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No One Left Behind: Israel Sends Planes to Pick Up Israelis Stranded by Corona Crisis

03-27-2020
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Israel’s national air carrier El Al has canceled all of its regular flights for the next 10 days due COVID-19.  But it’s still on a special mission commissioned by the government.  

One of the steadfast rules of the Israel Defense Forces is never leave a man or woman behind.  Israel is applying that principle to Israelis stranded around the world by the coronavirus.

‘Since the outbreak of the coronavirus we’ve seen that countries are closing down their borders and flights are being canceled.  Therefore, for the last fortnight Israel has been actively calling out for all Israelis to come back home as soon as possible,” said Dorit Hershcovitz, deputy spokeswoman of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

El Al and other Israeli airlines have gone out to help.  In one rescue mission, El Al brought 1,000 Israelis back from Lima, Peru.

“It was the longest flight I ever had – 43 hours without leaving the plane,” the pilot said in a twitter message. “And I don't think any country would do such a rescue mission to bring back its citizens.  It's very, very overwhelming, the whole situation. And I'm so glad to be part of this company, part of this country, part of the Jewish people and ‘Am Israel Chai’ (the people of Israel live!) is not only a slogan, it's reality.”

In one operation, the Hungarian government partnered with the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation to bring European Jews to Hungary from Israel and then took about 160 Israelis back home on the return flight.

“We ourselves have many community members that were worried. Their families live in Israel and they wanted to return to Israel. As well as we have some workers in our kosher slaughterhouse that we assured they would be able to spend Passover, the holiday of Pesach together with their families,” said Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Shlomo Koves, a member of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation.

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Roy Lam, an Israeli medical student, returned home to Israel with his dog to be near his family during the pandemic. 

“The major thing is that we don't understand the language here. So, we don't know every time the government decides to do, when things are going to be closed and you can hear some rumors, you know, Facebook, things like this. So, it's a bit scary,” Lam said.

In one of the most complex operations, Israeli travelers in Bolivia were picked up by a private plane, then flown in a Bolivian army plane to Brazil and from there they flew to Tel Aviv.

In Bogota, Israel’s Ambassador to Colombia, Christian Cantor, said from the airport that the El Al flight was picking up 65 Israelis.

“We are delighted for all those that got on the plane to fly home.  We wish everyone only health, and certainly that we all return here after the corona crisis,” Cantor said.

Many Israelis finish their mandatory army service and then spend months or even years traveling in faraway places.  The flights have brought Israelis home from Costa Rica, India, Italy, Australia and Nepal. About 6,000 Israelis have applied for help in returning.

“As of yet, we’ve assisted about 3,000 Israelis to come back home. And hopefully, we’ll be able to see them all back here very soon,” Hershcovitz told CBN News.

Those returning must, of course, go into 14-day quarantine but nevertheless they are glad to be back.

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