El Al pilots refuse to fly African asylum seekers being deported
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El Al pilots refuse to fly African asylum seekers being deported

Move mostly symbolic as Israeli airline does not fly directly to Rwanda or Uganda, and deportees usually fly on other airlines through Ethiopia or Jordan

Illustrative: The first Dreamliner purchased by El Al lands at Ben Gurion International Airport on August 23, 2017.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Illustrative: The first Dreamliner purchased by El Al lands at Ben Gurion International Airport on August 23, 2017.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

At least three El Al pilots recently published Facebook posts announcing their refusal to participate in the government’s mass deportation of African asylum seekers by not flying them to Rwanda or Uganda following the passing of controversial legislation sanctioning their expulsions.

The act is mostly symbolic as El Al does not fly directly to Rwanda or Uganda, and deported migrants usually fly on other airlines through Ethiopia or Jordan.

The Aviation Authority and the pilots union received over 7,500 calls urging the pilots not to participate in the deportation “and send the refugees to a place where their lives are in danger,” according to the Zazim rights NGO, which organized the campaign.

Among the pilots who publicized his disapproval of the plan was Iddo Elad, who wrote on Facebook Sunday that he would refuse to “fly refugees to their death.”

Eritrean demonstrators chanted “Refugees, not infiltrators” outside of the Rwandan Embassy in Herzilya on January 22, 2018. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

“I have joined my friends in this and I will not fly refugees to their death. I will not participate in this barbarism,” he wrote.

Another pilot, Shaul Betzer, took to Facebook Sunday to write that “as a pilot and as a human being” there is “absolutely no way I can take part in transporting refugees to a place where their chances of survival are slim to none.”

A third, Yoel Piterbarg, highlighted the Jewish obligation to care for refugees. “Let the refugees remain and be taken care of as human beings, just like the Jews were once refugees, wanting to be cared for rather than be thrown out,” he wrote last Thursday.

He added that asylum seekers should not be expelled “like stray dogs back to their countries, where suffering, rape of women and girls, and agonizing death awaits them.”

Last month, the Knesset approved an amendment to the so-called Infiltrator’s Law mandating the closure of the Holot detention facility and the forced deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers starting in March.

Friends of Tesfe Kidane, an Eritrean asylum seeker deported to Rwanda two years ago, hold up his picture at a protest outside of the Rwandan embassy in Herzilya on January 22, 2018. Kidane was murdered in Libya while trying to flee to Europe. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

There are approximately 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese, and the vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012. Many live in south Tel Aviv, and some residents and activists have blamed them for rising crime rates and lobbied the government for deportation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said the tens of thousands of Africans who are living in Israel illegally are not legitimate refugees or asylum seekers, but instead are economic migrants.

On Monday, more than 1,000 Eritrean asylum seekers gathered outside of the Rwandan embassy in Herzilya to protest the planned forced deportations.

They were joined by some 100 Israelis, including 10 students in a pre-army preparatory year in Jerusalem who are organizing a demonstration against deportations in Jerusalem for February 1.

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