Help for Dutch nationals in Israel and the Palestinian Territories: ‘We’re working together to do what we can’

Help for Dutch nationals in Israel and the Palestinian Territories: ‘We’re working together to do what we can’

Netherlands - Amsterdam Aesthetics originally published at Netherlands - Amsterdam Aesthetics

Help for Dutch nationals in Israel and the Palestinian Territories: ‘We’re working together to do what we can’

Heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas has been ongoing since 7 October 2023. The number of dead and wounded on all sides continues to rise. The Dutch ambassador to Israel, Marriët Schuurman, and the Dutch representative in the Palestinian Territories, Michel Rentenaar, discuss the situation and explain what people are doing behind the scenes to help Dutch nationals in the region.

Hamas attacks from Gaza

‘It started on 7 October with rockets fired into Israel from Gaza,’ says ambassador Marriët Schuurman. ‘The air raid siren sounded and we were immediately directed into shelters. At first it felt like an emergency drill; we have them often. But it soon became clear that this was a major terror attack by Hamas. And then you realise you’re in a completely different scenario.’ At that point the Ministry of Foreign Affairs scaled up its crisis response structure.

‘In a short space of time we discussed crisis management and spoke with other EU ambassadors and our contacts in Israel. And both we and our colleagues in The Hague worked as fast as we could to answer the most pressing questions: How many Dutch nationals are in the country? Where are they? Are they in danger? Are our colleagues at the embassy safe? How can we help Dutch nationals?’

And then you realise you’re in a completely different scenario

Michel Rentenaar describes his experience in East Jerusalem as the violence erupted. An air raid siren sounded there too. ‘I was jolted awake, then saw the messages and got straight to work. The mission immediately assembled a crisis management team. We’ve drilled a lot of crisis scenarios together many times, so everyone knows what their role is and what they need to do. And there are a lot of things that have to happen at the same time. One person works on the travel advisory, another investigates which routes are safe and how Dutch nationals can leave the country and someone else takes care of travel documents for them. We work together to do what we can. And we will keep doing that.’

Contact with Dutch nationals in Israel and the Palestinian Territories

‘Dutch nationals who need help can call the Ministry of Foreign Affairs contact centre (+31 247 247 247) at any hour of the day or night,’ says Marriët. ‘The embassy is actively in touch with groups of Dutch nationals across Israel. Some have been living here for years and others may be visiting people or be on holiday. We’re doing everything we can to assist them in this truly terrifying situation. We’re informing Dutch nationals through the ministry’s Information Service about their options for leaving the country.’

On 10 October the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence announced the planned deployment of a military plane to repatriate travellers stranded in Israel. Further flights will take place in the days to come. We will continue to phone stranded Dutch nationals who have registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Service to inform them about flights in the coming days.


Enlarge image
MRTT-toestel van Defensie


Image: ©Ministerie van Defensie
10 October: First MRTT military plane departs to Tel Aviv.

On 10 October the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence announced the planned deployment of a military plane to repatriate travellers stranded in Israel. Further flights will take place in the days to come. We will continue to phone stranded Dutch nationals who have registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Service to inform them about flights in the coming days.

There are far fewer Dutch nationals in the Palestinian Territories, says Michel. ‘It’s a small group, nothing like the number in Israel. We are in close contact with them and are sending them important information, for instance about safe routes for travel and which bridges are open and which not. Two Dutch nationals were still in Gaza when this started but they were able to leave in time, fortunately.’

The missions in Tel Aviv and Ramallah are about 70km away from each other and are cooperating intensively. ‘We’re working together on crisis management and on compiling analyses of the situation in the region.’ All everyday work at both missions is on hold. ‘We’re focusing on the situation at hand so that we can assist Dutch nationals as much as possible.’

Important message for stranded travellers

Marriët and Michel both have the same message for Dutch nationals stranded in Israel and the Palestinian Territories: ‘We urge any Dutch travellers who have become stranded to register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Service. That will tell us who is where and enable us to give them important information about repatriation.’

Enormous shock for colleagues

Staff at the missions in Tel Aviv (Israel) and Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) are working day and night to assist Dutch nationals. But the shock has affected them too. ‘We are extremely concerned about the situation,’ says Michel. ‘The terror attack by Hamas has had an enormous impact. We have reports of huge suffering and civilian casualties on all sides of the conflict. The situation is Gaza is hellish – there’s no other way to describe it. And it’s unclear how that situation is going to develop further.’

‘This is the first experience of war for some people at the mission. So I’m making sure that they get all the support they need. For instance, we had a meeting for our staff and their partners this week to explain what’s going on, what the various scenarios are and what we think could possibly happen next.’

We’re hoping for a peaceful resolution that respects international and humanitarian law

The situation is also a first for colleagues at the embassy in Israel, says Marriët. ‘The severity of what’s happened, the images of men, women, elderly people and children murdered and kidnapped; it’s too awful for words. And people are so worried about their friends and family. We’re working from home for safety’s sake and are regularly having to take cover in the shelter. Emotions are running high but we’re keeping in close contact with each other. We’re prepared for a range of scenarios, but no one can say where this will end up. We’re hoping for a peaceful resolution that respects international and humanitarian law.’

Originally published at https://www.government.nl/latest/news/2023/10/12/help-for-dutch-nationals-in-israel-and-the-palestinian-territories-interview-michel-rentenaar-marriet-schuurman

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Netherlands - Amsterdam Aesthetics originally published at Netherlands - Amsterdam Aesthetics