Israelis head to the sites of the October 7 attack to mark the national day of mourning

In a sandy clearing near Israel's border with Gaza, soldiers, civilians and tourists wandered silently through a dense thicket of poles. Posted on the posts were portraits of the hundreds of people who came there to dance late into the night last October and never returned home.

As Israelis celebrated Memorial Day, the country's annual commemoration of fallen soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks, many were drawn to the site of the Tribe of Nova music festival, a rave dedicated to peace and love that was cut short around dawn on October 7 by a barrage of rockets from Gaza, signaling the start of the Hamas-led cross-border assault.

In the horror that followed, at least 360 festivalgoers were killed – nearly a third of the approximately 1,200 people killed that day in southern Israel, according to Israeli authorities. Armed men crossing the border surrounded the Nova site, ambushing people as they tried to escape in cars and hunting them in roadside bomb shelters or as they fled across rutted fields.

Observing Israel's first day of national mourning following the deadliest day in the state's 76-year history, and with the country still at war in Gaza, many people came to the Nova memorial site starting Sunday to remember the dead and those festival attendees who were taken hostage in Gaza and are still held there.

On Sunday, the solemn silence was broken occasionally by the waving of Israeli flags and the sharp cracks of artillery fire from Israeli troop positions nearby.

“The earth is screaming,” said Eliran Shuraki, 39, a resident of central Israel, who had come to the Nova site for the first time Sunday with a friend. “Our hearts are broken,” he added.

They had first visited Be'eri, one of the hardest-hit border communities on October 7, and where one of Mr. Shuraki's colleagues lost three generations of relatives, he said. Mr. Shuraki's brother lost a brother-in-law, a police officer, at the Nova festival, he said.

Nicole and Guy Peretz, a couple in their thirties, had come up the coast from Ashkelon. Both are former police officers and many of their former colleagues were killed on the spot, they said.

“Until you come here in person and see the incomprehensible number of people with your own eyes, you can't absorb it,” Ms. Peretz said.

Other makeshift memorials dot roadsides, orchards and lawns for miles around, consisting of portraits and piles of rocks, handwritten notes, candles and wreaths wilting in the beating sun.

In a nearby field, hundreds of incinerated cars collected from the roadsides after the Oct. 7 attack are piled in a metal graveyard.

Even the air raid shelters where so many sought protection that day, only to be killed as they huddled inside, have turned into sanctuaries. Their charred and blood-spattered interiors have been whitewashed. The smell is gone. Their walls are now covered in graffiti: burning messages, photographs and prayers commemorating those who were there but are no longer.

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