Elderly Couple’s Brave 20-Hour Hostage Ordeal With Hamas Gunmen In Southern Israel
The Hamas gunman aimed his rifle at the elderly couple in their home in southern Israel early Saturday morning. He held a grenade on Rachel Edri’s head, began screaming “Allah Akbar” and announced he was a “martyr.”
But Edri maintained her composure.
Thinking quickly, she offered the group of five terrorists refreshments, and later a meal, engaging them in small talk, playing for time until security personnel could arrive.
For the next 20 hours, Rachel and her husband, David, underwent a harrowing ordeal with the five Palestinian terrorists holed up in their home.
“I do not know how I am alive,” said Edri as she recounted in an interview on Sunday.
A Saturday morning nightmare
It was around 7 a.m. on Saturday when the rocket warning siren wailed in the city of Ofakim, about 12 miles west of Beersheva and far out of range of the Israeli communities along the border with Hamas-run Gaza. The Edris made their way to the community shelter to take cover from the thousands of rockets that Hamas had just blasted at Israel in a coordinated, multi-stage surprise assault that would be the most lethal attack on the country in the last half century.
As they made their way back to their home, Edri noticed that one of the bedroom windows had been broken into, when suddenly she and her husband were surrounded by the five armed Hamas terrorists who had broken into their home during the rocket attack.
“My first thought was my two sons because they are in the police forces,” she recounted in the interview. “Thank the Lord they weren’t home because I was afraid they would be murdered first.”
The attackers, who were also armed with a rocket launcher, then placed a grenade on Edri’s head and aimed their Kalashnikov rifles at her and husband, ordering them inside their home.
Small talk and refreshments
“I started to talk to them. Have you had something to drink? Would you like tea or coffee?” she offered, seeking to distract them.
Meanwhile, an elite police force had arrived outside their house, accompanied by her police officer son, who had gotten word of the attack and rushed to his parents’ house. An officer attempted to negotiate with the terrorists to get Rachel released, to no avail.
“No, we will all die,” one of the terrorists responded to an offer to speak with his family by phone, she related.
Edri had the police negotiator bring in coffee and cookies, which they placed at the edge of the room.
“It was like we were in a dream and we did not know what would happen to us,” she recounts.
As the time passed, Edri was concerned that her captors would get agitated due to hunger, and offered them lunch.
“If they were hungry that would have been the end of me and my husband,” said Edri.
Undeterred by the ever-present danger, Edri began to talk with her captors, asking them where they were from and trying to dissuade them from their planned murder.
“I told them don’t do it—we are brothers,” she said.
“No, I am a shahid,” one of the terrorists replied, using the Arab word for martyr, and pointed his gun at her husband.
“Rachel, they are going to shoot us,” her husband said. “He was totally helpless,” she recalled.
“Come sit by me,” she told her husband. “We will read the [Jewish prayer of] Shema Yisrael and God will be with us,” she added.
Later, the hostage negotiator asked Rachel from just outside how many terrorists were in the house. She put her hand on the side of her head and signaled five with her fingers.
“Rachel, don’t you dare,” the terrorist warned her. “I just have a headache,” she responded.
Meanwhile, outside their house a gun battle ensued, leaving one of the captors, who had stepped out, dead. But four remained inside.
As the afternoon wore on, Edri offered to bandage the injured hand of one of the terrorists, and, seeking to soothe him, brought him water as well as some canned pineapple. “You look pallid, “she told him. Take something to eat; you will feel better.”
As night closed in, the attackers became anxious that they would be surrounded, and Edri herself began to lose it herself, despite her outward demeanor.
“I didn’t think we would make it,” she confessed. “I kept reading the Shema Yisrael.”
Outside, the elite rescue team was getting ready to make their move.
From just outside their home, Edris’ son had drawn them a detailed diagram of the building’s interior. He begged to join the team but was told he could not.
At night, Edri was near her husband on the couch, with the four terrorists less than two feet away. In the early morning hours, the rescue team, aided by a drone and the outline of the house that their son had drawn, burst into the home through the roof with a special rescue dog, killing all four terrorists. The Edris escaped unscathed. Rachel’s only injury was an inadvertent scratch from the dog.
“I just don’t know how I am alive,” she recounted on Sunday. “I just don’t know how I am living.”
As she was walked to the hospital by the security forces she kept thanking them, expressing disbelief that she was alive and thanking them for their heroism.
“No Rachel, we’re not the heroes,” one of them replied. “You’re the hero.”
Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate
Edited by Judy J. Rotich and Newsdesk Manager
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