By Leonardo Benassatto and Michal Yaakov Itzhaki
NEAR RE'IM, Israel (Reuters) - Tears welled in May Hayat's eyes as she stood in silence on an emotional return to the site of an Israeli music festival where she narrowly escaped death in a Hamas attack a month ago.
Hayat, 30, was working as a bartender at the open-air Nova music festival a few kilometres from the Gaza security fence when Hamas gunmen attacked on Oct. 7, killing 260 festival-goers and taking others hostage.
She survived her ordeal by hiding under a stage, smearing a victim's blood on her face and pretending to be dead.
Hayat returned to the venue near Kibbutz Re'im in southern Israel for the first time on Monday, hoping it would help her come to terms with her trauma and unlock the tears that she says have flowed properly only once in the past month.
"If you think they (Hamas) are an organisation acting in self-defence..., they are terrorists, they want us dead, they can’t justify any of this, they don’t care," Hayat, who lives in Tel Aviv, told Reuters.
"They also killed Arab Israelis here, everyone who lives in Israel is a target to kill," she said.
Warning that "they will eventually reach other countries", she added: "I hope you will wake up before it comes to you."
Hayat is one of many Israelis struggling to come to terms with the events of Oct. 7 that triggered an Israeli military campaign to wipe out Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip.
Some 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed in attacks by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 and more than 200 were abducted, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed more than 10,000 people, around 40% of them children, according to tallies by health officials there.
On the day of the attack on the music festival, the gunmen left their victims where they killed them and debris was strewn across the ground. The scene was starkly different on Hayat's return, with all the bodies and much of the debris removed.
Hayat had hoped to find a hole she used as one of her hiding places, but was unable to do so.
She jumped nervously each time she heard a loud noise as she wandered around the venue, and at one point she dived to the ground to take cover after what sounded like rocket fire from Gaza. The brother of a friend of Hayat who was killed in the attack consoled her with a hug.
Although her visit brought tears to her eyes, she wiped them away and did not weep openly.
She said Hamas started firing rockets into southern Israel as young people were dancing at around 6:30 a.m on Oct. 7. Shooting began when Hamas gunmen arriving from Gaza reached the music festival, some of them on foot, others on motor-bikes.
After hiding in a hole, she and a man were discovered by the gunmen.
"At that time, I was simply talking to God, saying 'There’s nothing more I can do, it’s in your hands now.’ I felt they were going to rape me," she said.
The man who had been with her was shot dead but Hayat said she managed to escape after one of two gunmen holding her took pity on her.
"He simply told me to go as the other terrorist was arguing with him, telling him he wants to murder me, and I could see how they were fighting over whether to kill me or not, and I ran away," she said.
She then hid under a stage.
"While I’m lying under the stage, I see that they're shooting at people to make sure they’re all dead," she said. "So the body lying next to me – they shot him in the head - I took the blood and wiped it on my face and I simply lay still...to seem dead."
Her ordeal ended when Israeli soldiers arrived several hours after the Hamas attack began.
"When I heard the army coming...it took me a few minutes to clarify that it was the army I was hearing coming, and then I screamed ‘Help!’ and they came to get me out," she said.
(Writing by Timothy Heritage, editing by Mark Heinrich)