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Gilad Perez

On the evacuation flight to the Netherlands

The Dutch government's repatriation flight. © DPG/Gilad Perez
The Dutch government's repatriation flight. October 14th, 2023. DPG/Gilad Perez

A Dutch flag, staff wearing orange vests, and clogs at the desk. That’s what Dutch evacuees should look for on Saturday at the Tel Aviv airport. Upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, the delegations from Mexico and France must be noticed. The Dutch, American, and British desks are hidden on the second floor.

From vacationers to Israelis with Dutch passports, everyone looks relieved in line for passport control. Some got too hot under their feet. With them, there is satisfaction. Others have double feelings. Thus, Margriet (60) and Sjoerd (65) Rinsma feel relief, but certainly also love for the country where they were already for the 21st time. “Our hearts will always remain here in Israel. When the weather calms down, we’ll just book another flight.”

Margriet and Sjoerd were in Israel for the festivities surrounding the Feast of Tabernacles. As so-called messianic Jews, the two stayed in Jerusalem. Like every other Israeli, on Saturday morning, they were startled by the bloody attack by Hamas, which has already killed more than 1,300 Israelis. “That was quite a shock. But we were not afraid for a second,” says Sjoerd. “Faith helped; after all, we are in the holy land.”

The couple was supposed to fly back to the Netherlands on Wednesday, but that flight was canceled. Then, their return flight with Transavia was scheduled for Saturday, but that too was canceled. In the end, Sjoerd and Margriet flew on Saturday with the defense plane to Eindhoven, and from there, they drove home to Leeuwarden. “The home front was incredibly worried.”

650 Dutch people evacuated
The fourth repatriation flight of the Dutch government is less filled than previous flights with 108 evacuees. Since Wednesday, a defense plane has flown daily between Eindhoven and Tel Aviv. Until Saturday, the Dutch government had repatriated more than 650 civilians.

Staff from the Netherlands Worldwide (part of Foreign Affairs) say they are doing everything possible to evacuate everyone. “We continue to call everyone who has registered with the Information Service,” an email states. Military aircraft also regularly take people from other countries. On Saturday, the aircraft also carried 6 people from other European countries.

On Saturday, the holy day of rest in Judaism, the war is felt everywhere. The airport is quieter than usual, but at the same time not deserted. Although many airlines no longer fly into Tel Aviv, many governments feel the obligation to repatriate their citizens.

And then the air alert goes off. Travelers are taken to a so-called safe room to shelter from Hamas’ rockets. The Dutch know how to act. Earlier in the day, the center of Tel Aviv was already rocked by the sirens. The air defense system usually shoots Hamas rockets out of the sky (Iron Dome).

On the plane, one of the German soldiers – the crew consists of both German and Dutch soldiers – says how defense relies on Israeli technology. Partly because of the presence of the Iron Dome and partly because of the Israeli defenses available to their defense aircraft. Missiles are recognized on board by sensors and destroyed by lasers.

‘Oh shit’
Elijah Banks (19) had been in Israel for two months for a language program for Jewish youth. He was not startled by the sirens Saturday morning; he was staying in northern Israel, a bit further away from the Gaza Strip than Tel Aviv. “When I saw it I did think, ‘oh shit.’ My mother called me right away worried.”

Banks enjoyed being in Israel and found it “totally awesome” there. It was therefore far from certain whether he would leave Israel. He hesitated, but decided to apply for this flight anyway. “I had nothing left to do here.” At the airport in Eindhoven, Banks’ entire family is waiting. He doesn’t expect to continue the program in Israel. “Eventually, you want to return, but this might take years. This is already the biggest war since the Yom Kippur War.”

About the Author
As a freelance journalist in Tel Aviv, Gilad closely follows developments in Israel and the territories. He does this for, among others, The Times of Israel (as an social media intern) and Algemeen Dagblad (as correspondent). He has also written several stories for NRC, a Dutch quality newspaper. He attaches great importance to journalistic concepts such as independence and objectivity.
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