In the spring of 2023, Trent Sikes, of Glennville was thinking about a trip to the Holy Land. In his eyes it was a now-or-possibly-never decision as the world situation might deteriorate to a degree that such a trip would be impossible. In April he made the decision, and he found a place to stay for $40 a night in Jerusalem. He arrived in mid-September 2023, and he planned to stay six weeks.
On October 7, he was awakened around 6:30 a.m. by an App on his cell phone alerting him that some kind of attack was imminent. He remembers that his phone was “going crazy” but wasn’t overly concerned because rockets fired from Gaza are fairly common. He deleted the message and went back to sleep. He really wasn’t worried; he felt safer on the streets of Jerusalem than he has in Savannah, Georgia, at times.
About 9 a.m., there was a second message concerning an attack, and a heavy rocket bombardment that shook the building and rattled windows began shortly thereafter. The Iron Dome intercepted most of the rockets but some got through. The information about the attack was not specific, and it cleared about noontime. Later there was news about the intensity of the attack and reports of an invasion on the Gaza border and hostage taking.
It was obviously planned as a sneak attack. It was on the last day of the Festival of the Tabernacle, which is the holiest day of the year. Everyone would be resting and not unlike the December 7, 1941, Sunday morning attack on Pearl Harbor when so many sailors were still asleep.
On Sunday, October 8, 2023, the day was calm but more reports of what had happened in areas adjacent to the Gaza Strip began to surface. Panicked foreigners began trying to get out, but most of the major air carriers halted service into and out of Israel immediately as they began to see how widespread the attacks were. Only the Israeli airlines were flying. Some European or other foreign countries sent in aircraft to get their citizens out. Trent had an Australian friend to get out that way.
A little later, he heard machine gun fire where Israeli police were ambushed and killed. The incident was televised and reported on news outlets everywhere, and the panic really began to spread. He mentioned that rocket fire was one thing, but machine gun fire relatively close by was a little different. Flights were being canceled and visitors were terrified. He remembered people were crying and not at all sure what to do or how to do it.
As news and social media reports began to clarify what had happened in the Jewish settlements on the south end of the Gaza Strip, he saw some of the first photographs of women who had been murdered and sometimes raped and the photos of children who’d been murdered.
“I wouldn’t recommend viewing them,” he said. “It is grisly.”
“I was concerned but not panicked,” he continued. “I knew I would either get out or get killed. I figured my flight would be cancelled, and I got a text about four days before I was scheduled to fly out stating that it was canceled. About five minutes later, I got a text that the U.S. Embassy was offering flights out.”
“I have to say the American Embassy efforts to get Americans out were very organized. The personnel carrying out the operation were efficient and helpful,” he said. “They were honest and up front and said they had no idea where we would be going. They were just getting us onto an aircraft to get us out of the country. We would be on our own after that. We had to sign a statement that we would pay for the cost of my ticket home. My flight was a little chaotic. It went to Athens, Greece, and then to Zurich, Switzerland. I almost missed my plane to Chicago, but I made it and finally arrived in Savannah about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning and got home about 4 a.m.”
When asked about his assessment of the situation overall, he was direct and to the point. “We are still fighting the kind of idiots that hit the Twin Towers,” he said. “They are the reason we have to have to take our shoes off to be checked before boarding a flight. They have absolutely no respect for human life. If you were anywhere near the area where they invaded on the Gaza border, they came to kill you. It didn’t matter if you are Christian, Jew, atheist, man, woman, child, or baby. Before I left, they were threatening to kill hostages on television and broadcast it. Their plan was to kill or kidnap everyone they could and use them for human shields or get concessions by threats to murder them.
“By contrast, Israel has gone out of their way not to kill innocents. The Israeli military has the capacity to turn the cities in the Gaza strip into rubble. Now, if the shoe was on the other foot, the terrorists would kill everyone in Israel. That is what they want; they have said that over and over.
“Now, Hezbollah is threatening to enter on the northern end of Gaza. No one knows what President Biden will do if that happens, but as of now he has said the United States will support Israel. (Note: On Monday, October 16, Iran was threatening to intervene if Israeli shelling of Hezbollah continued.)
“One of the criticisms I hear most is that Israel is an apartheid nation. Well, they have no choice. If they let the Palestinians come and go as they please, there will be bombings every day. Since the wall was completed in 2003, the suicide bombing has ceased. The Israeli government has to protect their citizens.
“Israel does not kill indiscriminately; it is obvious they don’t want to kill innocent men, women and children. But it’s like living next door to a crazy person who threatens to kill you, your wife, and your children every day, and then tries to do it, and other neighbors don’t want you to protect yourself. But everyone I talked to stated that this was over the line and it would be the last time. Who can blame them?”
Trent Sikes is the son of Lee McLeod of Glennville. He operates the Glennville Jujitsu Martial Arts School in Glennville.