Holy Land Tour Interrupted By Hamas Invasion

Holy Land Tour Interrupted By Hamas Invasion July 8, 2024

View towards city of Jerusalem, including a gold-domed building, in the distance through barbed wire
The Hamas Invasion impacted Jerusalem and all of Israel. [Image by Rodolfo Quevenco from Pixabay]
Florida resident Leah Brown’s long-held dream to travel to the Holy Land and walk where Jesus had walked finally came true in October 2023. But the events which unfolded during her time in Israel greatly diverged from her tour group’s planned itinerary. Two days after her arrival, Hamas invaded Israel, shocking the world. The Hamas invasion collided with Leah’s Holy Land tour.

Off On A Holy Land Tour

Leah, a former high school assistant choral director and a pastor’s widow, learned about the Holy Land tour from her brother. The trip, sponsored by Pillar Seminary in Omaha, was scheduled for October 5-15, 2023. A total of seventeen people made up the tour group, including Leah’s two brothers and their wives and her neighbor Wendy Francis. Many of the tour participants had a connection to the seminary.

Arriving in Tel Aviv on October 5th, the group made its way to Migdal in the northern part of Israel on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Leah was delighted their hotel sat right on the shore. Group members sailed in the famed waters taking in the beautiful setting. They contemplated the site’s significance while sitting in the middle of the water body with the boat’s engines off. Her group held a sunrise service by the Sea of Galilee on Sunday morning.

View of Sea of Galilee from the shore with clouds in the sky and the sun beginning to rise
Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee [Picture by Leah Brown]

Disturbing News

But the group’s peaceful time by the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a lake, abruptly ended when their Israeli tour guide, Alex, informed the group of the invasion. With this news, the noises of jets Leah was hearing took on a more serious meaning. Living near Eglin Air Force Base, Leah was accustomed to hearing jets flying, so she hadn’t paid much attention to the sounds as she enjoyed time at the Sea of Galilee.

Members of the tour group reacted differently to the upsetting news of the invasion. Some were troubled and fearful, particularly when relatives back home called urging them to come home. Leah avoided watching the news, although other group members did. Tour group members made sure to locate the hotel’s “safe room” just in case.

Tour Interrupted By Hamas Invasion

Because of the military conflict, it was impossible for the tour to follow the planned itinerary. Nevertheless, the tour guides arranged alternate sites to visit. Happily Leah toured Nazareth, and the place captivated her. The city, which now boasts a population of around 80,000, contains areas preserved as if still in Bible times. Re-enactments of daily life back then, such as making pottery, are performed for  tourists. By the sheep pens, visitors receive an explanation of how shepherds interacted with their sheep. Leah’s tour group even ate a meal customary for the time of Jesus.

Unfortunately, the ongoing hostilities prevented Leah from going to Bethlehem, which is always closed in times of such conflict, and the Garden Tomb just outside Jerusalem. The tour group ultimately headed into Jerusalem, which was deemed the safest place to be.

What To Do?

Despite being in a foreign country under unexpected attack, Leah states she never felt anxious or worried. In fact, she says she felt “complete peace.” She was keenly aware of God’s presence with her and felt God talking to her at various points. Being physically in places she’d read about in the Bible made Scriptures “jump off the page” for Leah as well.

Alex, the Israeli tour guide, finally told the group the conflict was “not going to go away.” Efforts began to secure flights home. While Leah’s brother handled that assignment for her family, Leah ventured out to tour Jerusalem. Few people were on the streets, amazing the tour guide who had never seen such a lack of crowds. Other tour group members preferred the perceived safety of their hotel rooms over being out in public.

Escape To Jordan

With flights suspended, the tour group had to figure out another way out of the country. A plan was devised to drive the tour bus to a border crossing point with Jordan and head to Amman. Beth She’an, the only crossing providing entrance visas into Jordan, required a 140-mile trek.

Leah found the crowds headed to the crossing point “unbelievable,” and the line to the crossing point, which included many tourists, was long. Not only did the trip take hours, but the tour group stopped twice for armed guards to check their bus.

View of the city of Amman, Jordan
The tour group crossed the border into Jordan and stayed in Amman [Image by Julian Hacker from Pixabay]

In Jordan And Then Headed Home

Once in Amman, the largest city and capital of Jordan, group members were offered the opportunity to go sightseeing. Unfortunately, a group of men began harassing them while they were out, so tour members decided to Uber back to their hotel. In the car, Leah thought about texting some close friends to ask them to pray for her. But before she could do so, she began receiving texts from those friends informing her they were praying for her safety. Once again, God provided her peace of mind.

After a couple of days in Amman, Leah and Wendy, who had been Leah’s roommate on the trip, secured a flight out of the country. During the middle of the night, they flew from Amman to Greece. From there they flew on to JFK International Airport in New York City, ultimately arriving back in Niceville with the trip of a lifetime behind them.

Two smiling women sitting side by side in seats on plane
Leah (left) and Wendy (right) were relieved to fly back to the US [Image by Wendy Francis]

The Aftermath

Despite experiencing events on this tour she never anticipated, Leah says she would “LOVE” to go back to Israel when things settle down. But perhaps next time, the external circumstances will be as peaceful as her spirit was with God’s presence in Israel in the early days of the Israel-Hamas War. In the meantime, Leah has a powerful story to tell of the interruption of her Holy Land tour by the Hamas invasion.

About Alice H. Murray
After 35 years as a Florida adoption attorney, Alice H. Murray now pursues a different path as Operations Manager for End Game Press. With a passion for writing, she is constantly creating with words. Her work includes contributions to several Short And Sweet books, The Upper Room, Chicken Soup For The Soul, Abba’s Lessons (from CrossRiver Media), and the Northwest Florida Literary Review. Alice is a regular contributor to GO!, a quarterly Christian magazine in the Florida Panhandle, and she has three devotions a month published online by Dynamic Women in Missions. Her devotions have also appeared in compilation devotionals such as Ordinary People Extraordinary God (July 2023) and Guideposts’ Pray A Word A Day, Vol. 2 (June 2023) and pray a word for Hope (September 2023). Alice’s first book, The Secret of Chimneys, an annotated Agatha Christie mystery, was released in April 2023 with a second such book, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, to be released in April 2025. On a weekly basis, Alice posts on her blog about current events with a humorous point of view at aliceinwonderingland.wordpress.com. You can read more about the author here.

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