Natalie Sanandaji, a 28-year-old Jewish American woman, offered an emotional account of her fight for survival after she escaped Hamas’ assault on an Israeli music festival on Oct. 7. Sanandaji was born to Israeli and Iranian parents and had visited Israel many times since she was an infant. She was in the country to attend a friend’s wedding and had decided to extend her trip to be with her family in time for the Jewish holidays.
Sanandaji, who was among the 200 festival attendees, said they had followed an extensive vetting process before the event. However, nothing could prepare her for the horror that awaited them.
Sanandaji recalled how they had gone to get some rest in the early hours of the morning, only to be woken up by the sound of rockets being intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system. Festival security immediately shut down the music and ordered everyone to their cars.
At one point, Sanandaji and her friends had to get out of their cars and take off running through the desert. Reacting to the sound of approaching gunfire, they finally found refuge in a tree. Spotting an approaching white pickup truck, they feared the worst, yet to their surprise, it was being driven by a man from the town of Patish who saw the festival bracelets they were wearing and offered to take them back to safety.
“At first, we thought it was a terrorist coming to kill us. And we all kind of thought to get up for a second, and then we all kind of just looked at each other and realized, ‘Where are we going to run to?’” she said. “So we just sat back down, and eventually when the car got to us, we saw that there was a girl in the car who had the festival bracelet on, and we realized that this was someone from the town of Patish who left the security of his town and drove toward the terrorists and risked his own life to try to save our lives,” she said.
Once in Patish, Sanandaji said the residents there had welcomed them with open arms, providing them with food and water and a place in the local bomb shelter. Sanandaji’s friends were eventually able to reunite with her friend’s uncle for the drive back, yet they were once again met with horror as they saw news of dozens of her fellow festival attendees having been killed or taken hostage by Hamas terrorists.
Sanandaji finally managed to escape to Greece, yet the emotional toll of what she had experienced still lingers.
“Realizing that so many people that I was dancing next to didn’t come out as lucky as I did, seeing photos of them days later online, is a reminder of how close I was to death,” said Sanandaji.
Since leaving, Sanandaji has spoken out about her experience, hoping to bring awareness to the horrors of terrorism and the shockingly high number of innocent people who have been killed in its wake.
Sanandaji has also expressed her fear of the concerning levels of antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric that have been fueling hatred and conflict, most notably on social media. After seeing firsthand the carnage she spoke about the pro-Hamas protests in the USA.
“For so long, as a Jew growing up in America, you’re always taught about the Holocaust, and you’re taught about the way our people were treated and the way so many people just stood by and watched as the Holocaust happened,” said Sanandaji. “And you’re taught to never forget. And my whole life, I tried to understand how could — how could the world stand by? And it’s sad to say that I’m now starting to realize how. And I don’t feel safe,” she said.