A petition to the High Court of Justice was filed on Wednesday on behalf of 50 Israeli citizens currently stuck in foreign countries and unable to return to Israel due to the closure of the airport.
Ben-Gurion Airport was shut on January 25 to all commercial flights due to the government’s concerns over the entry of COVID-19 variants into the country, and has remained close since that date.
The decision has, however, left what is estimated to be hundreds of Israeli citizens stranded abroad who had flown out before the decision was taken to shut down the airport.
Former MK Dov Lipman says he has received at least 100 calls and messages from Israelis, mostly immigrants from English-speaking countries, asking for assistance in returning home.
Lipman said that the majority of cases involve an individual who traveled abroad due to the death or sickness of a family member, those who fly regularly for work, and lone soldiers.
The basic premise of the petition is that citizens of a country have a basic right to be able to return to home.
The petition notes that Israel’s Basic Law for Human Dignity and Freedom explicitly stipulates that “all persons are free to leave Israel,” and that “every Israel national has the right of entry into Israel from abroad.”
Argues the petition “Since the right to enter Israel and the right to liberty are foundational rights explicitly anchored in the Law for Human Dignity and Freedom, it is not possible to injure those rights except in accordance with the conditions laid out in the clause on restrictions.”Those restrictions require legislation, however, which has not been passed to halt entry into Israel of citizens.
One Israeli citizen who will be restricted from entering the country is Aton Holzer, who flew out to the US two weeks ago for work, and also took his 11-year old son with him for a family bar mitzvah, but will now not be able to return as scheduled on Thursday.
Holzer, a skin cancer surgeon who works at Ichilov Hospital, has received both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine and was expecting to return to treat patients next week, something that now looks impossible.
His wife, Rachel, who has five other children at home, says the uncertainty of when her husband and son will be able to return has caused her anxiety and stress over the last two weeks.
“It’s insanity. Citizens who are abroad for whatever reason expect to be able to come home. They want to come back, do quarantine, go back to their families and lives; and having them stuck abroad is unconscionable.”
According to criteria for reentering the country published earlier this week, citizens stuck abroad who are in need of urgent medical treatment, first-degree relatives of someone who died in Israel, citizens who are defined as critical workers, and those on government delegations can apply to a special committee headed by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.
“Israel is an amazing country that sends its air force to rescue hostages in Entebbe and airlifted thousands of Ethiopian Jews in 24 hours,” said Lipman.
“But there are times when our leaders seem to lose their minds and make decisions that run counter to our country’s ethos. This is one of those moments. There is no more basic right than being able to return home and the government must reverse this decision immediately – while requiring testing and quarantine for those returning.
“There is no need for wasting manpower and energy on analyzing whether these Israelis fit absurd and ridiculous criteria. We would be better off spending that time and energy on enforcing the laws of mask wearing, school closings and mass gatherings instead.”
Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh, who has also been heavily involved in providing assistance to Israelis stuck abroad, gave a strong speech in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday afternoon demanding that a solution be found for those stuck abroad.
She mentioned a series of Israelis not able to come back to their homes, including a businessman who cannot return to his family, a woman who was not able to say goodbye to her father, who was dying of cancer, and a lone soldier and IDF officer unable to return after visiting her family.
“No one contests the great challenge which the State of Israel finds itself in, but there are thousands of Israelis stuck outside Israel, including many new and old immigrants who need to fly more often for personal or business reasons,” said Cotler-Wunsh.
“Many of them have been vaccinated, but their basic right to return home has been denied as citizens by the country to which they immigrated while leaving everything behind.”