Houstonian relieved to get mother out of Israel but fears war-based hate crimes at home

Shannon Ryan Image
Tuesday, October 17, 2023
Houston-area Israelis, Palestinians struggling to evacuate loved ones
Houstonians like Michaella Okon are struggling to evacuate loved ones stuck in Israel amid a war with Hamas.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Sitting in her Houston living room, Michaella Okon glanced at her phone and let out a deep sigh of relief.

"(My mother) landed," she told ABC13.

It is a simple text, but it means her mother, Esther "Ettie" Okon, is safe and alive.

"I can probably sleep for the first time since last weekend," she explained.

She said she hasn't gotten much sleep since her mother's home, a city near Tel Aviv, became a warzone last week. She has spent the past few days trying to get her out.

"We kept finding a ticket, and then a flight would get canceled," she said, explaining that only one airline is flying out of the country, and she's seen tickets for as much as $10,000.

ABC13 spoke to Ettie Okon on Monday about her struggle to leave the country.

"I have to be strong, otherwise you cannot survive," she said.

Her plane from Tel Aviv-Yafo touched down in New York on Tuesday. She will spend a few days with another daughter there before joining Michaella in Houston.

On the other side of the war, a Magnolia woman told ABC13 there is no way out for civilians. Her father is a U.S. citizen stuck at the Rafah crossing, a closed border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip.

"It's just inhumane. Inhumane, I can't imagine what is going on," she said.

She asked ABC13 to conceal her and her father's identity out of fear of retaliation from Hamas for speaking with American media.

"They will literally locate him within minutes and take him," she said.

She said she doesn't feel safe in the United States either. She is afraid of what her fellow Americans may do.

"Maybe they will commit a hate crime," she explained.

Michaella Okon told ABC13 she fears the same. She recently stopped wearing the Star of David for the first time in 20 years.

"I just wouldn't want to be caught right now wearing a Star of David on my neck," she said.

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