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March 24, 2020 10:25 am

Israel Works to Fly Thousands of Israelis Home During Shutdowns

avatar by Israel Kasnett /

Israelis arrive at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv from South America, where they were temporarily stranded as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, on March 20, 2020. Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90. – The 3,000 Israelis who had traveled to India to take a temporary break from the whirlwind of life found themselves dealing very much with the reality of it as the coronavirus spread around the world and countries began to close their borders and ground all flights. India was no exception. Earlier this week, some 550 Israelis left for Israel before the country was set to close its airspace in the coming days.

Lior Haiat, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman, told JNS, “We are helping Israelis from all over the world get back to Israel, especially from Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia. We are talking about 8,000 Israelis who are abroad and whom we are trying to bring back.”

He warned that “most of the places are either closed or closing. A lot of flights are being cancelled or are full. The ticket prices are very high.”

Haiat said the ministry is trying to find the Israeli travelers “the best and fastest way to return home.”

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Israeli travelers are famous for visiting far-flung places worldwide, skipping tourist magnets such as London and Paris, and choosing instead to see the farther reaches of the planet.

In times of crisis, Israelis end up far from home and faced with extreme difficulties in returning; this is one of those moments when being a citizen of the only Jewish country in the world really makes a difference.

Recently, the dramatic evacuation of Israelis in Peru drew headlines. The 1,100 Israelis were literally airlifted out after four specially organized El Al flights flew over to retrieve them. An additional 23 Israelis were left behind, forced to wait for the next opportunity to fly home due to lack of room on the planes.

While the El Al planes that evacuated Israelis from Peru were privately funded, Haiat said that no other planes were being paid for. “The Peru situation was unique,” he said. “We are not planning any more free flights. The flights we are working on with El Al, Arkia and Israir will be paid for by the passengers.”

‘I am proud to be Israeli’

One traveler rescued from Peru described her deep appreciation for Israel.

“There is nothing like this in any country in the world,” she wrote. “There is no entry of aircraft from any other country—only the State of Israel, only El Al. We [passed] through six checkpoints of soldiers with weapons and masks only because of our Foreign Ministry document—our country is simply as powerful as it is impossible to describe. There is no country that extracts its civilians like us. … I am proud to be Israeli. Europeans who saw what the State of Israel did for us were simply in shock.”

El Al is reportedly preparing flights to four more destinations, including Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica and another one to India, to bring more Israeli travelers home. El Al may also send an aircraft to Thailand to bring back some 150 nationals that have been stuck in the country since the health crisis began.

Israel’s Ambassador to India told JNS in a written message that “the embassy team here in New Delhi is working around the clock to ensure that Israelis in India trying to get home are able to do so safely. We have aided in the return of about 1,000 Israelis to date, and we are working tirelessly to ensure the return of about 1,000 more, relying on strong relationships with the Indian government, which we have nurtured over the years. We are constantly in touch with Israelis across India, and urge all travelers and family members to stay up to date through our Facebook page and website.”

“We call on every Israeli to take the first flight possible to Israel,” said Haiat. “You do not want to be stuck abroad. Please do your best and come back. Do not wait until the last minute. This is the last minute.”

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