Manuel Varis is stuck with his group of pilgrims on Tuesday evening after an odyssey between Palestinian Bethlehem, via the Jewish city of Tiberias to Jordan and back to Jerusalem. While the fighter jets carry their bomb load into the Palestinian Gaza Strip and nobody knows what further extent the Middle East conflict between the Palestinian Islamists of the terrorist militia Hamas and the Israeli armed forces will become, Varis and people are desperately seeking help from the German authorities receive.
“We feel let down”
The restaurateur from Ahlen, Westphalia, states with complete horror: “We feel completely let down by the German federal government, the Foreign Office and the embassy.”
This is not an isolated case: it was learned that a total of 4,000 Christian German pilgrims are waiting for help in Israel. The Limburg deacon Marco Rocco also makes serious allegations against the Foreign Office. Since the beginning of the Hamas attacks, the cleric and his Catholic group have had to take refuge in bunkers in Jerusalem from rocket attacks.
He will never forget the noise of the explosions. “Yesterday we ran to a bunker to escape the rocket hits. The constant attacks and the constant siren alarms are mentally draining.” He received no help from the Foreign Office or the German embassy. Except for a standard message that you should only send a request in emergencies. “I ask myself what else has to happen other than rocket attacks endangering our lives?”
Escape to neighboring countries? “We are even safer here in Israel”
Rocco is outraged to note that numerous other countries such as Hungary, Italy, Austria and Turkey have long since had their citizens flown out. “We are only told that we should find a way to get home ourselves.” Preferably through Jordan. “Nobody knows how the mood in the neighboring Arab states will be if Israel really carries out a ground offensive,” says the deacon. None of his seven-member tour group would go to an Arab state. “We are even safer here in Israel.”
Disillusioned, Rocco states: “In Germany, we actually have a legal right to have the state help us. But this is not the case here. They simply abandon us and do nothing.” His wife and three children are waiting for the 37-year-old clergyman at home. “The children don’t sleep well; of course they want their father to return home safely.”
The German group may leave on Saturday
It should happen on Saturday. The plan is for a Ryanair jet to take off from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv with Rocco’s travel group. “But only if no more rockets fall,” is the bitter conclusion.
Most flights to Germany have been canceled for the time being. And so the Ahlen pilgrim Manuel Varis was put off: “We were actually supposed to fly back next Tuesday, but now the airline has offered us passage for next Thursday at the earliest.”
He only received an email from the German embassy that people should make their way from Tel Aviv to Arab Jordan. From there they would have to see how they could get home by jet. “True help looks different,” says the man in his mid-thirties, who is staying in a monastery in Jerusalem with the rest of his group of pilgrims. “We’re safe here for now,” believes Varis.
He originally wanted to visit the important sites in the “Holy Land” with his wife and 54 other members of a Syrian Orthodox tour group from Germany. “We are an ancient Aramaic religious group that has its origins in today’s Israel and Palestine,” explains the restaurant owner.
The Foreign Office offered no help
Saturday morning, Varis woke up with a start in his hotel bed in the Palestinian West Bank city of Bethlehem. Around six in the morning he heard a dull bang. There was a loud crash again and again. Heavy clouds of smoke rose over the nearby Gaza Strip. After a brief hesitation, it seemed clear that these were Hamas rocket attacks. An explosive atmosphere developed outside on the street, “but within three minutes Israeli soldiers came to help and shielded us.”
With mixed feelings, the tour group continued on to the Israeli city of Tiberias on the western bank of the Sea of Galilee. Uncertain about how the fighting would continue, Varis tried to contact the Foreign Office by email on Sunday. “But from there I only received standard automated messages that didn’t deal with our fate at all.” Instead, he was recommended to download an app for emergencies. Then came the recommendation to go to Jordan. “Eventually we were advised to take a trip via Palestine to Egypt, of course with no guarantees.”
Varis soon got fed up. The Westphalian tried to contact the German embassy directly to find a safe way home. According to her own statement, the employee told him succinctly that “the situation was volatile.” So rather fluctuating. At the same time, it was also made clear to those seeking help that they were welcome to try to fly back from Jordan. However, there would be no guarantee of success. In the meantime, the majority of the tour group is trying their luck in the neighboring Arab country.
But Varis doesn’t accept it. He also doesn’t rely on help from the German state authorities. “Nothing can be expected, unlike many other countries, Germany leaves its compatriots alone in their time of need.”
Baerbock: “100,000 calls at the same time, then you have to prioritize”
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock asked on ZDF on Tuesday evening for understanding for the delays in the departure of German tourists from Israel. “We have launched evacuation flights with other airlines. We arranged flight connections through the crisis hotline – those who were at the airport could contact us. You then had to change trains on some routes. I understand that this is a terrible situation, but when you have 100,000 calls at the same time, then you have to prioritize,” explained the Green politician.
Late on Tuesday evening it was announced that Lufthansa would be operating several special flights to evacuate Germans from Israel this Thursday and Friday. According to the Foreign Office, there will be four flights per day.