Crying and heavy metal at the funeral of Yotam, one of the hostages shot by Israel in Gaza

‘Did they have to shoot? Don’t know. But I can’t blame the soldiers,’ says Lidor Kalai, the friend of the deceased drummer, who was kidnapped by Hamas on October 7

Alon Shamriz Israel-Hamas War
Family and friends of Alon Shamriz, one of the hostages shot by the Israeli army, during his funeral on Monday.Amir Levy (Getty Images)
Luis de Vega

“I feel a lot of pain,” says Lidor Kalai, 21, guitarist of the group Persephore, as he leaves the funeral of his bandmate and drummer, Yotam Haim on Monday. Several hundred people are at the funeral of the 28-year-old, who was one of three hostages mistakenly shot dead by Israeli soldiers in Gaza on Friday. The three — Haim, Samer Al-Talalka and Alon Shamriz — were waving white cloth when they were killed.

At the funeral in the south of Israel, the people hug one another and cry. There is a prevailing feeling of disbelief. Music also plays an important role. Israeli singer Netta Barzilai, who won Eurovision in 2018, performs Nothing Else Matters by Metallica. The drummer is Tuval Haim, 31, the victim’s brother.

“He was this close to coming back to us,” says Kalai, putting his thumb and index finger just millimeters apart. “But, unfortunately, it didn’t happen because of a big, big, big mistake, although I can’t blame the soldiers either, because they are always surrounded by terrorists.” The guitarist criticizes what happened, but doesn’t blame the Israeli troops who yelled “terrorists” as they shot dead the three hostages.

“Did they have to shoot? I don’t know. But I can’t blame them. I think those soldiers who fired also feel pain and sadness. I know that they didn’t want to do it, and they regret everything, although I haven’t spoken to them, but I know that no one wanted to do it,” says Kalai, who mentions that Haim struggled with depression and mental health problems, which forced him to take breaks from the band.

“You wanted to be famous, to be a drummer that everybody knew,” Haim’s mother, Iris Haim, says at the funeral, as reported by The Times of Israel. “You spoke about a better world, you wanted a world that would be better, without evil and revenge.”

“Our Yotam was a big hero, you were always a hero,” recalls his father, Raviv Haim. “At age 18, when you were supposed to enlist in the army, the army didn’t accept you because of mental struggles. But you fought in front of all the committees, and in the end you enlisted.”

“We grew up in a house full of music, and together we found the drums, as an expression for all the difficulties, the anger and the pain,” his brother, Tuval Haim, adds.

Yotam Haim’s band was scheduled to play at a heavy metal music festival in Tel Aviv on October 7, when he was kidnapped by Hamas in what was the worst attack in Israel’s 75-year history. Some of the musicians who performed at the festival are at his funeral on Monday.

“Unfortunately, tragedy struck,” says Nir Schwartz, 30, the singer of Her Last Sight.

Like Schwartz, Yosi Yamin, the guitarist of Andrelamusia, describes the Persephore drummer as a “very talented” person who only had words of gratitude for his fellow musicians.

“The metal scene in Israel is like a second family for all of us,” adds Schwartz. Both are planning a tribute in honor of the dead musician.

The funeral takes place in the Gvulot kibbutz, about six miles from Gaza. Kfar Aza, the community where Haim lived, is located a stone’s throw from the Gaza Strip and remains a closed military zone.

Like many present, Kalai is wearing a Peresphone T-shirt. Others are dressed in black T-shirts from different bands, some local, others international. The mourners have tattoos, long hair, earrings, piercings and dreadlocks. Some have dressed in army uniform and carry rifles.

“People have come from all the bands in Israel,” says Ohad Buch, a 27-year-old drummer, dressed in uniform. The amateur musician has seen Persephore play at various festivals. Next to him is Oran Dgany, a young 15-year-old guitarist in a studded denim vest, who is also a fan of Persephore.

Dvir Lankri, a 21-year-old bassist, says he met Haim at concerts and clubs. “He was one of the most genuine people I have ever met in my life,” he explains, while hugging other mourners. “I met him about five times and on one of those occasions, we had a deep conversation. When I heard the news, I felt like a part of my heart had stopped.”

Minutes later, Lankri collapses and remains unconscious on the ground. Health workers attend to him. “I feel fine,” he explains after a while, “but this is the 27th funeral I have attended since October 7.”

On the esplanade that leads to the cemetery, Michele Kikaon, a 31-year-old Persephore follower, is hugging a friend. He still can’t believe that Haim’s life ended on Friday in such a “terrible and disastrous” way.

Israeli authorities are aware that the death of the three hostages is a major blow, and that same Friday, resumed negotiations to reach a new ceasefire — a move that had been refusing to take. Israel is hoping to reach an agreement with Hamas — with the help of mediators — that includes the release of more hostages. Around 130 remain in Gaza, although some have died.

While the accidental shooting of the hostages is a serious setback, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains committed to continuing the war in Gaza, which was sparked after the October 7 attack by Hamas, which killed 1,200 people in Israel and took 240 hostages. So far, nearly 20,000 people in Gaza have died in the Israeli offensive.

Kalai fondly remembers the day a few years back when Haim joined the band. He is listened to attentively by his parents, who are also at Haim’s funeral. The young man says that Haim brought a lot to the band, such as opening them to listen to music like jazz, which they were not familiar with. “We ended up becoming a second family,” he says, adding that Persephore will return to the stage, although he does not know when.

Kalai leaves the cemetery, where he has left roses and drumsticks on his friend’s grave. The drums remain there, shining alone in the midday sun in front of the mountain of flowers that cover the grave, while the last family members say goodbye. The occasional plane and helicopter sound overhead as Israel continues to attack neighboring Gaza. Meanwhile, dozens of hostages are waiting for a new ceasefire deal so that they may be freed.

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