Natalie Sanandaji, an American woman who escaped Hamas’ assault on an Israeli music festival on Oct. 7, recounted her harrowing experience to Fox News Digital and went on to say that although she’s back in the U.S. now, she does not feel safe seeing how easily “brainwashing” on social media is fueling antisemitism and anti-Israel demonstrations.
Sanandaji, a 28-year-old Jewish New Yorker born to Israeli and Iranian parents, said that growing up, she never understood how people could allow the Holocaust to happen, until she narrowly escaped Hamas’ deadly assault firsthand and personally realized that some of her fellow festival attendees hadn’t made it out alive, and then saw the antisemitic messaging that followed.
“A lot of people ask me if I feel safe now that I’m back in New York. I don’t,” Sanandaji said. “A lot of the things I’ve been hearing and seeing since getting back. A lot of the videos of the protests. These pro-Palestinian protests. Something I would like to say about that is, whatever side you’re on in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all the power to you. But this is not about Israel-Palestine. This is about Hamas, a terrorist organization who is just as complicit in the deaths of these innocent Palestinians as they are in the deaths of innocent Israelis.”
“People need to understand that this is not about Israel vs. Palestine,” she reiterated. “This is about a terrorist organization attacking the Jews and killing innocent people, killing innocent people at a music festival, killing innocent grandmas who survived the Holocaust, just to be killed by Hamas, burning babies alive.”
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“That’s not going to save Palestine,” she added. “That’s not going to free Palestine.”
Following the Hamas attack in Israel, there have been a number of demonstrations and incidents around the world.
“The amount of antisemitism I’ve seen in videos since coming back to New York, antisemitism all over Europe and the United States, that scares me more than anything,” said Sanandaji. “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. And you’re taught to never forget. And my whole life, I tried to understand how could — how could the world stand by? How could the world stand by and let that happen? And it’s sad to say that I’m now starting to realize how. And I don’t feel safe.”
Having visited Israel many times since she was an infant, Sanandaji said this time she had traveled for a friend’s wedding and decided to extend her trip to spend time with family over the Jewish holiday.
To attend the festival in Re’im, she said there was an extensive vetting process, something her three friends who accompanied her were already accustomed to as a security procedure. Yet, none of them anticipated what would follow after they returned to camp around 3 a.m. to get some shut-eye before the morning music set, only to wake up to the sound of a barrage of rockets.
“One of the girls from our campsite came and woke us up to let us know that there had been some rockets that were sent in our direction that had been intercepted by the Iron Dome [missile defense system], that everything was fine, that it’s normal for the area that we’re in and that hopefully it will just be a few, and then the party will continue,” Sanandaji told Fox News Digital. “I want people to try to imagine anywhere else in the world where a festival is taking place, taking place with such young kids attending, and they see rockets being intercepted over their heads and their automatic reaction is, ‘Oh, this is normal because of the area that we’re in. This happens. It’s fine.'”
But the sounds of explosions grew more intense, she recalled, and they realized that something was seriously wrong when festival security shut off the music and ordered everyone to their cars.
“And at this point, we still didn’t know that there were terrorists on foot just a few feet away from us with guns,” Sanandaji said. “I asked my friends, ‘Do you guys think it’s OK if I go to the bathroom before we leave? We’re going to have a long drive.’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s fine. No rush. Go to the bathroom.’ I go to the bathroom, and a couple of days ago I saw a video that surfaced of the Hamas terrorists coming and shooting at those exact bathrooms and just shooting at every single stall, just trying to kill anybody who was inside. And that’s one of the times since the festival happened, where it really hit me how close I was to death. That I could have been in those stalls. If I was in those stalls just a few moments later, I might not be here today.”
Sanandaji praised security staff for doing their best to get festival attendees out, saying that most of them lost their lives in the process. At one point, security instructed everyone to get out of their cars, as the massive traffic jam was too much of a target. Sanandaji said she and her friends took off running on foot through the desert.
“One of the scariest things was running in a certain direction, thinking that you’re running to safety and then suddenly seeing dozens of kids from this festival running in your direction and realizing that they’re running from a terrorist, that they’re running from gunshots, and that the direction that you’ve been going in is not taking you to safety,” she said. “You don’t know what decision is going to either save your life or get you killed.”
Sanandaji said a group of people encouraged her friends to join them in hiding in a ditch, but they declined, fearing that if terrorists were to arrive, they’d have no way out. She later learned that those who stayed there had all been killed.
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For about four hours, she and her friends continued running and walking off and on between the sounds of approaching gunfire, until finally coming to a tree for some rest. Spotting an approaching white pickup truck, they feared the worst and prepared to accept their fate.
“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.”
They piled into his truck, and the man dropped them off in Patish before immediately turning around.
“I didn’t even have a chance to thank him, and he just went straight back and risked his life all over again,” Sanandaji said.
Once in Patish, the residents there took Sanandaji and her friends in with open arms.
“The people of this town really came together to help us and to protect us. They put all of us in the local bomb shelter. They brought us food. They brought us water. There were people walking around reading off a list of names from their phone sent to them, from parents and family and friends who couldn’t get in touch with kids that were at the festival,” she said.
More than 200 hostages are estimated to have been taken into Gaza by Hamas terrorists.
“Trying to, like, realize that so many people that you were dancing right next to that you were having such a good time with… you see all their faces in your head, and then you see photos of them days later online, and you realize that they did not come out as lucky as you did,” Sanandaji said. “That they had either been killed or, worse, kidnapped. And the reason why I say ‘worse, kidnapped’ is because so many parents have said that once they found out that their kid was killed, they said, ‘Thank God,’ because being kidnapped by monsters like these and being tortured the way that they’re torturing these children is, honestly, a worse fate than being killed by them.”
Sanandaji said she had stayed at the Patish shelter for several hours while a friend’s uncle was struggling to drive their way, as Israeli forces already were rushing to secure the border. Someone in Patish agreed to drive them to where her friend’s uncle was, and they made it back to where she had been staying. Sanandaji said that a friend who had managed to fly out to Israel that Sunday had given her an extra Monday ticket to Greece, and she had spent hours at the airport — in between emergency trips to a bomb shelter — before convincing the airline to allow her to change the name on the ticket so that she could leave the country.
Sanandaji said that being on the plane heading to Greece was a “very emotional” experience.
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“I think that was the most I had cried since everything that had happened,” she said. “Being in that situation, you’re in a state of shock there. Everyone reacts to things differently. There were a lot of kids crying while we were being shot at. I was moreso in a state of shock. And a lot of the emotions really hit me as I was on that flight leaving. I was leaving a lot of family and friends behind. Especially one of the most emotional parts was leaving friends behind who were in the festival… who managed to survive that festival and then were re-enlisting in the army and risking their lives all over again to protect our country and to protect our people.”
“It made me feel all the more helpless. But since leaving and since having all these news stations reach out to me and ask me to share my story, I feel like that’s the most I can do to try to help bring awareness to what happened, and for people to hear it from someone who was actually there, who witnessed the horror,” she added. “To speak for all those who were kidnapped and killed and can’t speak for themselves.”