Just try to live.

CNN: Did you have some kind of strategy for how to survive?

Gal Katz: I see people running in one steady stream past the orange grove. And I think the terrorists will see them — this is what they’re looking for, to make the most damage in the least time. Because they know they’re probably not going to come out of this alive.

So I grabbed my friend and I told him, ‘Me and you, what we got to do, is we’ve got to disappear. Simply disappear for a few hours, and things are going to be calmer.’

We went to the orange grove, lay down there for about five or six hours.

The terrorists aren’t interested in orange groves — they’re looking for houses, they’re looking for cities, they’re looking for settlements. They want big damage.

So we just lay there. We didn’t even talk to each other. And all around us we’re hearing gunshots and bombings. We’re feeling the earth shake under us.

And eventually, once we heard everything was calmer, found some soldiers who rescued us.

CNN: But you had other friends who didn’t survive.

Gal Katz: I’m going to funeral after funeral. It’s surreal.

Before we knew it was a terrorist invasion, when there were only rockets, I gave my friends — a couple — a call.

They told me, ‘Don’t worry about us, we got in the car, we’re in a shelter.’ These shelters are all over the South. You can get inside in case of an alarm — a kind of metal box, very strong, against missiles.

I was like, ‘Oh, that’s so good.’ In my mind, I wanted to be in there too.

Those who hid there didn’t make it. The terrorists saw them, they opened the door and just … maybe they threw a grenade, maybe they sprayed them with the AK.

Including my friends. Today was the funeral of the girl. Yesterday was the funeral of her boyfriend.

We came together to the party. And they didn’t make it. They didn’t return home.

CNN: What kind of people attended the festival? How would you describe the culture of this music genre? 

Gal Katz: This culture in Israel, called psy-trance [psychaedelic trance music], these are very special people — people who really only want freedom and love.

I’m a music producer myself, and in Israel this psy-trance scene is like nowhere else in the world. All the greatest DJs come from here.

And the people who were at this festival, they were very colorful, very happy — people who are loving life. And then you see them, and they’re on a battlefield.

My story is very gentle to be honest, and thank God for that. You hear of people losing their girlfriends in their hands, their brothers.

CNN: How are Israelis comprehending what happened?

Gal Katz: Up until this event, the most Israelis killed by terrorists was ‘Black March’ in 2002 (more than 130 Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers). That was the darkest month in Israel’s history, up until a few days ago.

They took 1,200 lives and maybe 200 kidnapped, and people are still missing and wounded.

It’s the most Jews that have been killed since the Holocaust. How can you accept that?

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