Americans hoping to leave Israel with help from US must agree to repay government before departure

ByZach Fuentes KABC logo
Friday, October 13, 2023
US to help Americans leave Israel but there's a catch
Americans hoping to leave Israel with help from U.S. must agree to repay the government before they leave the war zone.

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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A young man who was at a music festival in Israel when Hamas militants launched their attack arrived safely in Los Angeles and reunited with his family.

"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."

Guidance from the U.S. State Department on how to access Departure Assistance:

  • U.S. citizens who wish to leave Israel on their own and can do so safely should check the status of the border crossings or verify flights have not been cancelled before heading to the Ben Gurion Airport. Commercial flights are available but limited. The U.S. State Department encourages U.S. citizens who wish to leave Israel to take advantage of those options now.
  • For U.S. citizens who choose to take advantage of U.S. departure assistance, transportation may be by air or sea and will be to a nearby safe location and not to the United States.
  • U.S. citizens seeking U.S. government-provided departure assistance should contact the State Department by using the crisis intake form on or by calling 1-833-890-9595 (toll free) or 1-606-641-0131.
  • The State Department has a team communicating 24/7 with U.S. citizens and providing them assistance through phone calls and the online form. If U.S. citizens have departed Israel, the State Department asks them to submit an update to the form noting their departure.
  • Travelers should be prepared to arrange their own lodging at the safe location and pay for their own onward travel from the third country to their chosen destination. The State Department will have consular officials on hand to assist travelers upon arrival.
  • Departure assistance is provided via a loan from the U.S. government, which requires travelers to sign a promissory note (an agreement to repay) prior to departure.
  • U.S. citizens should not go to a seaport, airport, or other departure location until notified by the State Department directly. Travel within Israel is conducted at the person's own risk, and plans may change depending on the security situation.
  • The State Department strongly encourages U.S. citizens in Israel to enroll their contact information in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
  • Further updates can also be found from the U.S. Embassy in Israel here.