Woman becomes Israeli folk hero for plying Hamas militants with snacks until rescue mission arrives

JERUSALEM (AP) — When Hamas militants toting grenades appeared in her living room, Rachel Edri served them tea and Moroccan cookies until police stormed in and killed the attackers.

Edri’s tale of quick-witted survival during the Israel-Hamas war has turned the 65-year old woman into an unlikely folk hero in Israel. For many, she has come to symbolize the ingenuity of everyday Israelis left to fend for themselves as militants turned sleeping southern communities into bloodbaths on Oct. 7.

After an early-morning air-raid siren, Edri returned from a bomb shelter in her hometown of Ofakim to find a band of Hamas militants in her living room. As gunfire raged outside, Edri’s home saw a 20-hour tete-a-tete between hospitality and brutality.

“One of the terrorists said to me: ‘You remind me of my mother.’”

“I told him, ‘I am really like your mother. I will help you, I will take care of you. What do you need?’” Edri told Ynet.

After one of the grenade-toting gunmen struck Edri across the face with the butt of his gun, Edri soothed him. She served the militants canned pineapple, tea and her signature Moroccan cookies. She sang them Arabic songs, and they replied with Hebrew ones. She offered the men Coke Zero — when they said they preferred Coca Cola, she obliged.

“After they drank and ate, they became much calmer,” Edri told Ynet. “I started having conversations, and at one point I even forgot for a moment that they were terrorists.”

After 17 hours, a rescue team was able to rescue Edri and her husband with the help of their son, Eviatar. A local policeman himself, Eviatar gave the team a sketch of the house, helping the rescuers surprise the militants and fatally shoot them. With the house heavily damaged, Edri has been relocated to a hotel in central Israel.

On Wednesday, she was one of several Israelis invited to meet with President Joe Biden during his whirlwind visit to Israel. She beamed and hugged Biden, as Biden thanked her for defending the country.

For plying the militants with snacks Edri has been touted online and in national media as the consummate Jewish mother, a play on the stereotype of a women who overfeeds guests. Israelis have also compared Edri to the biblical character of Yael, who slays an evil general by offering him food before killing him in his sleep.

The militants from the Gaza Strip blew through Israel’s highly fortified separation wall and entered Ofakim and more than 20 other border communities, killing at least 48 residents of Ofakim.

A group of civilians bearing pistols fought back Hamas militants armed with assault riots.

“They fought like lions here,” said Yoni Shalem, a man who lives down the street from Edri, describing the bravery of his neighbors. “Not the policemen, not the army — they did nothing. The only reason we’re alive is because of other citizens who came to protect us.”

Edri’s brother, Shimon Koram, said he was not surprised when he heard how Edri had managed to avoid near-certain death. Before the war, Edri was known for her hospitality and generosity, Koram said, working at a nearby military base cooking meals for soldiers.

The two were raised in a working class family in Ofakim with 12 siblings, he said, a childhood that taught them how to be scrappy.

“We learned to survive and acquired the wisdom of life like street cats,” Shimon said. “You can see that in how she acted. ”

Frankel is an Associated Press reporter in Jerusalem.