Ariella Bernstein
Ariella Bernstein
Forever an Israeli Immigrant

We turned you away

The empty arrival hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on February 3, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
The empty arrival hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on February 3, 2021 ((Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Jews around the world, at least those who are not Israeli citizens, are angry that Israel’s skies are closed to them. They are particularly incensed if they have children or grandchildren in Israel and planned to visit over the Passover holiday, only to find out that Israel is turning away all foreigners.

A group of parents of olim from Chicago and New Jersey are beside themselves. They console each other in WhatsApp groups, scouring for any piece of news that perhaps can change their fate, allowing them to travel to see their lone soldier children, their pregnant daughters, their grandchildren.

Israel’s air travel policies have been fairly well documented in the Israeli and foreign press. In a nutshell, Israel closed its airports on January 25, 2021, citizens and tourists alike were barred from entry or exit, an ‘Exceptions Committee’ that was hardly exceptional was established to review requests, and virtually none were permitted. There were ‘exceptions to the exceptions,’ followed by an allowance of 1000 to 3000 citizens in and out, depending on the week. The madness, at least for Israeli citizens, came to a rightful end when the Supreme Court ruled that the entire system violated the country’s Basic Laws. The decision disbanded the Exceptions Committee and effectively did away with the 3000 traveler limitations.

But not for foreigners. Just for citizens.

For a while, the WhatsApp group of Chicago Parents of Olim and New Jersey Parents of Olim saw a glimmer of hope, what they thought was a light at the end of the tunnel, until it the picture became clearer but bleaker. The Supreme Court’s ruling made no difference for them at all. Foreigners, for the most part, are still not allowed into Israel.

There was a lot of righteous indignation, a feeling that Israel ought to have kept its doors open to all Jews, no matter where they are from, even during COVID-19, and particularly for those who have children or grandchildren here. There were calls to file a case on behalf of these parents to the Supreme Court. There were feelings of rejection and frustration, predominately for parents who were vaccinated but their vaccinations are not (yet) accepted by Israel.

The disappointment. The distress. It’s all understandable, up to a point.

What so many have failed to grasp is that Israel isn’t alone. It is one of a number of countries that continue to bar the entry of foreigners, at least until there is reasonable certainty of the vaccinations’ efficacy against COVID-19 mutations. Travel is prohibited from America to France, Germany, Spain, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, and even Canada. But somehow, it is hard for parents to accept that Israel is in good company on this policy, faulting Israel far more than I think was necessary.

The list of critiques about Israel is long. The criticisms are valid. But the cacophony of complaints heaped on Israel when it sits in the same category as other countries seems to be disproportionate.

The renowned journalist Sivan Rahav Meir felt it was important enough to address the issue in a video post on her Facebook page, a “Message to Our Brothers and Sisters Abroad” telling them we miss you, we think about you, but it is just too dangerous to let you in right now.

I get it. You’re upset. You want to see your daughters, your sons, your grandchildren. Some parents were successful in flying their children and grandchildren to them for the holiday, and until a couple of weeks ago even that wasn’t possible. But for those who were not able to be together over the holiday, it is going to be a tough week, another Passover without family — 365 days since the last Passover without family.

My heart is with you. I feel bad, really I do. But Israel’s policy on this particular issue is not unique. Like other countries, we closed our doors until it is safe. Just hang on a little longer.

About the Author
Ariella Bernstein lives in Jerusalem with her husband Avi Losice. Ariella and Avi are co-authors of the book Aliya: Home, Hope, Reality about the emotional impact of Aliyah on families we leave behind, and how to navigate these long distance relationships. Together with their children, they are an adopted family to olim and their home is open to anyone who needs one. Ariella made Aliyah in 2009, she works in investor relations, and volunteers in Jerusalem’s tech sector ecosystem as a mentor to start-ups.
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