The stark reality was, we could be trapped in the biggest Israeli conflict in 50 years
By Tim Bennett
Internet research told me Hamas had been firing thousands of missiles into Israel since 6:30 a.m. and had infiltrated the southern border killing hundreds of innocent people.
Some missiles were even reaching Tel Aviv where we were scheduled to take a 5:35 a.m. flight on Sunday. One article I read quoted a Hamas leader calling for all Muslims in Israel to join the fight.
This last bit of news was disconcerting since our lodging was located in an Arab neighborhood and we’d have to drive through it to get out of the city. When my wife, Veronique, initially told me our small group of five would be in a guesthouse in a Muslim neighborhood, I voiced my concerns — especially since we had American passports. At the time, the leading couple from France, Patrick and Joelle, waved off my anxieties as American paranoid thinking.
“It is perfectly safe,” they assured me. “We’ve stayed there before.”
Now, the stark reality was —we could be trapped in the biggest Israeli conflict in 50 years.
When we saw Patrick, he told us the director of the Maison Abraham advised him to get to the airport as early as possible since the roads would likely close later in the day. Patrick looked tense and insisted that we all leave immediately. He’d confidently taken us to meet a wide variety of French people with amazing, but challenging, ministries in the south, central and northern areas of Israel, as well as to visit some historic sites. It was the first time I’d seen him rattled.
I was not convinced, however, that his plan was our best option. What if some young radical Muslim zealots heard the call to arms and knew there were Americans in the guesthouse? It would be easy to block our narrow road and capture us.
On the other hand, would we really be safe in our gated compound? Yes, there was a large metal gate, but I had not seen any security people on the grounds. Would it really be so difficult to get in somewhere if a raging mob of terrorists surrounded the property? The old battle of faith versus fear came surging to the forefront, not unlike when COVID-19 hit the United States, but more up close and personal.
“Let’s pray,” I said. “I don’t want to run out of fear or just because some guy tells us to go. I only want to go if God is directing us.”
Everyone agreed and we bowed our heads and asked God if we should heed the director’s warning, or stay put. After several moments of silence listening to God, we all sensed He was telling us to go, including Simone, the 19-year-old young woman from Gabon, Africa who had come with us.
Our leader’s wife, Joelle, said, “When I opened my eyes I was looking directly at that ceramic plaque on the wall.” She pointed to the plaque positioned shoulder height to the right of one of the guest rooms. It had etched on it an open door indicating a welcome to all who lodged there. To her, it was confirmation that our path was clear, go to the airport.
Before leaving the property, Veronique read Psalm 91 about God’s protection. We loaded the car, got in and approached the gate. It slowly creaked open and we descended the narrow, cluttered hill, lined with parked cars, some operational, some not, on both sides. It was probably about 10:30 a.m.
Surprisingly, when we passed through the gate, there were many people in cars ahead of us and they weren’t moving. I tried not to imagine what was causing the blockage. I thought of the Arab children who’d said something menacingly to us as we walked through their neighborhood just a few days earlier. Finally, after several agonizing minutes, we began to move slowly. We passed Arabic shops and came to the round point. With relief we saw a big bus causing the slowdown and two Jewish police officers with their guns (lowered). No big protest crowd. No angry mob chanting, “Death to Israel and America!”
With mostly no cars on the highway we made it to the Tel Aviv airport around noon. We checked the departure flights on the board and noticed many flights had been cancelled. Veronique went to the Israeli airline counter and asked a tall, husky, airline employee if our flight was still on. He looked at her and said, “War or no war. We fly.”
When my daughter, Alicia, in the States heard what the man had said she thought it was an irresponsible and cavalier way to respond when there were so many passengers’ lives at stake. She and my oldest son, Samuel, thought we might be safer to hide out at the nearest U.S. embassy. To us, however, it was music to our ears. One thing we did not want to do is get stuck in a war-torn country with an uncertain future.
Hours later, we heard an explosion coming from outside the airport, possibly a Hamas missile being intercepted by Israel’s mostly effective “iron dome” defense system.
People were panicking and running to a corner of the lower floor where we were located. A voice on the airport public address system was telling us to go to the shelters. I felt panic trying to get a hold of me and resisted the emotion, reminding myself of God’s promises. Everyone in our group grabbed their things and we walked to the corner where hundreds were waiting to be led to the shelters. After several minutes, the PA voice returned and said we could resume our previous positions.
As we were all making our way back to our seats, a spontaneous prayer group of 100 people formed. They held hands and began praying aloud in a foreign language. Many Christians were in Israel for the annual “March of the Nations” to declare their support of Israel, from all over the world, so it was inspiring to see so many turning to God in our time of crisis.
After staying awake all night, at 2 a.m., we got on line for the three-hour trudge through the customs. The last hurdle to clear was the takeoff. I don’t know if anyone else was thinking this but I wouldn’t be completely comfortable until we flew beyond the range of rocket-propelled grenades.
One of the hardest things was not knowing what was going on outside the airport. We didn’t even know how many Israeli soldiers were out there or if the terrorists were close by. One woman told us she had been inside a hotel in Tel Aviv with her husband and they could hear terrorists inside their building. Fortunately, at that moment, a busload of Israeli soldiers showed up and the terrorists ran.
As I felt the vibrating power and the hum of the jet lift us above the ground and then through the clouds I could finally relax. When we touched down at the Marseille airport, the relief we all felt was palpable. We found ourselves smiling again and we thanked God for our safe arrival.
One thing, however, we can’t forget is the wonderful people we met ministering in Israel and the nightmare it is for so many people in that country. We will continue to pray for Israel, the foreigners trapped there and for the release of those held hostage until they are released and the war is over.