El Al pilots beseech int'l counterparts to refuse to fly refugees to Africa

"We are witnessing an unprecedented wave of protest by citizens from all walks of life."

African refugees hold up placades during a demonstatration on the streets of Tel Aviv, Israel (photo credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP)
African refugees hold up placades during a demonstatration on the streets of Tel Aviv, Israel
(photo credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP)
El Al pilots refusing to fly Eritrean and Sudanese migrants to Africa, amid an aggressive government deportation plan, reached out to their international counterparts Wednesday in a bid to ground all potential deportation flights to dangerous third countries.
The online campaign, launched two weeks ago by the NGO Zazim Community Action, comes as the Interior Ministry reportedly intends to indefinitely imprison or forcibly deport tens of thousands of the 38,000 migrants to a third country in April.
According to the NGO’s CEO, Raluca Gena, the amnesty campaign is the first step toward a series of activities against what they, and many other human rights organizations and Jewish communities around the world, are deeming an immoral deportation.
“The [El Al] pilots have called on foreign airlines – some of which are already taking part in the expulsion – not to cooperate, and their message can have a great impact on these companies,” Gena said on Wednesday.
“We are witnessing an unprecedented wave of protest by citizens from all walks of life,” she said.
“If this wave will continue – and it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that it does – the public will stop the government from deporting people to their deaths.”
To date, Gena said, the pilots have contacted colleagues at Turkish Airlines, Royal Jordanian and Ethiopian Airlines in their native languages to cease any cooperation with the government to deport the migrants.
ONE OF the El Al pilots, Ido Elad, wrote on Facebook last week: “I have joined many of my best friends by declaring that I will not fly refugees to their deaths. I will not be a partner to this barbarism.”
Noting the similar dangers Jews faced throughout history, pilot Yoel Piterbarg posted a lengthy missive on Facebook detailing why he refuses to fly the migrants back to Africa.
“The State of Israel is populated mainly by Jews who were, in their distant and recent past, refugees in countries [around] the world,” wrote Piterbarg. “Most of them went through the Holocaust, many were forcibly expelled from their countries, and many emigrated voluntarily, to better their situation, to better countries that agreed to accept and care for them.”
Piterbarg continued: “It is precisely us, the Jews, who must be attentive, empathic, moral and public opinion leaders in the world to deal with the immigration of refugees who suffered and suffer in their countries of origin.”
While the pilot conceded the necessity of controlling migration, which the country has succeeded at 100% as of last year, he insisted the asylum-seekers who are now in Israel be treated with compassion.
“The refugees should remain and be treated as human beings – just as the Jews used to be refugees and wanted to be treated like human beings and not thrown out,” he wrote. “Martin Luther King said that the terrible things in history happened not because of the bad people who committed them, but because of the ‘good people’ who were silent when it happened.”
A third El Al pilot, Shaul Betzer, also declared on Facebook that he would not assist the government in the pending deportations.
“There is no way that I, as part of a flight crew, will participate in taking refugees/asylum-seekers to a destination where their chances of surviving are minuscule,” he wrote.
Gena said that since the campaign began, over 10,000 concerned Israeli citizens have sent personal appeals to the Israel Aircraft Association, Israeli Pilots Association, and the companies that provide the ground services at Ben-Gurion Airport for international flights.
“I am encouraged to see that the pilots have begun to respond to our call,” Gena said, noting she based the campaign on German pilots who recently refused to fly over 200 deported asylum-seekers to dangerous third countries. “We believe that they have the power and the ability to refuse to take part in the brutal expulsion.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Interior Ministry continue to claim that the vast majority of asylum-seekers are “infiltrators” and “economic migrants,” not victims of genocide.
On Tuesday, the Rwandan Embassy issued a statement categorically denying multiple reports that it had accepted a “secret deal” to absorb forcefully deported refugees at $5,000 a head.
“In reference to the rumors that have been recently spread in the media, the government of Rwanda wishes to inform that it has never signed any secret deal with Israel regarding the relocation of African migrants,” it said.
MOREOVER, on Wednesday the country’s ambassador, Olivier Nduhungirehe, who also serves as the minister of state in its Foreign Ministry, issued a strongly worded denial on Twitter to eliminate any further doubt on the government’s stance.
“Let me be clear: Rwanda will NEVER receive any African migrant who is deported against his/her will,” he wrote. “Our open-door policy only applies to those who come to Rwanda voluntary, without any form of constraint. Any manipulation of women, men & children in distress is appalling.”
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), former chairwoman of the Special Committee for Foreign Workers, on Wednesday said she will vote next week in the Knesset plenum for the establishment of a parliamentary committee of inquiry on the “deportation policy” for asylum- seekers from Africa.
Rozin said the committee will ask to investigate any secret deportation agreements the government has with a third country, the policy of not examining the asylum requests of some 8,588 Eritreans and Sudanese, and the rehabilitation of south Tel Aviv, where the vast majority of refugees live.
“As elected officials we have an obligation to conduct ourselves in a clear, transparent and practical manner vis-à-vis the public that chose us,” said Rozin.
“The conduct of the state, as it has been portrayed so far, casts doubt on the proper administration of government systems. Therefore, I would like to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate the government’s policy regarding the issue of the expulsion of asylum-seekers.”
Rozin added: “The commission of inquiry must investigate the process of determining the status of candidates for deportation, the agreements with the third countries that will absorb the deportees, and the allocation of state resources for the expulsion of the asylum-seekers.”