“At evening time, terror …” (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 17:14)
The missile struck shortly after the El Al New York-Tel Aviv flight had passed over the island of Rhodes. There was a blinding double white flash of light, which lit the evening sky from horizon to horizon – and kept on glowing, eerily. There were gasps and shrieks from different parts of the Boeing 757 aircraft.
Then the blast turbulence hit the airplane. It had been a smooth flight so far, with a cloudless sky slowly darkening as they approached their destination in Tel Aviv. Now it felt as though they were flying through a very severe thunderstorm. The plane bucked and rocked violently and the gasps turned to screams. Immediately, the seat belt signs were illuminated.
Presently the motion quietened and a murmur of conversation broke out throughout the plane. ‘That was a bomb, for sure!’ an American accent said confidently. ‘What on earth kind of bomb was it?’ another voice queried, ‘Was it a nuclear strike?’
The intercom buzzed and the calm voice of the Israeli captain came on. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, sorry for the unexpected turbulence. We will be beginning our descent to Ben Gurion Airport in a few minutes. Meanwhile, we are trying to find out what exactly that was we just witnessed, there. As soon as we know for sure, I’ll inform you. Please remain calm and stay in your seats for now. Thank you.’
The passenger on Shaul’s left turned to him, ‘What the hell do you think that was, then?’ His voice had a slight wobble of fear in it. ‘Must have been one almighty explosion,’ said Shaul, ‘to light up the whole sky like this. I don’t know, possibly a nuclear missile?’
Just as he spoke they heard a passenger on the starboard side of the plane say something about a ‘mushroom cloud’, then, ‘Oh my God!’ and similar exclamations as more passengers witnessed the bright cloud ascending higher and higher into the night sky on the right hand side of the plane.
A man’s voice could be heard reciting, ‘Sh’ma, Israel, Adonoi elohaynu …’ – the Shema prayer. Many others joined in.
‘They’ve finally done it,’ one lady said, as another woman began weeping quietly. ‘It’s the end of Israel. We’re gonna be blown out of the sky! We’re all gonna ...’ Her voice was rising on an increasing note of panic.
Thankfully, right then the captain’s calm voice came back on the intercom. ‘We’ve just heard back from the control tower. What we just witnessed a few minutes ago apparently was indeed a nuclear strike against Israel. The missile appears to have hit somewhere south of Tel Aviv, thankfully missing the main populated areas of the city, though nobody has any idea yet of exactly where, or how many casualties there might be.
‘Meanwhile, as we’re so close to our destination, we’ve been cleared to land at Ben Gurion Airport, though all later flights are being diverted to European airports. I don’t know if we’re the lucky ones, or not!
‘A state of emergency now exists throughout Israel, so please expect delays when we do get on the ground. I would ask you all to remain calm, fasten your seat belts and return your seats to the upright position. We’ll be landing in a few moments. We’ll find out what’s happening to our dear country, then.’
Shaul found himself releasing his seatbelt, standing up and moving to the front of the plane. ‘My friends’, he spoke loudly enough to bring a relative quiet to the passengers, ‘I would like to read a Psalm, if I may?’ Several of the passengers nodded. One man shouted out, ‘Amen! Please do.’ Encouraged, Shaul continued, ‘I think this is very appropriate to this new situation:
‘Tehillim/Psalms 83:2 O God, do not be silent; do not hold aloof; do not be quiet, O God! 3 For Your enemies rage, Your foes assert themselves. 4 They plot craftily against Your people, take counsel against Your treasured ones. 5 They say, “Let us wipe them out as a nation; Israel’s name will be mentioned no more.” 6 Unanimous in their counsel, they have made an alliance against You— 7 the clans of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, 8 Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; 9 Assyria too joins forces with them; they give support to the sons of Lot. Selah. 10 Deal with them as You did with Midian ...
“14 O my God, make them like thistledown, like stubble driven by the wind. 15 As a fire burns a forest, as flames scorch the hills, 16 pursue them with Your tempest, terrify them with Your storm. 17 Cover their faces with shame so that they seek Your name, O Adonai. 18 May they be frustrated and terrified, disgraced and doomed forever. 19 May they know that Your name, Yours alone, is Adonai, supreme over all the earth.’
There was complete silence on the plane as Shaul turned the pages to another text. ‘And also from the prophet, Yeshayahu:’ he continued:
‘Yeshayahu/Isaiah 17:12 Ah, the roar of many peoples
That roar as the sea roars,
The rage of nations that rage
As the mighty waters rage—
13 Nations raging like massive waters!
But He shouts at them, and they flee far away,
Driven like chaff before winds in the hills,
And like tumbleweed before a gale.
14 At eventide, lo, terror!
By morning, it is no more.
Such is the lot of our despoilers,
The portion of them that plunder us.
‘My fellow Israelites, this evening we do indeed have terror, but perhaps, HaShem willing, by tomorrow morning things will look completely different? Toda raba.”
“Amen, amen!” several of the passengers responded.
One elderly man began to recite a prayer,
‘Baruch ata Adonai, Yisrael go’eil. Blessed are you, O Lord, the redeemer of Israel. Look upon our affliction and plead our cause, and redeem us speedily for your Name’s sake, for you are a mighty redeemer. Blessed are you, O Lord, the redeemer of Israel.’
Again many passengers responded with ‘Amen.’
At that moment, two fighter jets with Israeli markings appeared either side of the airliner, raising a cheer from the shocked, but now slightly reassured, passengers.
The fighters veered off shortly after as the airliner flew over the beaches and tower blocks of Tel Aviv, landing normally at Ben Gurion Airport, to a more enthusiastic burst of applause than usual, as the wheels touched Israeli soil and a certain amount of the built-up tension was relieved, however temporarily.
The captain’s voice came back on, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are officially at war. Missiles, rockets and mortars are being fired at Israel from several directions – including Gaza, Lebanon and Sinai. The nuclear missile appears to have been fired from Syrian territory. IDF drones and jets are already responding to these attacks.
‘We would ask all passengers to remain in your seats with your seat belts securely fastened. When we are ready to disembark, please allow any IDF or reserve personnel to de-plane first. More missiles may be on their way – it’s a strong possibility. Ladies and gentlemen, it seems that our dear country is once again at war!’
As usual the passengers – with the exception only of a few bemused and terrified tourists – completely disregarded these instructions, immediately beginning a mad scramble for their belongings.
‘Do you see my bag? Get my bag, Irving,’ cried an elderly Jewish woman in a plaintive New York accent. ‘Why are they allowing all these young people to leave first? It’s not right. The airport isn’t a safe place. Surely, we should be allowed to leave first.’
‘They’re gonna be fighting for Israel, my dear. And mebbe they’re gonna die a lot sooner than we will, who knows,’ the soothing voice of her elderly husband said.
Shaul left the plane with other military personnel and as he entered the bus laid on especially for them a young man approached him, ‘Segen (Lieutenant) Shaul Levine?’ ‘Ken,’ replied Shaul (yes). ‘We have a car waiting for you outside the terminal.’ The young man added, ‘Please stay close behind me.’