Brits in Israel blast Foreign Office for leaving them 'stranded'
EXCLUSIVE: Brits in Israel blast Foreign Office for leaving them ‘stranded’ and forcing them to pay thousands of pounds to escape the war
- One Jewish-British community leader said he had to spent £1m to fly his congregation back home
- Several airlines have suspended flight from Israel to the UK
- The UK’s Foreign Office still has not committed to repatriating British citizens
British citizens who have been trying to leave Israel since Saturday after Hamas attacked the country are furious with the UK’s Foreign Office and have accused it of leaving its citizens stranded thousands of miles from home.
Several British citizens who are currently still stuck in war-torn Israel, or were forced to fork out thousands of pounds to escape the country, have exclusively told MailOnline about the alleged failures of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) by not repatriating them five days into the bloodiest conflict between Israel and Palestine in decades.
This is despite several nations, including Bulgaria, Spain, Poland and Thailand, sending planes to Israel to collect their citizens and ensure they are far away from war, in which around 1,900 people have been reported to have died in the conflict since Saturday.
One London-based Jewish community leader revealed that he and his congregation have been forced to spend around £1 million paying for chartered flights back to the UK.
The FCDO has not yet said when or if it will send over planes to help repatriate them out of Israel.
Nikki Horesh (pictured, left) said she was terrified for the safety of her parents, Helena (pictured, middle) and Philip (pictured)
Airlines across the world have suspended flights to and from Israel amid rising violence in the region
The UK government has not committed to repatriating British citizens, despite nearly 2,000 people dying in just five days
So far, only a single mass message has been sent out to all British citizens known to be in Israel, which reads: ‘Our priority is to contact those who are in need of immediate consular assistance or who have reported missing friends or family.
‘If you have reported a British family member or friend missing and still require information or assistance, please contact us.
‘If you are in need of a UK travel document to leave Israel and have not been in touch with us already, please see information on our website.’
Booking commercial flights back to the UK is incredibly difficult. While the airspace above Israeli and Palestinian territory has not been officially closed, airlines across the world have decided to suspend their flights from Israel en masse over safety concerns.
EasyJet, WizzAir, Air France, Lufthansa and Emirates have all suspended their flights from Israel to British airports in the wake of erupting violence.
Philip said the FCDO were ‘useless’ and have been uncommunicative since the Hamas attack on Saturday
Nikki said she was worried about her and her family suffering anti-Semitic attacks in London
Helena said she empathised with Israeli nationals who now have to live in a war-torn country
Only Virgin and British Airways are running flights to the UK, but both carriers are only operating one round trip per day, meaning seats are few and far between.
Both Virgin and Israel’s national airline, El Al, which is still operating two four flights to the UK every day, have no availability on their UK-bound planes until at least next week.
Philip Horesh, a Jewish Londoner who was on holiday in Israel, said that despite the need for help from the UK government, none has come: ‘The [FCDO] were useless. No communication apart from banal announcements, no help to travel home for anyone.’
He said he was forced to fork out around £1,400 for flights from Tel Aviv to Gatwick, with an overnight stop at Izmir, Turkey.
On top of flights, he had to pay for last minute hotels and taxis to get around Tel Aviv and Izmir.
‘[We feel] much safer and relieved, but feel bad about leaving when the country needs as much help as it can get. There were more sirens in Tel Aviv and the airport on Tuesday, we’re worried for those who are still there.’
Debby Sharon (pictured with her dog) had been hiding away in the family’s safehouse for over 36 hours while their village, a community of just 120 families four kilometres from the Gaza border, came under Hamas fire
Debby put her foot on the accelerator and sped past tanks and dodged bullets
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‘[The FCDO] proactively needs to make individual contact with British citizens who have signed up to say they are in Israel, and offer assistance to leave if they are stranded.
‘A blanket message like the one we received doesn’t go far enough to help those who can’t get out of a country at war.’
His wife, Helena Horesh, said: ‘The biggest stress has been trying to find a way home.
‘The Israeli staff in our hotel have been so supportive and kind – we felt extremely emotional leaving them, knowing the worst is probably still to come.
‘We can’t wait to be home again with our family.’
Nikki Horesh, the couple’s daughter, said she was extremely worried about how her parents were going to make it home safely.
She said: ‘I was really nervous about them travelling from the hotel to the airport, given that at literally any moment their car could be intercepted, or hit by a rocket. I felt like they were exposed as soon as they were out of the hotel.’
She said that she tracked their flight from Tel Aviv to Izmir, Turkey, on Tuesday night to make sure that they were okay.
One man was told by an airport official to ‘leave everything’ after a siren went off in Ben Gurion airport
Smoke was seen rising through the air near the carpark at Ben Gurion Airport
Departure boards at the international gateway show dozens of flights out of Israel had been cancelled
Hundreds were left to their own devices as flight after flight from Ben Gurion was cancelled
Sirens wailed overhead as travellers were told to move to a nearby bomb shelter after a rocket crashed near the airport
Many countries around the world have made efforts to take their citizens out of Israel
READ MORE: Chilling screenshot shows Hamas terrorists arriving to kibbutz where they killed at least 100 people and beheaded women, children, babies and the elderly
Though she is glad that they have since made it home to London, she said:’ There is a sense of guilt that my parents are able to leave and come back home safely, but so many other people can’t.
‘Whether they’re Israeli nationals who are living in fear, or innocent Palestinians who are stuck in the Gaza Strip because of all the fighting.’
Nikki said that while she’s glad her parents are home safe, she fears that the worst is yet to come, given the seeming rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the world.
‘Literally all Jews around the world are worried. I know people who wear a Star of David all the time who are now nervous to wear it.’
The UK government currently believes there are up to 60,000 British nationals in Israel or Gaza, with at least 17 Brits feared dead or missing, including Jake Marlowe, a 26-year-old from London who was working in the security team for the Nova festival, in which 260 people died following a Hamas attack early on Saturday morning.
The BBC reported on Wednesday that there are children among the group of missing or dead British nationals.
While the FCDO says it has been assisting families, no evacuation has yet been planned.
Many countries across the world have deployed planes to repatriate their citizens
READ MORE: Anti-Semitic college group ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ are plotting a ‘Day of Resistance’ in support of ‘historic win’ against Israel after Hamas killed 1,200 people
This has caused significant strife for one London Jewish community leader, who did not wish to be named over fears of an anti-Semitic attack when he returned to the UK.
He told MailOnline that he and his congregation, of about 570 people, have been forced to fork out nearly £1 million to pay for four chartered flights back to the UK.
Formally, charter flights’ access to Israeli airspace is severely limited, given the military activity in the area.
But the community leader said that he was forced to push ahead with the costly repatriation to ensure that his congregation, who were in Israel for Jewish religious celebrations, were safe.
He said he managed to make it to Sofia, Bulgaria, on Tuesday and will be travelling back to London on Wednesday or Thursday.
‘When it comes to its citizens, so much more can be done with providing flights directly for the tens of thousands of citizens stuck in a war zone.’
After the attacks Saturday morning, Hamas took dozens of Israeli civilians hostage
Les Jacobson, another Jewish man from London who did not want to be pictured over fears of an anti-Semitic attack, said he was furious with the UK government’s response to the bloodiest conflict between Israel and Palestine in decades:
‘I’m so angry with the UK authorities. They’ll do anything for foreign countries’ humanitarian needs, but they simply don’t care about us.’
‘Look after your citizens. Don’t just leave them in the dark. Words are empty when they lack action.’
Les is currently stuck in Jerusalem with four members of his family. They are stuck in Israel until at least Wednesday, when their flight home is booked.
‘I’d love to leave, but there are simply no available tickets.
‘My children have no school, myself and my wife are struggling to work, and we are just about falling apart
‘I have no idea when the next siren will go off. All we hear all day and night, literally every few minutes, are fighter jets flying over. It’s a disaster.
Yossi Brandeis, from Manchester, said he has been calling the FCDO non-stop since Hamas’ attack on Saturday to get him, his wife Shirley and their six children home.
They are still stuck in Israel, and have been desperate to get back after their flights back to the UK were cancelled.
Yossi, who did not want to be pictured over fears of anti-Semitic attacks, said: ‘We are stressed beyond imagination, with no knowledge of how to get out.’
‘[The FCDO] told me we won’t get any other message other than this [mass text]. They aren’t doing anything though, they’re just trying to find out numbers. They said the whole purpose of registering is to give the UK government an idea of how many citizens they have in the country.
Yossi said the FCDO told him he would only get an email once a decision has been made, but said the person he spoke to had no clue when this would be.
Israel has no choice but to meet force with force. The Middle East’s only democracy has every right to defend itself (Pictured: Gaza on Sunday)
Palestinians inspect damages in the aftermath of Israeli strikes, following a Hamas surprise attack, at Beach refugee camp, in Gaza City, October 9
‘Every day we stay here, it gets worse. If, God forbid, [fighting] goes to the north of Israel then we’re gonna be trapped. They’ll shut the airport down, and we’ll have no way of getting out,’ he said.
‘We just feel so lost. We registered with the Foreign Office, but they never sent us any information.
‘We’re UK citizens. We need to be looked after.
‘We’re terrified, we’re desperate, and we don’t understand why the British government isn’t doing what the Polish did, what Australia did.’
The desperate pleas from British citizens come as more Hamas militants reportedly crossed into Israel overnight into Wednesday, pushing Israeli residents back into safe rooms as clashes escalate.
Residents of Ashkelon were said to have been told to head to safe spaces following reports of militants moving east over the border.
Israel also carried out airstrikes back into Gaza early on Wednesday as retaliatory bombing continued to flatten entire neighbourhoods in the coastal enclave.
It comes as Israel prepares for an anticipated ground offensive back into Gaza, having announced the mobilisation of some 360,000 reservists.
Speaking to soldiers near the border on Tuesday, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said: ‘Hamas wanted a change and it will get one. What was in Gaza will no longer be.
‘We started the offensive from the air, later on we will also come from the ground. We’ve been controlling the area since Day 2 and we are on the offensive. It will only intensify.’
MailOnline has contacted the FCDO for comment.
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