Reporter's notebook'We did what we had to do to save our people'

Citizens, including an MK, helped repel Hamas attack in Ofakim

Residents, some in flipflops, joined police to repel the terrorists’ onslaught against Ofakim; mayor: As many people killed on October 7 as in past 70 years

Carrie Keller-Lynn

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

MK Almog Cohen (L) and Ofakim Mayor Itzik Danino discuss their experiences during Hamas' October 7 attack in the city, October 15, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)
MK Almog Cohen (L) and Ofakim Mayor Itzik Danino discuss their experiences during Hamas' October 7 attack in the city, October 15, 2023 (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)

OFAKIM — Less than an hour after Hamas began its October 7 attack that killed some 1,400 in Israel and saw at least 199 people kidnapped into the Gaza Strip as hostages, two trucks rolled into the southern city of Ofakim, packed with what the city’s mayor said were 14 terrorists and their arsenal.

Only spontaneous action on the part of residents and police officers, armed with knives, a few handguns, and eventually the terrorists’ own rifles, stopped the act, but not before the city lost about 50 people within five hours.

By comparison, this city of 40,000 had about only 50 violent deaths in the past 70 years, said Ofakim Mayor Itzik Danino.

“It’s an event that we couldn’t have prepared for. We are a city without security tools, we don’t have the army,” Danino said.

“Spontaneously, residents started to organize. Some came out with flipflops and knives. They didn’t understand the level of threat posed by the terrorists,” Danino said, calling the 20 or so first responders “heroes.”

Police officer Dor Elamakias was in Re’im patrolling the nearby Tribe of Nova music festival, in which Hamas was soon to massacre over 260 people, when he received a report about gunfire and chased it to Ofakim.

Police officer Dor Elamakias describes battling Hamas terrorists who infiltrated Ofakim on October 7, speaking from Ofakim’s joint operations room, October 15, 2023. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)

Hearing gunshots, he ran toward the source and found a “massive attack” underway.

“At the beginning, we didn’t know how many there were. They threw grenades and fired RPGs at us during the battle,” Elamakias said.

Lightly injured during the firefight, Elamakias said he continued fighting alongside Ofakim residents as he “saw people murdered in front of our eyes, in the streets…people murdered, in front of their family’s eyes, while we were under fire.”

Scheduled for what was expected to be a light security patrol at the festival, Elamakias with armed only with his police-issued handgun and two magazines.

Running low on ammunition, he said that “we had to be creative; each terrorist that we killed, we used his weapon.”

Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen, an Ofakim resident, also said he took part in the battle.

Days later, still patrolling Ofakim with an M-16 slung across his shoulders, Cohen said, “We did what we had to do to save our people.”

Bloodstains attract flies outside the home of Rachel and David Edry in Ofakim, Israel on October 9, 2023. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

Cohen ran for Knesset as part of the far-right ticket in order to advocate for increased personal security in the Negev region, where Ofakim is located. Security for Negev communities is routinely under-resourced, and both violenc and property crime have spiraled in the area in recent years. However, his campaign focused on different threats than the one that actually attacked the town.

“I think everyone in this new world that’s trying to understand us has to be here,” Cohen said, standing outside the home of a Ofakim couple that was held hostage by Hamas for 19 hours.

The couple, Rachel and David Edry, have become famous in Israel for holding off their captors by distracting them with food and conversation.

Ultimately, their ordeal ended when a police SWAT team breached the Edry home and killed the five terrorists holding the couple.

Their son Evyator Edry, a police officer in nearby Sderot, was one of the first responders to the scene and calls it a “miracle” that his parents survived.

“I want [the world] to know what happened to us. Those are terrorists. You need to decide who you stand with,” he said.

Evyatar Edry, whose parents Rachel and David were held hostage in their home by Hamas terrorists for 19 hours on October 7, describes the ordeal from his parents’ living room in Ofakim, October 15, 2023. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)

Speaking from the Edry’s bullet-pocked living room, still musty with the stale smell of blood and the acrid aftermath of the firefight, Danino said he fully supports Israel’s ongoing war to uproot the Hamas terror group from its military and political control of the Gaza Strip.

“There’s only one solution for this. You have to destroy Hamas. Hamas is ISIS,” said the mayor.

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