ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Inside story'I never thought I'd have a conversation with a Hamas member'

How a Druze mom fooled Hamas into revealing its attack plans on Oct. 7, saving her town

From attackers in her yard, Arabic speaker Nasreen Yousef found out where more terrorists were hiding, then got a Hamas operative on the phone and passed critical intel to the IDF

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Nasreen Youssef. (Screenshot taken from Channel 12/Keshet TV, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law).
Nasreen Youssef. (Screenshot taken from Channel 12/Keshet TV, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law).

Druze mother of four Nasreen Yousef helped to prevent a bloodbath in her community on the southern Gaza border on October 7 by using her native Arabic to convince terrorists that she would give them money and smuggle them out, while she gathered critical intelligence and passed it to the IDF.

Nasreen, her husband Eyad, and their four children live in the predominantly Jewish village of Moshav Yated, just four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the Israeli border with Gaza and the border with Egypt’s Sinai.

The Yousef home, the closest to Moshav Yated’s perimeter fence, was the first stop for Hamas terrorists ordered to attack the community in the early hours of October 7, she told Channel 12/Keshet TV, which first broke the story of her unlikely role in stopping the massacre.

The terrorists breaking into the small farming community were among thousands of Hamas operatives who crossed into Israel from Gaza that day, murdering some 1,200 in brutal circumstances, abducting 253, and shooting and burning their way through dozens of Gaza border villages and towns.

During the attack, Eyad Yousef joined the moshav’s security team despite a broken leg in a cast, while Nasreen, 46, and the children hid in their protected room at home, along with members of a neighboring family.

But when Eyad and friends caught a terrorist about to enter the family’s yard, Nasreen walked out of the house to try to find out how many more armed Hamas men were on their way.

Nasreen Yousef filmed by her daughter Shiran, 13, talking to Hamas terrorists near the yard of her home on Moshav Yated, close to the southern Gaza border, October 7, 2023.

“I told him, ‘Look me in the eyes, I’m not frightened of you,'” she recalled, adding that the young gunman had an expression on his face that she subsequently discovered was due to him being on drugs.

Nasreen managed to convince the gunman that she was on his side and would help to get him to safety, she told The Times of Israel.

He told her where in the perimeter fence he had entered through and revealed that many more fighters were on their way or already inside the moshav. Some were in a nearby greenhouse, others were in mobile homes, and a third cell was heading for a memorial site.

At around 10 a.m., Eyad and other moshav security team members found four Hamas operatives in the greenhouse and brought them to the Yousefs’ yard.

Nasreen told The Times of Israel, “I was in flipflops, running backward and forward with bits of string and cable ties to tie them up, with towels and floor rags for hoods.”

A memorial monument near Moshav Yated. (Chen Leopold/Flash 90)

“I don’t know where I got the courage from, why I didn’t panic,” she went on. “As my husband got dressed that morning, he said it would be an honor to die in uniform, not in a protected room.  I knew that if they came, they’d kill us. I had to protect my home.”

At some point, three IDF officers came and asked if anyone spoke Arabic. Nasreen was able to tell them how the terrorists had come in, and then the cellphone of one of the terrorists rang.

“I look at the screen and I see Elayesh written in Arabic, and I answer the phone,” she said.

The man on the other end asked who she was. She said she replied, ‘I’m called Nasreen, I’m an Arab, you have nothing to be afraid of, I’m hiding the guys. I have a secret apartment.'”

A Hamas terrorist waits near four other fellow gunmen in the Yousef family’s yard at Moshav Yated, close to the southern Gaza border, October 7, 2023. (Screenshot taken from Channel 12/Keshet TV, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law).

During the 40-minute conversation, she would put the man on hold to translate to the officer standing next to her, she explained.

Pretending that she wanted to arrange enough food and water for the gunmen, she asked how many more were on their way, and from where. She told the caller that all the men with her had already eaten.

At some stage, the man on the phone became suspicious and asked to speak to one of the terrorists. She approached the one that he named.

“I said, ‘Listen, I’ll give you money, food, gold… I’ll put you into uniform and smuggle you out, but you have to say what I tell you to say,'” she continued.

The man cooperated, saying Nasreen was a “good woman” and that the men had been given food and water.

Nasreen Yousef and husband Eyad speak to Channel 12/Keshet TV from the hotel in Eilat to which they have been evacuated, January 13, 2024. (Screenshot taken from Channel 12/Keshet TV, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law),

Nasreen then took back the phone and told the man on the other end that the IDF was everywhere, that she couldn’t keep the men safe for long, and again asked how they were coming through. He told her about an opening in the fence.

Nasreen said that the phone call with the terrorist ended with him saying, “Inshallah [if Allah wills it], tonight we’ll conquer Israel.”

“I felt short of breath and ended the conversation,” she continued. “I told the officer that I couldn’t go on anymore. Even in my worst dream, I never thought I’d have a conversation with a Hamas member, in my language, which I’m not ashamed of, and that I’d manage to save a lot of people and stop all of those monsters.”

She went on, “If I hadn’t gone out and asked questions and spoken, probably half our community, or most of them, wouldn’t be around anymore.”

Eyad Yousef and a neighbor guarded the five terrorists, including the first one who entered, from Saturday morning until around 3 p.m. the following afternoon.

Nasreen made coffee to keep them awake through the night, and stood guard, moving from window to window in her house to look for additional infiltrators.

Armed with Nasreen’s intelligence, a Caracal army unit arrived on Sunday morning. At around lunchtime troops managed to catch 15 terrorists hiding in an orchard next door — those Nasreen had been told were in the mobile homes. They were taken to the orchard packing house. At roughly the same time, an army helicopter spotted a third cell, also of around 15 men, at the memorial site and killed them from the air.

Soldiers from the mixed-gender Caracal unit guard terrorists in a packing house close to the Yousef’s home in Moshav Yated, southern Israel, on October 7, 2023. (Eyad Yousef)

But that was not before daughter Shiran, 13 — assuming she was going to be killed — had found her mother, at around lunchtime on Sunday, and tried to say goodbye.

When asked why she had left the protected room, Shiran told her mother that a close friend, Ido Hubara, 36, from nearby Kibbutz Sufa, had been murdered, while defending his community.

“Ido was like a brother to me, his family was like my family,” Nasreen said.

Having already heard from a friend that two other friends from nearby Kerem Shalom had also been killed, Nasreen said she went outside and started attacking the hooded and handcuffed terrorists.

“I found myself beating them with a pipe, swearing at them, I went crazy,” she said until she heard a Caracal soldier telling her not to go near them.

By 3 p.m. on that Sunday, Eyad Yousef was able to take a break to get his family and the neighbor’s family out of the protected room and to a safe place.

Nasreen said the terrorists were taken away by the Shin Bet security service only on Monday.

Hamas terrorists caught in orchards lie bound and hooded outside a packing shed belonging to neighbors of the Yousef family on Moshav Yated, close to the southern Gaza border, October 8, 2023. (Screenshot taken from Channel 12/Keshet TV, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law).

Host Guy Pines and his team at Channel 12/Keshet TV discovered the story by chance via Brothers in Arms, which was organizing a 12th birthday party for Sivan Yousef in the Eilat hotel where the family has been staying with other Gaza border evacuees since the war began.

While other girls her age had been celebrating bat mitzvah parties, Sivan feared nobody would come to her birthday celebration because she was Druze. A friend of Nasreen’s had reached out to Brothers in Arms, a protest group that shifted to organizing recovery efforts after October 7, to help.

Eyad Yousef’s job in the IDF — he is a sergeant major with 20 years of service under his belt — had taken the family southward away from the main concentration of Druze towns in northern Israel. Nasreen said that they were the only Druze family living in the Gaza border area, and had been warmly welcomed by Moshav Yated.

The Yousef family. (Screenshot taken from Channel 12/Keshet TV, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law),

Only around 150,000 Druze live in the country, where they constitute 1.5 percent of Israeli households, according to Central Bureau of Statistics figures for 2022. But they stand out from the general Arab population for their deep identification with the Jewish state and high enlistment rate to the IDF.

Druze men are the only Israeli minorities, apart from members of the small Circassian community, to be conscripted into the IDF. Many Druze reach senior army positions, and hundreds have died — and continue to die during the current war — for the state.

But some still experience discrimination. On the day that this reporter spoke to Nasreen, a classmate had phoned Sivan and called her a “dirty Arab,” repeating a taunt that has become familiar to both Sivan and Shiran.

“Sivan’s self-confidence is rock bottom,” said Nasreen. “She cries all the time. The school said they would deal with it. I always hear that sentence.”

Nasreen, who worked as an administrator for the Clalit health fund until the war, has not worked since and tries to keep herself occupied cleaning the hotel room until the children come home. Her husband is fighting in Gaza.

Moshav Yated. (Screen capture: YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law).

Through tears, she explained that she had lost many friends on October 7, and suffered from recurring nightmares.

Psychologists were made available, but they came and left, and it was too hard to tell the same story over and over.

She said she had received two useful sessions of psychiatric support from a professional who had also gone elsewhere, and that since then, she had been “living on the anxiety pills she gave me.”

It was only the day before Channel 12 came to film that Shiran, 13, revealed that she had filmed her mother’s interactions with the terrorists through the protective room’s blinds. Those images have now made it around the world.

“I never wanted to tell the story. To have the media around. I don’t want people to call me a hero,” Nasreen said. “I just protected my home and my community.”

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