Every day for the past week, there have been stories of Israelis who need the Foreign Ministry’s help to get home as more and more countries close their borders to foreigners and flights are cancelled.
These are mostly university students studying abroad in Eastern Europe and backpackers enjoying nature and drugs in India and South America. The Foreign Ministry estimates that about half of the 6,000 Israelis trying to make their way home are still abroad.
And they need to snap out of their state of denial, get it together – fast – and make their way home before they’re stuck outside of Israel.
The Foreign Ministry has been touting the “mutual responsibility and effort the State of Israel makes to help its sons and daughters return home at this time of the worldwide coronavirus crisis.”
Sure, it’s part of the Israeli ethos that we do not leave our brothers and sisters behind, embarking on daring rescue missions to rescue hostages and even bring back the remains of prisoners of war. Thank goodness that is the case; if God forbid we should need it, the government will probably be there for us.
But the Israelis returning this week are not airplane hijacking victims or captive soldiers. They’re students and tourists with no reason not to be aware that an international crisis has been going on for weeks.
In most cases, they have to pay for their flights back, but some of the flights – such as the one from Peru – were viewed as rescue missions and were completely covered by the government. And even when someone pays the $790 to El Al to return from Delhi, there is time and money invested.
Diplomats stationed around the world, from South America to Eastern Europe to Australia, and Foreign Ministry staff in Jerusalem reported this week that they pulled all-nighters trying to get in touch with all of the Israeli travellers, and help them find flights. In countries where the skies have already been closed, ambassadors have been calling the local authorities to allow special flights by Israeli airlines; that’s how we got the first-ever direct commercial flight from Australia to Israel this week.
And it’s not just the flights that have to be arranged. Domestic travel is complicated, as well, in countries where there is a total lockdown and highways are closed. Some countries are requiring certificates of health even for stopovers.
Meanwhile, half of the Foreign Ministry staff in Jerusalem has been deemed unessential during this crisis and has to stay out of work while using their vacation days.
So the other half of the Foreign Ministry, along with diplomats posted abroad, have been working tirelessly to tie up all of these loose ends, because some backpackers decided to spend a few more days in their post-army responsibility-free stupor rather than come home when the borders are closing and there is a literal plague spreading around the world.
It gets worse than that. A number of ambassadors complained – insisting on anonymity – that their consular staff was being treated like travel agents. Some of these people have the audacity to ask for cheaper flights, or if they can fly at a date or time that is more convenient for them, or complain that a specially-organized evacuation flight is departing from one city instead of another.
The biggest outrage of all came from the backpackers from Peru, who refused to sign agreements to go into quarantine when they returned to Israel. Some reportedly even intentionally coughed on a border control agent, in a particularly unfunny attempt at a joke. These clowns did not have to pay for their own flight, they were evacuated thanks to the government’s efforts and the generosity of El Al and private donors, and then they have the chutzpah to behave this way.
The diplomats around the world and Foreign Ministry staff who mentioned these kinds of issues all followed up their laments with assurances that they will do everything they can to bring Israelis home. They realize that this is an important part of their job and they will keep doing it.
But maybe these Israelis stuck abroad can do their part by not acting like idiots. The nations of the world are closing their doors to one another. Flights are being cancelled left and right. It is their job to try to find flights and get home, or at least get as close to Israel as possible, rather than wasting the time of the understaffed Foreign Ministry. And they shouldn’t expect the government to plan flights at their convenience. They need to check the Foreign Ministry website, which lists the border and flight situation of all countries with which Israel has relations, and make their own efforts.
Don’t be stupid. Just go home now. Time is running out.