Hours after she arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday, Neda Amin, an Iranian-born journalist and dissident who feared being deported to her native country, thanked the Israeli government for granting her refuge, adding that she has Jewish roots and would love to live in Israel.
During a press conference at The Times of Israel’s Jerusalem offices, Amin — who blogged regularly and freelanced for The Times of Israel’s Persian site — described her anguish as she feared Turkey, where she had lived as a refugee since 2014, would deport her back to Iran.
Having written critically about the regime, Amin feared she would have been arrested, tortured, and that her life would have been in danger had she been forced to return to the Islamic Republic.
“I am very happy. Israel is my country,” she said in broken English, adding that she finally felt “safe now” because no one wants to attack or arrest her here.
Amin, 32, said she had no immediate plans but indicated that she would seek permanent residence status or citizenship.
“In the meantime, I was saved, I was rescued,” she said in Persian, speaking through an interpreter. “If the Israeli authorities will give me permission, I would love to live here, with all my heart and soul. If not, I will respect their decision.”
Amin said her late father’s mother was Jewish and that she always felt sympathetic toward Israel and the Jewish religion.
“According to Jewish law, my father is considered Jewish, but according to Muslim law, my father is considered a Muslim. But my father didn’t really believe in Islam, so he also learned about Judaism,” she said.
“My roots are somewhat connected to Judaism. I loved Israel since my youth; I never accepted all the regime’s anti-Israel slogans. I always dreamed that I will somehow get to Israel.”
Amin said she would love to learn Hebrew, “because I believe that I have some sort of connection with Judaism and Israel.”
Amin had appealed to the United Nations in Turkey to protect her — the UN designated her a refugee in 2015 — and had also appealed to human rights organizations and others to intervene on her behalf.
“When her situation came to my attention, which was only two weeks ago, I spoke to the relevant Israeli authorities and told them about the situation,” said Times of Israel editor David Horovitz, who met Amin at the airport earlier on Thursday. “I felt that we had an obligation — The Times of Israel in particular and the State of Israel in general — to help someone who is in trouble partly because of her connection with Israel.”
She also turned to other countries for help but said they all told her to wait patiently.
“The only country that really acted rapidly was Israel,” she said. “As opposed to all the things that are being said, especially in Iran, about Israel, that it violates human rights, I saw that Israel took steps to keep human rights, to save the life of a human being.”
Had she had been deported to Iran, Amin said, she would have been subjected to “arrest, torture, rape, and I would have been forced to confess to things I didn’t do.” People accused of collaborating with the Zionist regime are routinely accused of these things, she continued, and eventually killed. “That’s what really scared me.”
“Most of my family broke off contact of me because of my connection to Israel,” she said.
“Meanwhile, Turkey told me they would send me to Iran,” she added. “I was in so much danger, and my life was so difficult, and eventually the State of Israel gave me this place. I am thankful to David [Horovitz] for his help.”
Horovitz said he understood Amin felt her life was in danger because she had attacked the regime in Tehran and because Turkey, where she sought asylum, “is changing” and might kick her out. “There was a choice: do nothing, or see if we can save her. I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I had found out that she was on a plane back to Iran.”
He noted that while he often writes critically about Israel and Israeli politicians, in Amin’s case Jerusalem’s actions were praiseworthy. “Somebody’s life was potentially in danger, and the Israeli authorities did far beyond what would be expected, in my opinion. They made sure that she was able to leave.”