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From trauma to rainbows; Israel festival survivors heal in Cyprus

file photo: people who were evacuated from israel, board a bus after arriving at the larnaca international airport
People who were evacuated from Israel, board a bus after arriving at the Larnaca airport

Deep within the lush mountainous forests of Cyprus, survivors of the Oct. 7 music festival bloodbath in Israel practice yoga, paint and meditate as they try to come to grips with the trauma.

At an Israeli-run wellness retreat, survivor Matan Madar wants to dull the cries. Dor Rahamim is looking for peace. Neta Cohen says she wants to live her life to the full, after seeing the lives of others so brutally cut short.

“We are trying to clear the mind of the screams,” said Madar, 23, who lost friends when Hamas militants went on a bloody rampage at the Nova festival.

Some 364 people were shot, bludgeoned or burned to death at the all-night festival, held about 5 km (2 miles) from the Gaza Strip.

Israel estimates in total 1,200 people were killed in the attack on its south that triggered a retaliatory onslaught, which the Hamas-run health ministry says has seen more than 15,000 Palestinians killed in the coastal enclave.

Israeli businessman Yoni Kahana, who operates the retreat on the east Mediterranean island, is hosting survivors free of charge. Aided by an Israeli NGO, IsraAID, the Secret Forest retreat in the mountains above Paphos in western Cyprus has a steady rotation of festival survivors seeking solace.

“When we saw what was happening in Israel we decided immediately to help,” said Kahana. He said more than 1,800 Israelis had signed up to a programme which includes yoga, therapy sessions, hiking and meditation overseen by up to 20 volunteer therapists.

“They are getting the tools to get back to living,” he said.

Rahamim, 28, sits on the floor in a corner of an art therapy class, his back against the wall.

“I just feel like I am nervous all the time, it’s very intense, I need to look around, to feel, to see that everything is OK, that somebody doesn’t surprise me.”

Many trauma survivors turn to art in an attempt to externalise their feelings, painting with red, white and black, the colours of trauma, before adding rays of sun, a rainbow, or a flower, said therapist Lilach Galkin. “A lot of things are connected to hope. Hope and peace,” she said.

Neta Cohen is working on a collage. It included a photo taken from a social media website of a person with no “likes”, because, she said, people do not need to live their lives craving approval from others.

“You need to do what you want and you like, because I’ve realised in these past two months that life is short.”

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