Coffee and cookies: How a hostage kept her terrorist captors distracted till rescue
Rachel and David were held captive in their Ofakim home by 5 gunmen from Gaza Strip for 15 hours, as their son waited outside, until security forces burst in to save them
A couple from the southern town of Ofakim have described how they survived being held captive for 15 hours in their home by terrorists from the Gaza Strip who constantly threatened to execute them — in part by giving them coffee and cookies.
David and Rachel spoke to Hebrew media outlets on Sunday after police eventually stormed their apartment and freed them.
The couple, whose two sons are both police officers, were taken captive amid a massive invasion by hundreds of Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip who entered Israel early Saturday and rampaged through the south of the country. Gunmen killed over 700 people, injured over 2,000 and took over 100 captives to Gaza. In addition, terrorists took hostages inside Israel in multiple locations and it took security forces long hours to slowly gain control.
One of the hostage situations developed in Ofakim, a town close to Gaza, where five gunmen climbed in through a ground-floor bedroom window and took David and Rachel captive.
“They had malice, they came to kill,” David told Channel 12.
“I said to my husband, ‘If we die, we will die together,” Rachel recalled.
David said the terrorists did not beat them but told the couple they were to become “martyrs.”
“They threatened to kill us,” said David, who had in the past suffered a heart attack. “I was shaking and sweating.”
When security forces arrived, a fierce gun battle erupted.
Chief Superintendent Arkadi Schuster said that security forces realized they were being shot at from the building and their first plan of action was to throw a grenade into the home to kill the terrorists.
As cops were preparing to carry out the plan, others shouted to them that the home belonged to the parents of a fellow police officer — and that the couple were still inside.
After that, negotiations were opened instead, Schuster said, with the terrorists demanding food and water, and medical equipment for one of them who was injured in the earlier exchange of fire with security forces. One of the terrorists had also been killed.
The gunmen asked for a cellphone, but that demand and various others were denied, Schuster said without specifying.
“I could see they were angry,” Rachel told the network. “I asked them if they were hungry. I prepared them coffee and cookies.”
“She drove them crazy, she kept asking them if they want something,” David said with a smile.
As Rachel worked to distract her captors, the terrorists began to sing songs by Israeli singer Lior Narkis, she recounted.
Outside the building, their police officer son Evyatar described the layout of the home to counterterrorism forces in preparation for a breaching and rescue attempt.
“I knew my son was outside; I didn’t know that he was involved in the negotiations,” David said. “I didn’t imagine a breaching into the home.”
Rachel, however, was sure her son would help security forces to rescue them.
Officers were able to get right up to the entrance to the home and it was from there that they spoke with the gunmen, through the open doorway. Evyatar was also there, at times just meters from his captive parents.
During negotiations one of the terrorists used a table as a makeshift barricade while holding a hand grenade over Rachel’s head, having removed the pin. Another sat at the top of the stairs aiming a gun at police.
“All the terrorists had to do was to let the grenade go and roll it across the floor,” said Schuster who even entered the room to bring the gunmen some of the things they asked for.
“But you don’t think about that in the moment,” Schuster said. “What you think about is the police officer standing next to you saying ‘Get my parents to safety.'”
Speaking to Channel 13, Rachel said the terrorists were heavily armed, including with a LAW anti-tank missile.
Of her two police officer sons she said, “Thank God they weren’t at home or they would have murdered them straight away.”
During the negotiations, Evyatar signaled to his mother to not give any indication that he is her son, lest the terrorists realize.
At one point, an officer asked one of the terrorists how many gunmen there were and Rachel held up her hand to her face in a casual movement, fingers spread, to indicate there were five.
The terrorist, however, noticed, and warned her to not try any “funny stuff,” she told Channel 13.
Rachel told him that her head hurt and she was just rubbing it for comfort, but the information about the number of the gunmen had been successfully transmitted.
She also said she bandaged the hand of one of the injured terrorists, trying to comfort him, and engaged in conversation with the others to keep them preoccupied.
The whole time, she said, one of the attackers was still holding a grenade over her head while a gun was pointed at her.
Finally, at 2:30 a.m., security forces moved in for a rescue attempt.
As the operation began, Rachel said, she could see security personnel approaching the home.
“We were very close to the terrorists, but we were saved. I thank God that I am alive, I couldn’t believe it,” she told Channel 12.
“I jumped onto my wife. Shots came over us, right by my head. I don’t know how I survived,” David told the network. “When an officer grabbed hold of my hand I realized that I was freed.”
When rescuers entered the home an explosive device was set off, injuring one of them, but the rest of the force kept going and freed the hostages, Schuster said.
The couple told media that rescuers apparently entered through a skylight in the shower room that their son would have known about, as well as using other routes.
Media footage from the couple’s home showed the devastation from the firefight and raid, with walls pockmarked with bullet holes and singed passageways, and blood smeared along the floor.
As the couple were brought out Evyatar embraced his parents, tearfully repeating, “Mom, you’re alive, you’re alive.”