First Georgian refugees arrive safely

Relief felt at Ben-Gurion Airport as first wave of Israelis and Georgian Jews lands in Israel.

Georgian family 224.88 (photo credit: Abe Selig)
Georgian family 224.88
(photo credit: Abe Selig)
An anxious crowd gathered at the arrivals area inside Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday night as a flight from Tbilisi was about to arrive carrying a load of Georgians and Israelis who had made it out of the war zone. "I'm waiting for my husband," said Manana Aloni, as she stood with her eyes fixed on the entrance to the arrivals lobby from the baggage control area. "He went to visit his parents' graves in Tbilisi and was caught in the middle of the fighting." Both she and her husband were born in Georgia and immigrated to Israel in the 1990s. "When the war broke out, I called my husband and told him there's no two ways about it, you're coming home immediately." Her husband heeded her call, but had phoned Aloni from the airport in Tbilisi two days ago and told her there were explosions going off in the area. "He told me that he had heard booms near the airfield," she said. "I was so worried about him." Nearby, Guram Ghanshvili waited with his wife, his face betraying nervous anticipation. "My wife's family is on their way here," said Ghanshvili, who is from Ramle. While his family made aliya when he was a young boy, he was minutes away from witnessing his in-laws' first arrival to Israel, where he hoped they would stay. "My nephew desperately needs throat surgery," he said, "it turns out that the two best places in the world for his type of surgery are England and Israel, so that's good, we're going to get him sorted out. But I hope they don't try and go back, there's no telling what to expect next from that bastard [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin." Minutes later, the passengers from Tbilisi started pouring into the lobby, and the tearful reunions began. "I saw army helicopters flying over the airport," grade school-aged Daniel Manzalla told the flood of reporters and television cameramen who had assembled to greet the flight. "I had gone to see my grandmother, but she stayed behind." Others simply cried and kissed their loved ones, happy that the nightmare was over, at least for them. "We didn't hear any shooting in Tbilisi," said Irina Fachima, who had returned with her son and husband from a weeklong trip. "But the atmosphere was very tense." "The strangest thing was that Georgian television was barely showing any of the war," said her husband, Mordi. "Three thousand people have been killed and they're acting like everything's fine. It was scary, I was worried about my family." As the last passengers began finding their way out of the baggage claims area, Aloni was still standing alone, waiting for her husband. "I don't know where he is," she said. "I know that they've landed." But then her husband appeared, smiling as he pushed his luggage through the main doors, and Aloni ran over to greet him. "You see," she said smiling. "I knew he would make it."