by: Ilse Strauss
Friday, 15 May 2020 | In what is hailed as a top secret rescue mission, 26 Israelis touched down in the Jewish state yesterday morning after being trapped in Morocco for more than a month amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sadly, the group was supposed to comprise 36 returning Israelis, but 10 succumbed to the coronavirus in Morocco.
The Israelis—a mix of Jewish and Arab tourists and businessmen—were stranded in the north African country since March when Rabat ordered a complete lockdown of the country to stem the spread of the virus, cutting off any avenues for the Israelis to return home.
Their situation wasn’t entirely unique. As nation after nation grounded their planes and shuttered their borders, pockets of Israelis were stuck in nations around the world. In a bid to repatriate its people, Israel’s Foreign Ministry worked tirelessly to rescue stranded Israelis from Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, Australia, New Zealand and even Kenya.
Morocco proved particularly problematic. For one thing, Jerusalem and Rabat have no diplomatic ties, which meant no official channels and near insurmountable hurdles for talks and negotiations to bring the Israelis. Moreover, although Israelis are allowed to visit Morocco, Israeli planes are not allowed to land there, which meant no rescue flights from Israel.
In a rare gesture of friendship, the United Arab Emirates presented a prospective solution, offering the trapped Israelis seats on a plane repatriating UAE nations from Morocco. Jerusalem agreed, but Rabat played hardball—and the stranded Israelis were forced to stay put.
The man who ultimately pieced the rescue mission together was Member of Knesset (MK) and former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. Supported by the Israeli powers that be, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s National Security Council, Barkat maneuvered the diplomatic hoops, recruited the help of international bodies and reached out to the relevant role players, including philanthropists Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson, who financed the secret mission and the use of their private plane to carry the Israelis home.
The plan came together on Wednesday, when the stranded Israelis boarded a special Air France flight from Casablanca to Paris. From there, they boarded the Adelson’s plane and touched down at Ben Gurion Airport at 5 a.m. on Thursday.
Bar (32), who was stuck in Morocco after arriving in February as a tourist, shared his harrowing ordeal with Ynetnews. “Because we had nowhere to go, I stayed for 52 days on the beach with other tourists, while some of us built tents and some slept in caravans.”
Another repatriated tourist spoke of the stress they were under and the top secrecy of the rescue mission. “We were told not to talk about it so that it would not be canceled at the last minute. Only when we landed in Paris did we breathe a sigh of relief. I haven’t seen my family in Israel in over two months.”
After the plane touched down and the stranded Israelis united with their loved ones, Barkat explained the motivation behind the mission: “Even during the coronavirus crisis, Israel does not abandon its citizens and makes great efforts to help and return them to Israel.”
Posted on May 15, 2020
Source: (Bridges for Peace, May 15, 2020)
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