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Participants on Israel Programs return on historic flight

The Zionist Federation of Australia helped return 36 Australians from Israel to Australia on Tuesday. They will be kept in strict self-isolation for two weeks before re-joining their families.

El Al and the Israeli Embassy in Canberra organised a direct Perth–Tel Aviv flight, in order to repatriate Israelis from Australia. Those Israelis who wanted to return to Israel had to find their way to Perth by 1:30pm local time on Tuesday, before the state shut its borders.

The Israeli Embassy has been racing against the clock, fielding calls from Israelis who have been trying to go back home but couldn’t secure flights,  and liaising with El Al and Australian authorities.

When the Zionist Federation learned of the incoming Tel Aviv–Perth flight, we seized the opportunity to try and make seats available for the many Aussies in Israel who’d been in touch with us and had struggled to find safe routes back to Australia.  The Israel Embassy in Australia worked tirelessly to make this idea a reality.

At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, over 180 young Australians were in Israel, participating in a range of long-term Masa Israel Programs. Programs have been adjusted to comply with the new realities—with online programming being a feature. Program providers and Masa Israel Journey have put in place extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of participants and most are happy to remain in Israel. However, several of them, as well as their families, were seeking a safe and reliable way to bring them to Australia. 

Over the last week, worried parents have been contacting the Zionist Federation of Australia for advice and help. The ZFA’s response was to communicate as much information as we had to hand—passing on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s travel advice, and cautioning parents that if they wanted their children to return home, they needed to act fast due to closing borders, and that they’d have to accept the risk that their kids could be trapped in transit countries, who might shut their borders without notice. Whilst some were able to secure flights quickly and returned, as the situation escalated, flight availability diminished and people were left without viable options.

The direct Tel Aviv–Perth flight was a godsend.

Eighteen Masa participants took the opportunity to leave Israel. The Australian Embassy in Israel also put the word out, allowing other Australians in Israel to repatriate should they choose; 18 others took up the opportunity.

Ginette Searle, CEO of the ZFA, who had been working closely with the Israel Embassy in Australia and El Al, received final approval from El Al at two o’clock Monday morning to advise about the flight.

“It has been a long couple of days”, she said on Tuesday, “but I’m thrilled we managed to get space on the plane, not just for the Masa kids, but for the other Australians who wanted to repatriate.”  

“I can’t thank the Israel Embassy enough for their efforts, not just to help Israelis in Australia, but also to help Australians in Israel”, she continued.

The flight departed Tel Aviv on Sunday evening, and arrived in Perth Tuesday afternoon. Passengers were then able to transfer to domestic flights and return home—to grateful and relieved families.