Israeli volunteers condemn Ethiopian government's handling of plane crash

Azriel Schnitzer, commander of the ZAKA delegation in Ethiopia, said, "We never encountered such a difficult situation. I was at the scene together with ZAKA volunteers."

March 18, 2019 07:46
4 minute read.
People walk past a part of the wreckage at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane

People walk past a part of the wreckage at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 10, 2019. (photo credit: TIKSA NEGERI / REUTERS)


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ZAKA, a series of voluntary community emergency response teams in Israel, has complained to the Ethiopian government over its handling of the victims of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302, saying that the work has been extremely difficult until now. 

The Israeli volunteers claimed, for example, that the refrigerated room Ethiopian officials are using to identify the hundreds of body parts found at the crash site possesses the ability to identify the bodies, however, they are preventing professionals from around the world from assisting in this effort delaying the burials for the affected victims even further.

ZAKA volunteers have also expressed dismay at the fact that a memorial was erected at the site, giving the impression that the event is over in the minds of the Ethiopian people.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs appealed to the Ambassador of Ethiopia and the Consul through the course of a number of meetings throughout the week, in order to gain approval to allow ZAKA to complete their work professionally and methodically. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to the Ethiopian Prime Minister earlier this week without much success, according to ZAKA.

Azriel Schnitzer, commander of the ZAKA delegation in Ethiopia, said, "We never encountered such a difficult situation. I was at the scene together with ZAKA volunteers."

The Foreign Ministry, the National Security Council and the Israeli Consul in Ethiopia, Ofer Zach, have been attempting to obtain approval to receive complete access to the crash site and the onsite morgue for the volunteers, so that they may do their job swiftly and effectively.

"The great fear is that, God forbid, there will not be a situation where, when they made the scientific identification and the name knows when, they will not find the bodies of the two Israelis who perished in the plane," said ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav.

"At the Sakala Hotel, Ethiopian Airlines began arriving dozens of families of bereaved families from around the world who wanted to receive answers and information about the fate of their loved ones, but there was no one to explain to them what was happening or to answer their questions. You can not describe the cries and shouts of the families who shook far away, the ambassadors of the countries are walking around the hotel without the ability to help the families because the Ethiopians are not cooperating with them to the extent of their astonishment.

"It's a hard feeling to get to the ring when we see the many findings rolling around without being able to provide a proper and professional response. Within a day, all the parts of the plane disappeared from the arena to an unknown location without being able to check the possibility of findings within the parts of the plane. The feeling is painful and very difficult," said Eliezer Samet, a ZAKA volunteer in Ethiopia.

The ZAKA volunteers were sent to Ethiopia at the request of Netanyahu to retrieve the remains of the two Israeli passengers who died in the Sunday crash.

The crash claimed the lives of all 157 passengers on board, and also led to the suspension of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 throughout dozens of countries and airports.

“This is a very difficult scene, with remains scattered across a hilltop in a radius of over one kilometer. As a result of the state of the bodies, it is likely that identification can only be done with forensic measures that will take time," noted Meshi-Zahav earlier this week.

While grounded in Ethiopia for the foreseeable future, the volunteers will be receiving assistance in the field with the aid of the consulate, as well as food and necessary items from the "tireless efforts" of Chabad emissary Rabbi Eliyahu Chaviv, according to ZAKA.

The names of the two Israeli passengers who died in the crash were released to the media on Tuesday. Shimon Re’em Bitton, a civic defense contractor en route to Kenya, is survived by his wife and five children. Avraham Matzliah, a successful hi-tech businessman, left behind two daughters currently serving in the IDF.

Netanyahu opened up Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting by sending condolences to the families of the victims of the Ethiopian Airliner that crashed on its way to Nairobi from Addis Ababa, and by offering aid to the Ethiopian government.

“I want to send condolences to Ethiopia and to the families of the victims,” Netanyahu said, adding that if there is anything that Israel can do to help Ethiopia at this time, it will do so. He said that this message has been relayed to the Ethiopian government.

Given problems of identification at the charred disaster site, Ethiopian Airlines said it would take at least five days to start handing remains to families.

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