Omer Shem-Tov has been missing for nearly two weeks – the same amount of time the light in his bedroom in central Israel has remained on, day and night.
The aspiring DJ was attending the Supernova rave in the Negev Desert close to Gaza when Hamas gunmen ambushed the party early on Oct. 7, killing hundreds and kidnapping others. Shem-Tov, 21, is believed to be among the hostages brought back to the Gaza Strip.
“The light in his room, we don’t want to turn it off, and we will not turn it off,” Omer’s father, Malki Shem-Tov, tells Rolling Stone. He said his wife, Omer’s mother, refuses to disturb anything in the bedroom until their youngest son returns. “Everything in the room is still messy, like he left it. We’re just waiting for him. The light is on, the mess is there.”
The desperate dad speaks softly, almost in a whisper. He’s been spending his days with other families with missing loved ones at a headquarters dedicated to bringing the hostages home.
“When I’m busy, it’s easier. When we’re wrapped with friends and families, it feels warm, people really care,” he explains. When it’s dark and quiet, his mind races, trying to picture his son.
“In the night, when you are with yourself, then all the thoughts are coming,” he says. “I wonder if he’s cold. What does he feel? Does he feel the bombing? Is he with his other friends over there? Maybe he’s by himself. Maybe he’s trying to keep his morale up. A lot of questions come.”
Shortly after alarms started sounding early on Oct. 7, Malki called his son, knowing he was at the massive Supernova psytrance festival. “He told us they were all running, looking for a place to hide. And then during the whole morning, we called him, he called us. From phone call to phone call, he was much more panicked,” the dad says. “I could hear him running. He said, ‘I see dying people, they are shooting all over. I love you, I love you, I love you.’”
The family asked Omer to send his phone’s location so they could track him and hopefully assist with an escape. “After a few minutes, they took him. We saw his [location] point go toward the Gaza border. We tried to call him several times, to tell him it was the wrong way, turn back. He never answered. The last thing we saw, the point was behind the border. It was terrible. It was the most black day of my life. It was like a huge thick, black curtain that fell on our eyes.”
With President Biden in Israel on Wednesday and Israeli troops at the border, seemingly prepared for a ground invasion, Malki says he doesn’t care about politics, only the lives of the hostages.
“For us, it’s stop the war now, immediately, and bring our dearest back,” he says. “We just want them now. That has to be our first priority.”
The brother of another Supernova festivalgoer abducted by Hamas echoed the sentiment.
“Look, I’m not a political or military person. We just want our people to come home as soon as possible. We just want them back. We’re all united,” Lion Yanai, brother of jewelry designer Moran Stela Yanai, tells Rolling Stone. “We’re in a tough situation. We all want our loved ones to come back home. It’s not a political issue. The hostages have no relation to the political situation.”
He described his sister as a gentle soul who was excited to open a vending booth at Supernova and sell her latest designs.
“She’s a person of love and peace. She works as a rescue volunteer with animals,” Lion says. “She was very excited about the music festival. This was her first time doing it. She’s a really good person. Everybody loves her.”
Malki said his son loved music as well and planned to travel to Amsterdam this week for another festival. “He’s an amazing guy,” he says of Omer, his voice cracking with emotion.
According to Israeli authorities, at least 199 people were abducted by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 — many of them from the Supernova rave.
A video of one kidnapped reveler was shared by Hamas on its Telegram channel earlier this week. It showed 21-year-old Mia Schem, a dual French-Israeli national, with a large scar under a white bandage on her arm.
“Yesterday I saw my baby on television. I saw she’s alive,” mom Keren Schem said at a press conference Tuesday, according to Haaretz. “I can see she was shot in her shoulder. I see she had an operation. She looks very terrified. She looks like she’s in big pain … I can see that she’s saying what they tell her to say, but I can see that she’s stable.”
The mother then spoke in English, addressing the international community. “I’m begging the world to bring my baby back home. She only went to a party, to a festival party, to have some fun. And now she’s in Gaza,” she said.
In the video, Mia Schem stares into the camera. “Right now, I’m in Gaza,” she says. “I was seriously injured in the arm. They brought me to Gaza, and they took me to the hospital here. They’ve been taking care of me, providing medication. I’m just asking that you bring me back home as soon as possible to my family, my parents, my siblings. Please get me out of here as quickly as possible.”
Hamas’s deadly assault on Supernova and kibbutzim to the north and south of the festival killed an estimated 1,300 people. Israel responded with force. More than 2,800 people reportedly have died in Gaza as a result of airstrikes. A blockade of water, medicine, fuel, and electricity also has caused widespread suffering across the densely packed territory that’s home to more than 2 million.
On Tuesday, a massive explosion at a hospital in Gaza reportedly killed hundreds, including children and the elderly. Palestinians blamed Israel for the blast, but Israel claimed it was a misfire from Islamic Jihad, a group aligned with Hamas.
“I’m calling on everyone who can hear me, for international leaders to do something to bring back the civilians, women, babies, elderly, wounded people, sick people,” Moran’s brother says. “Everybody has to support bringing them back. International leaders can do more without war.”