A Christian tour group from the Diocese of West Fargo, North Dakota, was touring Bethlehem and found itself stuck in the little village in Palestine when the Hamas attacks on Israel began, with war breaking out around them as they tried to tour the Holy Land.
That group, composed of about 84 people, had to escape Bethlehem and make their way to Jordan to get out of the war zone when the Hamas terror attacks began, turning what had previously been a normal Holy Land trip into a tense situation with the potential to become an unmitigated disaster.
Their predicament grew all the worse when their escape options became limited as the conflict escalated, with how they would be able to get out of the country and if they would be able to even fly home being far from certain with bullets flying as rockets and bombs rained down across Israel and Gaza.
That’s when Mark “Oz” Geist, a hero from the Benghazi disaster, got involved in helping the church group get out before it was too late. He did so after John McDonald, a man whose sister was stuck in the Bethlehem tour group and who knew Geist, made contact.
McDonald, commenting to Fox News Digital on the situation, said, “I was getting text message from my sister that were pretty panicked about what was going on. We were providing updates, just based on what we had seen on Fox News at that point. And I reached out to Mark and asked if he had any resources.”
Geist got to work reaching out to contacts in the region and trying to find a way out. Describing the group’s predicament, he said, “They were unsure of what to do. Their flights were out of Tel Aviv… but the airline companies at the time had told them that they couldn’t rebook them.”
Geist eventually figured out that the group needed to head to the border with Jordan rather than trying to fly out of Tel Aviv, given the security situation in the region and how Air Canada had to cancel their flight out of Tel Aviv.
That method of egress proved successful, and the group made it to Jordan without incident and then was eventually able to find a flight back to the United States, well after they had initially planned on heading home.
Describing how little help the US government was in getting the tour group out of the war zone, McDonald told Fox News Digital, “We’ve got to do a better job giving American citizens overseas that are stuck in a war zone information, intel, and guidance on where to go and what to do.”
A spokesperson for the State Department did not address the issue directly but made excuses for what many described as its being unhelpful to those stuck in the region, saying, “We have been advising U.S. citizens who wish to leave and can do so safely to check the status of the border crossings or verify flights have not been cancelled before heading to the Ben Gurion Airport. We are acutely aware of the limited capacity on commercial flights and the high demand from U.S. citizens wanting to depart. Our goal is to assist U.S. citizens who want to leave Israel with a safe means of doing so.”
Featured image credit: By Daniel Case – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47135975
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