Oct. 7 survivor talks about hiding from Hamas and importance of hope

| Junior News Editor

(Bri Nitsberg | Student Life)

Millet Ben Haim shared her story about hiding from Hamas at the Nova Music Festival on Oct. 7 and spoke out against antisemitism and in support of hope to a crowd of 150 community members, Feb 20. 

Ben Haim, a Jewish-Israeli 28-year-old, was brought to campus by Washington University’s Hillel, and in addition to sharing her experience she answered questions which ranged from talking about misinformation online to her thoughts on Israel-Palestine relations.

“It’s extremely important for me to say that I am doing this to raise hope, and make people feel more united,” Ben Haim said at the beginning of the event. 

Ben Haim told her story alongside a slideshow, with photos and videos depicting her dancing with friends hours before the attack and hiding as terrorists shot nearby. She recalled running in multiple directions only to realize there were terrorists on every side. 

“At some point, it’s statistics,” Ben Haim said. “If you take one step to the left or the right, that’s whether you’re murdered or [alive].”

Eventually, Ben Haim split up with her group of friends and found a bush where she and three other women hid for six hours. She remembered hearing Hamas members walk by laughing and shooting. 

“The worst part was the laughing because it meant the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] was nowhere near,” Ben Haim said. “They were confident. I knew they would have no mercy if they saw us, they were enjoying it.”

She told the audience that she heard terrorists nearby and wished that a rocket would hit her because she said that if she was discovered, she believed they would sexually assault her. 

“I kept looking down at my body and thinking it was very clear to me that if they see us they will rape us,” Ben Haim said, “Knowing what they did to other girls and some of the guys, that’s been the hardest part for me.”

Eventually, Ben Haim and her friends were rescued through the efforts of two men named Rami Davidyan and Leon Bar, who brought their cars to the location of the festival to try to save as many people as possible. Ben Haim said that Bar was eventually murdered by Hamas. 

Although Ben Haim said she has struggled with being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, she has found hope through her family. 

“My siblings give me hope,” she said. “I have to be the sister my siblings deserve. I still feel obligated to bring [them] their sister back, and I’m not back yet.”

During the Q&A, senior Dvora Redlich asked Ben Haim about violence inflicted on Palestinians by the IDF. During the introduction, Ben Haim said that she did research into Palestinian society as part of her bachelor’s degree in criminology, sociology, and anthropology.

“As someone who studied Palestinian history, are you familiar with the Nakba, and as someone who advocates against violence of any kind, which is wrong and an atrocity, do you also condemn violence over 30,000 Palestinians that have been killed?” Redlich asked. 

Ben Haim responded by saying that she is not happy with any innocent people being harmed in any way.

“I do condemn violence against [anyone], but the way I see it is that the reason they are being harmed is Hamas,” she said. “For them to be safe, we need to eliminate Hamas.” 

Redlich later asked another question about recent Palestinian deaths in Rafah, which she said was the most densely populated area in the world. According to the United Nations, more than half of Gaza’s two million residents currently reside in Rafah, which is 25 square miles in size

“As a Jewish person who has witnessed antisemitism before, I can only imagine the traumatic stress that you have. For me, it’s difficult to know also that Palestinian people are experiencing the same trauma, for example Rafah being bombed by Israeli forces currently,” Redlich said. 

Redlich said she imagined it must be very difficult to reconcile a religion that does not believe in violence with such a violent action. 

Ben Haim said that she found Redlich’s comment to be hurtful because she said it implies that Israel is at fault.

“You are accusing Israel, and Israel is not at fault, there is not another option,” Ben Haim said. “You can come to Egypt with the accusation of, ‘Why don’t you open your gate to your own people of the same religion?’ but they’re not, because they’re afraid of too many of them being terrorists.”

After her answer, Ben Haim received a round of applause from the audience. 

In a follow-up interview with Student Life, Redlich said that she attended the talk because she wanted to understand what was happening, but she did not initially plan to ask questions. 

There was so much silence [during the Q&A] and I was disturbed by the very obviously racist rhetoric and misinformation, so that prompted me to want to have at least have one voice in the room calling people’s attention to the genocide,” Redlich said. 

Redlich said her intention was not to harass Ben Haim and acknowledged that her trauma is real, but she said that she believed some of Ben Haim’s statements about Palestine were problematic. 

It’s considering Palestinians to not have their own culture, or land, or anything,” Redlich said. “We see that rhetoric all the time, but it’s very troubling.”

After the event, Ben Haim told Student Life that she expects some pushback or disagreement at her talks. 

“It’s also a main reason for me to keep doing it,” Ben Haim said. “I’m happy to have a discussion with anyone who is willing to really listen to me and to respond to those kinds of questions that are potentially being antisemitic, just by existing.” 

Sophomore Ilan Barnea asked Ben Haim how she would explain the importance of Israel’s existence and the IDF, specifically to Jewish people who don’t support them. 

Ben Haim responded by saying the experience showed her that people who hate Jewish people hate them regardless of how connected they are to their identity.

“Whether you like it or not, you’re linked,” Ben Haim said. “As for the need of a Jewish country, I don’t understand how anyone can question that.” 

In a follow-up interview, Barnea, an Israeli-American student whose parents both served in the IDF, said that his biggest takeaway was that it’s possible to value all life at the same time.

“You can value Israeli life, you can value Palestinian life, but also at the same time understand that Israel has a right to defend itself,” Barnea said. 

Hillel Rabbi Jordan Gerson said that he felt fortunate to have brought Ben Haim to campus because of the high demand to hear first hand testimony from Oct. 7 survivors. 

“I think as misinformation, anti-Israel, and antisemitic biases are cropping up here in the States,  having survivors come who can share their experiences is going to be more and more important,” Gerson said.

Ben Haim said that one of her biggest takeaways after the attack was that the news outlets make everything worse and that the situation is very complex. 

“I hope that when I share my own experience, people can understand a bit more and maybe just have a bit more empathy,” Ben Haim said. “And at the very least understand that the situation is complicated and people should not be so quick to go and spread ideas that they’re not certain about.” 

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