There is an inherent fundamental principle with some, that if we are told NOT to do something, we have to do it. Governments across the world have told their citizens not to travel overseas, unless it is for essential travel. Therefore many of us cannot understand, why there are thousands of Israelis across the world, trying desperately, to get back to Israel.
That is, until you listen to some of the cases. It is true that some Israelis left the country for pleasure, before Tel Aviv airport shut down. But others departed to visit sick family members and in some cases, bury them. They believed they could return to Israel without complications and problems, but in a fluid Covid world, anything can happen.
Using Facebook, Israelis in London and other parts of England, vented their frustration online, until a journalist decided to set up a WhatsApp group.
Former MK Dov Lipman, published the link on his Facebook page, as did others and within a day, almost 250 people had joined. Soon after, a travel agent named Ben Adler, in the group tried, with the help of Dov Lipman and others, to charter flights from Israel to London and back again.
Meanwhile frustration began to take control, with some members losing their focus and objective of what the group was all above, which was of course, a one way flight back to Israel.
First came the political hatred against the Prime Minister that he was purposely keeping Israelis out of Israel, to prevent them from voting on 23 March. As if anyone knows who in the group would vote for Bibi and who would not.
Then came verbal attacks on the Israeli Embassy in London and calls for Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely to resign, as if she is responsible for Covid and the closure of Ben Gurion airport.
Members of the group claimed they were going to present a petition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, to have her removed from her post because she never liaised with the Minister of Transport Miri Regev, to request an emergency flight from Israel to collect the stranded Israelis.
The Embassy made it very clear to me over the telephone that although they were taking calls and trying to advice on an individual basis, there was nothing they could collectively do, because all flights were departing from Frankfurt, not London.
Soon after, members in the group blamed the “Chareidim” and Bibi again, for “allowing the Chareidim to be given special treatment to enter the country”. This was probably referring to a report that a flight departed New York and several Chareidim were heard boasting, how they received fake negative Covid tests. When they arrived in Israel, several of them tested positive, but as far as they were concerned, they were back in Israel.
There were calls of “Let my people go”, references to the “plague” and how Netanyahu is really “Pharaoh”. (Don’t ask me how they came to that conclusion).
Next came the threats of taking the government to court, “because it is illegal to prevent citizens to return to their country”. It’s a free democratic country, so you can sue the government if you wish, I thought. But the Attorney and court costs are likely to be huge and your chances of winning are close to zero.
I have no doubt that many in the group were embarrassed and ashamed of some of the comments, because Travel Agent Ben Adler, and others are just trying to count heads, discover who has the permits to enter Israel and which person wishes to charter a flight to Frankfurt, to meet the connecting flight to Tel Aviv.
I know some in the group genuinely thought, they could travel to England to see sick family members or attend a funeral and thought they could return with no problem, as the airport was open. But others in similar situations, made the tough heart-breaking decisions not to travel, in case there would be another major rise of Covid cases and in particular, variant strains of the virus mutating in many places.
We are in the mist of the world’s worse pandemic since 1918 with almost 3 million people worldwide, dead from Covid. More people have died from Covid in America, then they did in the Vietnam, Korea and WWII altogether. Close to 6000 people have now passed away in Israel.
Governments all over the world have had to make tough decisions to save lives. Whether they get it right or wrong is something else, but action needed to be taken and on 25 January, the Israeli government closed the airport to all commercial airlines, until further notice.
Unless you can get to Frankfurt or New York at your own expense and catch the connecting flights to Tel Aviv, you may have to sit tight before the airport re-opens.
The government is aware of genuine cases of Israelis stuck outside the country, but its job is to manage the Covid crisis, especially as the contract for isolation in hotels has now expired. In addition, many had planned their Aliyah for this time and are in major stress mode because they have either sold, or rented out their properties and are stuck.
It’s a tough time for all of us and with the holidays approaching, Covid cases in Israel are going to continue to rise. The war with Covid is not over yet, but there are genuine, honest, good people in Israel working tirelessly, to get you back to Israel.