Israel-Hamas war: Americans hoping to leave country with help from US must agree to repay government before departure

SAN FRANCISCO — As many Americans in Israel try to get home, they’re faced with more than just the challenge of how and when they can get a flight.

“I’ve only been here about a week and a half, it feels like it’s been like almost a lifetime,” said Manny Yekutiel the locally known owner of Manny’s in San Francisco.

He first got to Israel last Wednesday.

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“I came here to see my family, they live here and to celebrate with them,” Yekutiel said. “The holiday that was supposed to happen on Saturday was supposed to be one of the happiest days of the year for Jews.”

Instead he says it’s been a living nightmare.

“Saturday, I woke up in my sister’s home and heard sonic booms overhead and spent that entire day in and out of bomb shelters,” he said. “I saw hundreds of children in synagogues run for cover, and protect themselves and have their parents protect them. I’ve stayed in Tel Aviv, two blocks away from an apartment that was blown up by a missile strike.”

For the last four days, he’s spent time volunteering in Tel Aviv.

He and the other volunteers packaging up food, and other essentials for soldiers and families who have lost loved ones.

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“I’ve decided to be as useful as I can,” he said. “And also, now I’m in the stage where I’m trying to figure out how, if I can get home?”

Yekutiel was originally supposed to come back Monday night but says he’s had multiple flights canceled on him since.

The Department of State said in a statement Thursday that starting Friday, the U.S. government will arrange charter flights to assist U.S. citizens trying to leave Israel.

Thursday, Yekutiel was sent an email from the department outlining more details.

“It basically said, I’ll be getting a phone call, and I’ll either be getting on a boat or a plane and I don’t have a choice (between the two) and to be ready to go,” said Yekutiel.

Yekutiel shared that email with ABC7, sent from a U.S. government email address.

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It offers U.S. assistance to get out of Israel via plane or ship to either Germany, Greece, or Cyprus.

Getting back to the U.S. after that is on Manny. The email says before departing, passengers will be asked to sign an agreement to repay the U.S. government.

We reached out to the State Department to verify the email, they referred us back to the Thursday statement.

Yekutiel says he still has not had time to process what he’s witnessed but it’s forever changed how he views his life back in the United States.

“Warfare, whole cities being shut down, whole cities being evacuated,” he reflected on the last few days in Israel, “It just makes the things that people find important to fight about in the Bay Area, it puts them in perspective.”

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