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ISRAEL INCURSION........AN EXCURSION GONE WRONG

Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that the Damaged & Co.’s Israel Excursion would end up in us getting sandwiched between a terrorist attack and war. This was a check in with reality. An episode that brought us face to face with our inner core. War shocked us out of the system. During times of crises you must learn how to cope at a very fast pace, if you want to make it out alive.


WHY ISRAEL?

A legitimate question many are asking is, with all the countries you could have chosen to visit.......why Israel? Damaged & Co. do not easily shy away from unconventional opportunities. As it happened a promotor contacted us about an opportunity to perform at a festival in Israel. This was right up our alley. Exploring a new country, were there is an active and strong metal scene, and being the first Maltese band to make an appearance there. Funnily enough our only worry at the time was the situation with the national airline. We did not want to risk getting caught in flight cancellations and delays, so we opted for a low-cost airline. We promptly booked our tickets as directed by the promotor.


The only problem being that this airline travels to Israel once a week, so we wanted to fill in the rest of the stay. With a lot of work and effort we managed to find interested bands and venues and in no time, we had three dates for our mini tour – Haifa, Tel Aviv (where the festival was scheduled to happen) and Jerusalem. We did our homework as regards to security and it transpired that the risk, as regards to our safety, was not much greater than visiting Paris, London or any major European city. Unfortunately, terrorist attacks have become more frequent. To cut a long story short, the promotor informed us that there was a problem with the festival and we ended up with airline tickets to Israel and two booked venues. This did not deter us, we managed to come up with another date in Tel Aviv and the tour was on.

OFF TO AN INCREDIBLE START

On October 4th, 2023, with a slight delay, we boarded our flight to Ben Gurion International Airport (Tel Aviv). We made it safe and sound and felt excited to embark on our tour. Waiting for us we found a pleasant surprise in the form of a tour van. We never imagined such a luxurious ride. From Tel Aviv we made our way to Haifa, a journey that took over an hour. We settled in for our first night on our adventure.


Thursday 5th October was practically a summer day. Our apartment was only eleven minutes on foot from the venue, so we opted to walk. It was all pleasant down hill but soon we realised that after the gig we had to pull up all our equipment back to the apartment......not an enticing idea. We made it to the Wunderbar Club (Haifa) and waited for the stage to be set up for our soundcheck. There we met our friend from Israel Tamir Kahn, with whom we made plans for excursion on Saturday. Shlomi Manger, owner of Wunderbar Club, made us very comfortable. After the soundcheck we headed out to Haifa waterfront to grab something to eat.

The night went incredibly well. We found a very warm audience that gave us all they had. First band up was Proxy. They gave a good energetic show, which the crowd enjoyed. Next up were ZedDestructive, with their bland of death and black metal. ZedDestructive are a household name at Haifa and their set went down really well. Damaged & Co. were up next. Unknown to us at the time, this was to be our first and last show in Israel. We gave it our all and finished the set with some encores. It was a night to remember. We enjoyed talking to people after the show. After the show, Shlomi and Tamir were kind enough to give us a lift to the apartment. Though it was late at night we could still make out most of the highlights along our route.


On Friday, October 6th, we had a late morning and at noon made our way from Haifa to Tel Aviv. During the scenic route we could notice many infrastructure projects being carried out. Tel Aviv is very different from Haifa. It is a cosmopolitan city with a more modern feel. That night we headed out to The Wave Club, and owner Shay Daudi made us feel at home. Since on the morrow we had a rest day from the tour, we enjoyed ourselves as much as we could. The plan was to visit the Dead Sea and do some sightseeing.

THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS

At 5:45 of Saturday, October 7th, I received the following message from Tamir:

“There is a missile attack on Israel. If you hear an alarm stay near a wall in an inner room.” In the meantime, he got through to Peter Paul (vocalist).


We immediately turned on the news channels and did not take us enough time to realize if this was not one of the ‘usual’ attacks with a few rockets but a full scale operation. Rockets were being fired by the hundreds and we followed the goings on by means of an app. When the rockets were near enough to Tel Aviv the sirens sounded and we sheltered between two blast doors. Land attacks were being carried out by the terrorists, massacring all the unfortunate people who happened to be in their path. Several hostages were also taken.


We put our heads together and started working on a way out of the country. All we had in hand at that moment was our flight to Malta scheduled for Wednesday. Somehow, we knew that it was not enough. Immediately we informed that Maltese Embassy in Israel and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of our presence in Israel. We cannot state enough how grateful we are towards Malta’s Ambassador to Israel, Her Excellency Cecilia Attard Pirotta. Her Excellency was with us all through this ordeal and kept us abreast with the situation and any update about upcoming flights.

At this point we were still being told to wait it out before cancelling the rest of the gigs and accommodation in Jerusalem. We had no doubt that the best way forward for us was to get out of there as soon as possible. Things could only escalate at that point.


WORKING FOR A WAY OUT

On Saturday evening the Government issued a couple of directives. Schools were to remain closed, public gatherings were not to exceed ten people and gatherings inside establishments were not to exceed fifty persons.


We were quite surprised to see that most people were going around on their business as usual. Most shops were closed because it was a Holy Day but reopened on Sunday. There were no ques to stock up on supplies or anything of that sort. The day was spent looking for flights and booking what seemed like suitable options. We were informed by the embassy that the national airline was going to operate a flight on Monday 9th, and we booked our spot. Other bookings were made with a low-cost airline, operating to Bari (Italy). When the siren sounded, we ducked in for cover. We noticed that flights kept operating with El Al (the Israeli national carrier), never stopping their incoming and outbound flights. We managed to find and book a flight to Slovenia with EL AL, scheduled for Tuesday 10th at 5:45am. At night we took it in turns for someone to be awake and keep watch for what was going on.

On Sunday 8th October Tel Aviv seemed to us in a business-as-usual mode. Some rocket fire hit the area, but shops were open, and people were walking around. Our first flight out was booked with the national airline for Monday, and we had high hopes until it was cancelled. In the meantime, we had other options by air to be hopeful for, and on a tip from the embassy we had a booking on a ship leaving from Haifa to Cyprus on Thursday.


SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

On Monday, 9th October we were informed that our flight to Bari was cancelled and so was our original homebound flight to Malta, scheduled for Wednesday. Now our only options were a flight by El Al on Tuesday and the ship.


We left for the airport at 1600hrs with the hope of boarding the EL AL flight for Slovenia, which originally was scheduled for Tuesday at 6am. We knew that our flight was delayed by 9 hours to 1445 but opted to wait in the safety of the airport.


Monday passed and another sleepless night was upon us. To our surprise the airport, though functioning only out of one terminal, was being operated in a very orderly manner. Flights were arriving and departing. With a bit of delay but still operating. We nestled down in our chosen spot and waited it out. Being inside you could not really tell if it was daylight or night.


THE LONG WAY HOME

On Tuesday, 10th we queued five hours before the scheduled boarding time. We noticed that they were separating Israelis from foreigners and two of us, namely the Daniels, were selected for grilling. Once the plethora of questioning was over, we were given the green light to proceed for boarding. After depositing our instruments at the bulky luggage, we made it through another security check and finally boarded the plane which was scheduled to depart at 1445hrs. After an eternity of waiting on the plane we were informed that it had a puncture in one of the wheels. After approximately 1.5hours the plane hit the runway and we were off to Slovenia.


We landed in Ljubljana nearly 3.5hours later. From there we took a trip to Zagreb (Croatia) as there were no direct flights to Malta from Slovenia. When we arrived the airport was deserted as there were no flights scheduled until 6an of Wednesday, 11 October. Having another eight hours to kill before the flight. Finally we boarded on our last trip, which left Zagreb at 1300hrs and landed at MIA at approximately 1500hrs. Our Israel Excursion ordeal was finally over. Being reunited with our loved ones at the airport was one of the most emotional moments.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This trip was a life lesson.Things can change in a second.No matter how much research you do, life is full of surprises.It was a good team building exercise for Damaged & Co. making our bond together stronger than ever.It made us appreciate the small things in love but above all got us closer to our loved ones who had to go through a more severe ordeal than we did.


Our thanks and deepest gratitude go to:

Malta’s Ambassador to Israel, Her Excellency Cecila Attard Pirotta;

Our families and loved ones;

Our brothers in Israel – Tamir Kahn, Shlomi Manger, Shay Daudi, Proxy, ZedDestructive, Interia and all those whom we did not get to meet;

Fans who turned out for the show at the Wunderbar in Haifa;

Owners of Begin 19 Apartments & Hostel (Tel Aviv) and The Blue House (Jerusalem);

Hades Management (Rene Farrugia);

All those who showed concern, contacted us and / or offered their help during this mishap.

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Thank you for coming to Israel and performing. I was the person in Haifa who asked for a guitar pick, and the guitarist gladly gave one to me and mentioned it had the logo of the band \m/


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