A group of New York City-area law enforcement officials were among those U.S. citizens who were in Israel when Hamas unleashed a surprise attack on the country from the Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing hundreds and taking roughly 150 hostages.
The officials—which included 32 prosecutors and police representatives from the city, as well as Long Island and surrounding counties—had been in Israel for a weeklong seminar by the nation's Ministry for Diaspora Affairs and Combatting Antisemitism, The New York Times reports. The conference had been set to begin Sunday.
“This was not the plan, to fly into a war zone,” said Mitchell Silber, the organizer of the trip and the head of the Community Security Initiative, a nonprofit organization created to help with the protection of Jewish communities and groups in New York. Silber also had been the NYPD's director of intelligence analysis.
Once the attacks began Saturday, the group moved to shelters for protection. Rockets could be heard exploding, and the skies were filled with military aircraft.
“For the most part, people kept the stiff upper lip, and they followed directions and you know, no complaints,” said Silber. “And I think by the time we left there was a general sympathy and understanding that eclipsed the theoretical, in terms of, ‘This is what it’s like to live in Israel.’”
The group was able to head back to the United States, going through Dubai before reaching home.