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After 260 Killed at Psychedelic-Trance Festival in Israel, Trauma Healing for Survivors Underway

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After 260 Killed at Psychedelic-Trance Festival in Israel, Trauma Healing for Survivors Underway

The attack on October 7 that turned meadows where young Israelis danced to psychedelic music into a killing field has inspired the founding of an all-volunteer corps of medical professionals to help the Tribe of Nova festival survivors in Israel begin to heal from psychological trauma. 

SafeHeart connected over 400 medical practitioners, including doctors, psychologists, social workers and other therapists, with the festival survivors. With an emphasis on rapid response, 1,800 of the 1,900 survivors who have reached out to SafeHeart have already received their first treatment. 

It is estimated that about 3,500 mostly young people, including many teenagers, came to Tribe of Nova gathering, an event described by President Joe Biden as “young people massacred while attending a musical festival to celebrate peace.” 

The terrorist attack by Hamas, which controls Gaza, left over 260 dead. Of the 229 hostages taken by Hamas that day, as many as 90 of the unarmed concert-goers are believed to have been abducted from the festival. Videos of the psy-trance festival abductions verified by geolocation and other sources have been reported by international news organizations including Al-Jazeera, the BBC, the Guardian, CNN, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times, which have been seen around the world. 

While President Biden spoke directly to the festival attack, terming it “pure evil,” elsewhere news of the attack on the psy-trance festival was greeted with gloating and euphoria. The day following, on Sunday, October 8, at a pro-Palestinian rally in New York City, a speaker received cheers when he declared: “As you might have seen, there was some sort of rave when they were having a great time, until the resistance came in electrified hang gliders and took at least several dozen hipsters.”

The tradition at psy-trance festivals is to dance throughout the night with the first light of dawn considered the peak experience of the event. It has been estimated that perhaps as many as 50 or 60 percent of the dancers at the rave would have been under the influence of psychedelics such as psilocybin or MDMA. This means that the Nova concert, which described itself as a “journey to peace, love, and unity,” came under attack at the exact moment when festival-goers, after dancing all night under the  influence of psychedelics, were at their most vulnerable – unable to escape, hide, defend themselves, or resist abduction. 

Livestreamed videos from Hamas documented the atrocities. 

By noon, when survivors of the attack, many mutilated or maimed, were first reaching emergency rooms across Israel, it became clear that many were also still tripping. 

That’s when a request reached Roy Salomon, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist and full professor at Haifa University, where he leads the Salomon Lab, which studies consciousness. It said “we need people who understand psychedelics, because people are arriving at the hospitals wounded, still tripping and distraught,” he recounted. 

The initial request that reached him was for two psychedelic-informed counselors. “In Israel, the phenomenon of psychedelic peer support has been evolving over the past decade, amid a rich history of trance music culture,” according to a report by Yahav Erez posted in 2020 by the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines. 

“When I saw that request for two helpers I said, well there were over 3,000 kids at this festival, we don’t just need two people to get over to an emergency room – we’re going to need hundreds of people to help,” said Salomon, who has received training by MAPS to provide MDMA-assisted psychotherapy during clinical trials. He said he reached out to the leaders of SafeZone and SafeShore, organizations that provide psychedelic harm reduction services. “I called two of my friends who are leaders of the harm reduction groups here who actually go to festivals.” It was immediately clear that clinicians and mental health practitioners were needed, and that it was essential “they understand psychedelics and trauma.”

Response From Volunteers and Clinicians

Response from the psychedelic community was instant, reports Salomon. “Within an hour, we had 50 people willing to volunteer to help survivors from the festival. Soon after, 400 “clinicians volunteered to give pro-bono support.”

“That Saturday was just a first-step emergency intervention.” The next step was Sunday morning. 

Salomon hurried that morning to build a website. “It was super shabby. I’m a cognitive neuroscientist, not a web designer. But it worked.” 

“It said, listen, if you were at the festival and need help, we’re here for you… They know that we come from within the psychedelic community, they know us from the festivals, they know us from the harm reduction tents, they know that they can trust us,” said Salomon. “They know they can tell us, ‘you know, all this happened, all these terrible things happened while I was tripping,’ and we won’t judge them, and that we understand them, and we’ll be there for them.” He added that the SafeHeart project is collaborating with the Ministry of Health in Israel and the Israel Trauma Coalition to ensure “the unique needs of those under the influences of substances during this horrific attack will continue to receive the most adequate treatment possible.”

Speed in delivering treatment can be essential in treating psychological trauma, explained James Gordon, MD, a psychiatrist who founded a Washington, D.C. nonprofit, The Center for Mind-Body Medicine which is regularly called upon around the globe to provide population-wide trauma healing. “Begin trauma healing as soon as possible,” he said. “Biological and psychological imbalances caused by trauma. . .tend to become fixed over time.” 

Left untreated, psychological trauma can evolve into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a PTSD diagnosis which can be far harder to heal, according to Salomon. 

This is why, he said, “we took steps to ensure [festival survivors] would feel comfortable approaching us. We did not want survivors to hesitate to seek treatment because they were uncomfortable with hospital officials or traditional mental health offerings.” 

With its focus on peace, unity and love, the psy-trance movement has become global, with Israelis among the most active participants, said Salomon. 

“Psy-trance speaks to universal values, being part of something larger than ourselves, it’s an expression of peace.”

SafeHeart will also be providing psychological support to families of those abducted by Hamas from the festival that day. Videos, verified by Human Rights Watch and other NGOs, show captured festival participants. These images, now seen on Hamas sites and social media, include 22-year-old German-Israeli pacifist Shani Louk, recognizable by her dreadlocks and tattoos, stripped nearly naked, and being spat upon by a crowd in Gaza. Louk has since been reported as dead. Another video shows 25-year-old Chinese-Israeli paramedic Noa Argamani, screaming in apparent terror from the back of a motorcycle as she is abducted. Also seen on video is 23-year-old Berkeley, California-born Hersh Goldberg-Polin, blood splattered and maimed, his arm below his elbow blown off, struggling to keep an improvised tourniquet in place while dragged onto a truck and driven towards Gaza. 

Photos of Hersh’s bedroom show a hand-drawn poster that says “fight fascism.” Other posters advocate for peaceful co-existence and artwork featuring Hebrew and Arabic words that read: “Jerusalem is Everyone’s.” Hersh’s mother, Rachel Goldberg, told the Wall Street Journal, “I’m not a diplomat. I’m not a politician. I’m not a military strategist. I’m a mom. . . . He could be dying of sepsis right now because he’s not getting medical treatment.”

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