As Israelis took the lids off their foam sprays and silly string, and adorned themselves in blue and white to celebrate Independence Day, we stepped off a plane at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and began making our way towards baggage control for a four-day trip to the French capital.
Just a few hundred meters into the terminal, a woman came running down the ramp shrieking in panicked French. We had no idea what she was saying, but a moment later spotted a middle-aged man collapsed on the floor, with a small crowd of anxious people around him.
He had no pulse, and a man kneeling on the floor next to him began to try to resuscitate him. My husband, Meir Arad, an Israeli Jew, ran up to a member of the airport staff who was standing watching nearby, and asked her to get a defibrillator. She disappeared through a door behind her… and didn’t come back.
My husband joined the man kneeling on the floor, an Israeli-Arab nurse from near Tiberias whose name we never caught. Together they began working on the man, taking it in turns, one after another, hands together pumping on his chest trying to revive him.
A French passenger called the ambulance services, others ran here and there looking for an airport staff member, but shockingly, in one of the busiest airport hubs in the world, no-one could find anyone to help. Porters wheeled elderly folk by in wheelchairs, looking on with curiosity, but doing nothing. A crowd gathered, but still no-one from the airport staff arrived.
Finally, after over 20 minutes someone barreled through a door with a defibrillator. The man on the floor, a French man we discovered, still had no pulse. My husband and the nurse opened the kit and followed incomprehensible French instructions for use. One attempt, another attempt a few minutes later — still no pulse.
Thirty minutes or so in, the nurse and my husband finally managed to get a pulse. Just a few minutes later an ambulance crew arrived and asked us all to leave.
We walked down to passport control together, shocked, discussing what had happened, the nurse and his family, and us – my husband and I and two friends – the last remaining passengers from Flight LY035.
“This balagan could never have happened in Israel,” we all told each other.
“Ain k’mo Israel [There’s nowhere like Israel],” said the nurse, shaking his head.
At passport control, the flight manager from El Al caught up with us to take our details so that he could let us know the man’s status.
Then we parted with good wishes and handshakes on both sides, picked up our bags and left to go in different directions.
Forget fireworks, and spray, flags, and speeches; this was the most unforgettable Yom Ha’atzmaut eve I’ve ever experienced. This was Israeli unity at its most startling and best. At a time when the nation is so divided and suspicious, when stabbing attacks have pushed Jews and Arabs so very far apart; two men, an Israeli Arab and an Israeli Jew, came together in a foreign country and worked swiftly and unhesitatingly as a team to save a stranger’s life.
And they did save his life. An hour or two later we received a text from El Al that the man, whose name we never knew, was revived and doing well. Without their intervention, there is no doubt he would have died on that ramp in Charles de Gaulle. It was a joyful end to a very moving Independence Day.