Forty-six members of a California-based church group trapped in Israel without a way home are pleading with the Biden administration to intervene and help get them back.
The group is making the desperate plea after major airlines canceled almost all flights out of the country since the Hamas attack there Saturday.
As US officials warn that the conflict could last weeks if not months, the Holy Land tour group, from Impact Bible Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., is pleading with the State Department to charter flights to help evacuate Americans from Israel.
“They need to start getting Americans out,” said Silver Prout, who is among the 46 US citizens stuck in Israel. “Where is the State Department?”
While other nations – including Germany, Hungary and Mexico – have arranged charter flights to pick up their citizens stranded in Israel, the State Department did not have plans to do so as of Tuesday night.
When asked about its efforts to help US citizens escape, a department rep told The Post that US citizens is Israel should “check with the airlines on the availability of flights and flight status.”
“Ben Gurion International Airport [in Tel Aviv] remains open, but some flights have been reduced or suspended,” the representative said. “The airport’s website also has information on the status of flights and the status of the airport.”
But roughly half of the airport’s departure flights had been canceled as of 6 p.m. Tuesday, with others currently “delayed,” according to the website.
“US citizens are reminded to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness as security incidents, including mortar and rocket fire, often take place without warning,” the rep said, further warning Americans to be cautious if considering leaving the country by car.
“The security situation remains dynamic,” the representative said. “The Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza is closed until further notice, and US citizens in Gaza who wish to leave and can do so safely are advised to check the status of the Rafah Crossing into Egypt.”
The group landed in Tel Aviv on Wednesday for a 10-day tour of the Holy Land. While their first few days were spent visiting religious sites, panic sunk in roughly 20 minutes into their bus ride for another excursion Saturday when reports of the atrocities in Gaza came out.
The next day, guides from the tour company, Trans-Global Travel, attempted to salvage another day of the trip, bringing the group to the Sea of Galilee for a church service and baptism in its waters – until Israel’s Ministry of Tourism called for all tours to end and warned tourists to shelter in place.
“As we concluded baptisms, I could tell [something was wrong. I went up to the tour guide, and you could tell he looked very troubled,” Prout said. “So I asked him, ‘What’s really going on?’ And he said, ‘What you need to now [is] we’re going to head back to the hotel and head to the airport tonight.’ “
The tour company first secured Air Canada flights out of Tel Aviv on Tuesday for the group, but they were later canceled. The group was then booked a total of $18,000 in tickets out of Turkish Airlines to leave Friday – but the airline suspended all Israel flights Tuesday.
For now, the group is in a safe location not near the fighting on the West Bank – but Prout said she fears her fellow US citizens are being placed in further jeopardy with each hour that ticks by.
“It’s only going to get worse in the coming days,” she said. “[Israeli forces] are doing a good job containing it, but there’s going to be that pressure from the north from Hezbollah, and then, you know, an airport is the biggest [terrorism] target,” she said.
With nothing but a canceled plane ticket and no information from American authorities on assistance, Prout said the group now can only pray for its escape.
But the California group is not alone, according to Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who co-chairs the House Israel Allies Caucus.
In a terse letter to Biden on Tuesday, Smith said he has heard from many constituents who are in or have family in Israel.
“As you must be aware, most airlines have canceled flights out of Israel, with little information about when they may resume,” he wrote. “Remaining flights do not suffice to evacuate the large number of U.S. nationals in Israel, and the administration should consider engaging or facilitating chartered flights to get our citizens home.
“I urge you to use all appropriate US resources and tools to arrange for the immediate evacuation of American citizens in Israel who are desperately trying to return home. The dangers these US citizens face are so grave, and the responsibility of the US government for their safety so paramount, that their evacuation must be the uppermost immediate priority of the US government in Israel and the Middle East” he added.