What harm were my friends doing on a sunny Saturday morning?

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On Saturday evening Australian time, the messages and social media posts from friends at a festival in southern Israel began rolling in.

Pleas for help, footage of unimaginable terror and messages of abject fear filled my screens and shattered my soul. Unable to sleep, I spent the night scouring news, messaging friends and desperately trying to help locate missing people.

Vision posted to X, formerly Twitter, of people fleeing the Nova music festival in southern Israel. Credit: Twitter

Peaceful people from around the world who had gathered to dance and were threatening nobody. Young people merely celebrating life exactly as youth are supposed to. They could be any of our daughters, sons or loved ones.

Many were my friends and colleagues.

In all of Israel, those on that fated festival dancefloor were among those most likely to only seek peace. Pacifists whose lives are irrevocably influenced only by coincidence: the location of their birth. Modern-day hippies who preach love for all and harm to none.

The entire ethos of the worldwide rave subculture is founded on the principles of PLUR: peace, love, unity and respect. Coexisting on that festival dance floor were people of all nationalities, ages, cultures and religions.

Israel may be geographically distant from the safety of my Melbourne home, but the electronic music industry is a small, tight-knit global community and there are strong ties between our countries.

At any Australian electronic music festival, you will hear Israeli accents on the dance floor, on stages and working alongside event organisers. Ideologically, there are few differences from the Australian youth who flock to festivals every weekend in summer. Their only goal is to have fun.

My close colleague, Raz Gaster, had just arrived at the festival with musicians who were scheduled as headline acts when the rockets and gunfire began. They escaped only because their car was metres away and they were able to flee before attackers blocked all exits for thousands of revellers running for their lives.

Alongside some of the event’s organisers, they set up a command centre nearby to assist authorities and attendees while sheltering from rockets themselves. For 24 hours they coordinated efforts to locate and retrieve festival goers from hiding places.

Charred and damaged cars at the exit of the Tribe of Nova trance music festival road after an attack by Hamas militants in southern Israel on Saturday. Credit: South First Responders via AP

They’ve described scenes of horror beyond any capacity to comprehend from the safety of Australia. I heard of people faking death for hours to survive, hiding in bushes, underneath corpses and watching in silence, lest they reveal their location, as hundreds were slaughtered before their eyes.

We have all scoured horrific footage, frame by frame, searching for familiar faces.

Amid the unthinkable, there are first-hand reports of implausible bravery, of friends fighting back with bare hands against machine guns. One of the event organisers managed to disarm an attacker and kill two others in an attempt to protect innocent lives.

His only plan for that weekend was to celebrate life and share a love of psytrance music and its global subculture.

Partygoers at the Nova rave near the border with Gaza have told how the first hint of the horror raging towards them in the early hours of Saturday was a barrage of rockets roaring through the morning sky.

Every weekend around the world, people from all walks of life gather at these parties as one community. Nationality, age, profession and politics are all irrelevant in these spaces. The only thing that matters is the music.

Music unites us all, and transcends language, borders and religious dogma. Psytrance itself is partly defined by its signature 4/4 timing that mimics the heartbeat and symbolises life.

But today my social media feeds are filled with death and images of missing friends posted by people begging for the tiniest scrap of information about loved ones. It’s an endless, macabre parade of desperation and hope.

I remain transfixed to news and messenger apps, attempt to comfort traumatised friends from afar and make sense of needless, wanton violence. Never in all of my years could I imagine such brutality entering my naive realm of peaceful existence to shatter the lives of the people and community that I love.

My heart aches and tears roll for the living, the dead and the unknown. Where are the missing people? What horrors are they experiencing? Will they ever dance again?

As I sit typing and questioning humanity itself, I only have one answer for an unasked question; an ideal I cling to amid stunned disbelief. We cannot allow hate to defeat love, darkness to overwhelm the light. Consider me an ageing, idealistic hippie-raver if you will, but no matter the horrors of this unjust world, I remain steadfast in that conviction.

Voltaire reportedly once said we should all read and dance as these are the two amusements that will never do any harm in the world. What harm were my friends doing on a sunny Saturday morning?

Kitty Purvinas is a Melbourne-based festival marketing director who works with electronic music events around the world.

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