As the conflict between Israel and Hamas worsens, families caught in the middle have been facing difficulties returning home to the United States. Major American airlines canceled flights in and out of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, making it challenging for American citizens in Israel to find a way back. The number of U.S. citizens confirmed dead amid the conflict has risen to 29, according to the State Department.
Families began arriving at American airports on Friday and Saturday after having to take complicated routes through European countries such as Athens, Madrid, and Rome. Many had to travel on the Jewish Sabbath, even though it is typically forbidden in their religious practice. One family, who declined to give their last names out of concern for their safety, reunited at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The Manhattan couple, David and Ruth, along with their 3-year-old daughter, had been separated for a month. They were among many families who were able to book connecting flights home after the Biden administration announced it would charter flights from Israel to European destinations.
Despite their reunion, the couple still hopes to move back to Israel before the new year. Both David and Ruth were born in Israel, and their daughter was born in the United States. They had been staying in Israel when the conflict erupted and were forced to find a way back home amidst the chaos. Ruth had been staying with her mother in the southern city of Eilat, where friends had died in the attacks, and she had spoken to a cousin who hid in a bomb shelter near Gaza for over 12 hours.
The journey back to the United States was filled with challenges and emotions for the family. They had to make countless calls to airlines to find a flight, and the cost of some options reached up to $9,000. They spent a few days in Madrid, a country Ruth had never visited, and she had to navigate the tragedy she left behind while caring for her daughter.
Other families faced similarly difficult journeys. One man, Jeff Eliah, had been in Israel for a wedding when he heard a bomb go off and was advised to stay in his hotel room. His flight from Tel Aviv to Cyprus was canceled, but he managed to secure a flight to Athens and eventually to Newark Airport. He still had a way to go to reach his final destination of Florida, where he hoped to find safety.
The U.S. State Department has been urging Americans in Israel and the West Bank to register online, but the situation in Gaza remains dire. The American embassy in Israel encouraged Americans in Gaza to reach out to them online for assistance, but the lack of electricity in Gaza poses another challenge. As the conflict continues, the State Department has issued travel advisories, urging Americans to reconsider travel to Israel and the West Bank due to terrorism and unrest.
For families waiting for their loved ones at airports, the wait is also difficult. Some could only sob quietly when they were finally able to embrace their family members after a long and treacherous journey.
The situation in Israel and Gaza remains highly volatile, with no clear end in sight. Families caught in the middle are desperately trying to find a way back to the safety of their homes in the United States. The ongoing conflict serves as a reminder of the toll war takes on innocent civilians and the importance of finding peaceful resolutions.